ABSTRACT

From feng shui to holistic medicine, from aromatherapy candles to yoga weekends, from Christian mystics to New Age gurus, spirituality is “big business.” There has been an explosion of interest and popular literature on mind, body and spirit and “personal development.” We now see the introduction of modes of “spirituality” into educational curricula, bereavement and addiction counseling, psychotherapy, and nursing. Spirituality as a cultural trope has also been appropriated by corporate bodies and management consultants to promote efficiency, extend markets, and maintain a leading edge in a fast moving information economy. For many people, spirituality has replaced religion as old allegiances and social identities are transformed by modernity. However, in a context of individualism and erosion of traditional community allegiances, “spirituality” has become a new cultural addiction and a claimed panacea for the angst of modern living. Spirituality is celebrated by those who are disillusioned by traditional institutional religions and seen as a force for wholeness, healing, and inner transformation. In this sense spirituality is taken to denote the positive aspects of the ancient religious traditions, unencumbered by the “dead hand” of the church, and yet something which provides a liberation and solace in an otherwise meaningless world. But is this emergence of the idea of “spirituality” all that it seems? Is something more complex and suspicious at work in the glorification of the spiritual? To contest some of the dominant readings of “spirituality” within western

societies and their silencing of traditions will require some examination of how these discourses operate in the contemporary socio-economic world. Our argument emerges from a frustration with the lack of clarity and critical discussion of the concept of “spirituality,” a notion that has become pervasive in contemporary society in the consciousness of its advocates and its detractors. The concept therefore represents on the one hand all that is banal and vague about “New Age” religiosity, whilst on the other signifying a transcendent quality, enhancing life and distilling all that is positive from the “ageing and outdated” casks of traditional religious institutions. Our argument attempts to uncover what amounts to a silent takeover of “the

religious” by contemporary capitalist ideologies by means of the increasingly

popular discourse of “spirituality.” We seek to challenge the contemporary use of this concept as a means of reflecting and supporting social and economic policies geared towards the neoliberal ideals of privatization and corporatization, applied increasingly to all spheres of human life.