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Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion

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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 counselling, 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?

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