Author: Michael Dunford is currently a PhD Candidate at the School of Culture History and Language. His research asks how how agrarian economies and agrarian ecologies intersect with the politics of ethno-racial difference in mainland Southeast Asia. Prior to his time at ANU, Michael was a social science instructor at the Parami Institute in Yangon, … Continue reading Purity, Danger, and Handwashing
Religious commodification is an arena that has gained increasing interest among social scientists, especially where religious symbols and artefacts are being appropriated by both adherents and non-adherents in an attempt to capitalize on growing worldwide markets. In what Sophia Rose Arjana calls the “mystical marketplace,” these objects, many of which are distinctly associated with orientalist versions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, are stripped of their original contexts and then reimagined as representatives of a kind of timeless, exotic, spirituality to be consumed by economically dominant Westerners. But this short thought-piece is about those consecrated objects whose marketing and sale is what made them sacred in the first place (like the Tibetan Singing Bowls but drawn from Harry Potter and Star Wars rather than the Tripitaka and the Mahayana Sutras). This is about a growing link between religion and fandom and the “ritual objects” that the latter now produces.
Religion is no "opiate of the masses." Rich and poor, educated and ignorant alike flock to the call of certainty in these uncertain times. Rather than action based on the fear of an angry deity’s surveillance and judgement, this is an escape from the unease within. Certainty is a kind of social power. It indicates authority. Certainty reinforces identity through the use of prescribed language. Certainty is a foundational part of action. Today’s pandemic religion is about something you can be sure of. It’s about a bid for authority seen as stolen by science, by government, by secularism, and by technology. In the same way that 'thoughts and prayers' are more of a dismissive platitude than an actual step towards healing, it’s “Amen” at a distance without much in the way of getting directly in the trenches to rescue the drowning.
Christian but not ideological? Doesn’t promote perspectives in controversy but centers theological devotion? Biblical differences of opinion, but not anthropological ones? The centrality of “belief” as both a core concept and as a linguistic turn of phrase (i.e., “anthropologists believe…” which appears all over the text) is also telling. This isn’t just a Christian perspective, it’s an unexamined recapitulation of Euro-American religious concepts (like “belief”) that formed the Eurocentric academic study of culture two centuries ago and that modern anthropologists have spent a fair amount of time deeply critical of.