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Hyper-Real Religion, Digital Capitalism, and the Pygmalion Effect

 

 

In this interview, recorded at the SocRel 2017 conference in Leeds, Professor Adam Possamai discusses the rising popularity of ‘Hyper-Real religion’ – a category encompassing Jediism, Matrixism, and other movements taking influence from popular culture. Situating hyper-real religions within the contemporary context of digital capitalism, Possamai discusses how changes in the market can also affect religion, with particular reference to the ‘pygmalion effect’: the blurring of boundaries between popular culture and everyday life. How do these Hyper-Real religions relate to the hegemony of capitalism? The interview then turns to Possamai’s more recent work on how religious actors can use technology to fit religion into their daily lives.

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.

Hyper-Real Religion, Digital Capitalism and the Pygmalion Effect

Podcast with Adam Possamai (6 November 2017).

Interviewed by Sammy Bishop.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Transcript available at: Possamai-_Hyper-Real_Religion … nd_the_Pygmalion_Effect_1.1

Sammy Bishop (SB): Hi. I’m Sammy Bishop, here on the last day of SocREL 2017. I’m here with Professor Adam Possamai from Western Sydney University. And today we’re going to be covering hyper-real religions. So thank you very much for joining us.

Adam Possamai (AP): It’s a pleasure, and hello everyone!

SB: (Laughs) So hyper-real religions are, for example, religions such as Jediism, Matrixism. But before we discuss them in some more detail, could you give us some of the cultural context that they’ve come from?

AP: Yes. And in my work I discuss how new religions are created through new social media and the internet. But ,of course, the changes in society and culture are not just about those new technologies. They’re also about some profound changes happening with regards to markets, capitalism – in my work I speak about neoliberalism, which started since the 1980s with the work, of course, of the politicians Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But it has moved and invented itself. To use the work of Mitchell Dean, it’s a “ thought collective”, in the sense that it adapts itself, it moves around. And today we are faced with what can be called digital capitalism. It’s the new face of capitalism. If I can go back to the work of Frederic Jameson, in which he speaks about three phases of capitalism, and the latest, that he mentioned in his work in the 1980s, was late capitalism. Today we can argue that we’re in a fourth stage, which is digital capitalism. And there are new fortunes that are made in the digital world. There are new inequalities that are made, as well. And these new technologies, those social and cultural changes are also affecting religion. And one of these changes is allowing people to go on-line to mix and match these spiritualities and philosophies, together with popular culture. And today, in those new activities, the religious actors are “pro-sumers”, the producer and the consumer of culture on-line. And with Jediism, which I’ve called a hyper-real religion, which is a type of simulacrum of religion. hyper- reality makes reference to the work of Jean Baudrillard and where he speaks about “copy of the copy” and the simulacrum. And here, when you analyse the text online, or in various other forms of new social media as well, you see that people involved in Jediism construct a kind of bricolage or assemblage, pick and choose certain elements from various spiritualities and philosophies and use this as a source of support to speak about Jediism. But Jediism in a way . . . they do, of course, realise that this is a work of fiction, but it makes sense to them. If you go back to the 1980s, with the New Age movement, in which people were creating spirituality for themselves by themselves, by picking and choosing certain elements of spiritualities and philosophies – in hyper-real religions you have people who do that as well. They create a spirituality for themselves by themselves, but include popular culture more and more.

SB: You referred to this as the Pygmalion Effect.

AP: Yes.

SB: Could you explain that in some more detail?

AP: Yes indeed . The Pygmalion effect – and here I’m making reference to the Greek myth of Pygmalion who was this sculptor who created the sculpture of a woman, whom he fell in love with. Her name was Galathea. And he wanted that sculpture to come to life. And Aphrodite heard him and gave life to this statue and she came to life. And that’s the idea with the Pygmalion process. More and more we see the divisions between popular culture and our everyday life being blurred. And it’s not just in religion. You have, for example, the phenomenon of Cosplay: people who go to certain festivals and events and start to dress as their favourite character etc. On May the 4th, more and more there are events and conventions and people dress in various costumes. You have zombie walks where people will go and disguise themselves as zombies and start marching. You have Quiddich games from the Harry Potter and some new sports have been created – not just the Quiddich game but also Chess boxing, which is from the comics of Enki Bilal. And that author created the sport of Chess Boxing, which is mixing playing chess and boxing. And we now have competitions happening in real life. So here, to come back to again to the work of Frederic Jameson, when Frederic Jameson speaks about late capitalism – and when I speak about digital capitalism, it also affects culture – when Jameson was speaking about late capitalism he realised that the way it was affecting culture: it was blurring the distinction between art and popular culture. And art was getting influenced by popular culture and popular culture was being influenced by art. And he was speaking about various forms, a pastiche approach – bricolage – and this intersection between those two fields of creativity. And in digital capitalism what I’m arguing is that it’s popular culture with everyday life. You find that everyday life gets inspired by popular culture and, as always, popular culture is inspired by everyday life. But we’ve got this new direction. It’s always existed, but it’s becoming stronger and stronger. And so the Pygmalion process makes reference to this blurring of the boundaries between culture and everyday life in this phase of digital capitalism. And some religions are affected and some religions are created, such as Jediism and Matrixism. But there are different variations as well. You do have people who will follow that religion and say, “I’m a Jediist and I’m inspired by the narrative of Star Wars”, which is based on various aspects of various philosophies and religions. But some people might say, “I’m inspired by Star Wars, but I won’t call myself a Jediist.” So it’s not that . . . or someone will go and read or watch the Da Vinci Code, and be inspired by the story there and reflect on their own religion. It’s not necessarily believing the narrative that’s been said, but it’s about people getting some inspiration. And, of course, at different levels of inspiration that you can find when you use popular culture and religion.

SB: So, some of these hyper-real religions, the pop culture that they come from can contain some quite revolutionary aspects. Could you say more about that in relation to their contexts as well?

AP: Yes. One of my questions in my research studying Jediism was that Star Wars is a great narrative of a sort of spirituality. But what we often forget – in those spiritualities, I mean – is that in Star Wars there is a fight against the Empire. There is a counter- hegemonic process. And the whole story is based on that: the rebellion against the empire. And what I discovered is that there’s not much discussion. I don’t necessarily speak about rebellion or revolution, but that leaves some room for discussions against the hegemony, in the face of digital capitalism. And it creates new inequalities. There are more and more inequalities in the world. As we said, a strong difference is between the haves and the have-nots. And I’m thinking that Star Wars can be a source of narrative to be counter-hegemonic, in that sense, trying to see what can be done. But to this day, in the research that I’ve collected, I haven’t found that. And here I come back to the work of Gramsci, who was speaking about popular religion and he equates hyper-real religions to popular religion. Although he doesn’t put popular religions in the same category he speaks about certain of elements of certain popular religions, that they can be counter-hegemonic. They can, at least, state something against the status quo, act against the status quo. But in this world of internet, in which we expect a world of multiple possibilities, with multiple interpretations, I realised that it’s not that multiple. And that aspect that it could have, I didn’t find it.

SB: So, looking to the future, do you think these hyper-real religions might become more established and more recognised than they are at the moment?

AP: That depends on how you define established. Because there is a whole debate about it. This discussion is happening on the internet: should hyper-real religion stay on the internet or should a temple be created and become more physical in the offline world? I don’t know, it might happen, it might not happen – establishment. It’s very fluid. It can be transient . Someone will interested for a few months or a few years and then move to something else. Will it grow in giving inspiration to people? Yes. We are born with popular culture, straight away. And especially the younger generation, through YouTube now, access to popular culture is so easy. It’s not like when I was growing up, waiting for certain shows to come on television at certain hours. Now you go on the internet or use Netflix and you can access almost everything instantaneously. And more and more we live through popular culture. And we make reference to popular culture. So people will still be influenced by popular culture for religion, for sure. And I expect this to grow with the new generations as they’re influenced more and more by popular culture. Will it be established? I’m not able to answer that question.

SB: Could you tell me some more about the demographics of people involved in hyper-real religion?

AP: Yes we don’t have concrete data on this, but I expect it will be generation X and Y, mainly. Although there are some baby boomers involved as well. Because we do have some hyper-real religions that started before the internet, like the Church of All Worlds which is a neo-pagan group. and they were extremely influenced by the science fiction book by Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land. But here, in those hyper-real religions, before the internet there was inspiration from popular culture, but that was more secondary. And what I found is that in those that appear after the internet, popular culture became more central: Jediism from Star Wars; Matrixism from The Matrix. And to come back to the Church of All Worlds, they were inspired by Star Trek. But I haven’t found a religion in Star Trek, although some work has been done on people following Star Trek in a religious way. So what I find is that hyper-real religion started before the internet, and there are still some people involved in the Church of All Worlds who will be older of course. But the growing trends are really starting at the beginning of the 21st century, especially with the development of Web 2.0. And we do have a younger generation – who were fully immersed in that – who are getting older. But we do have a younger generation coming on board as well and using all the forms of new social media. So I won’t say it’s generation specific, but there’s a larger proportion of generation Y, I would say, in my estimation.

SB: And, kind-of linking on from that, the freedom that the internet allows: someone might think that people would beginning to create their own texts rather than looking to popular culture. Could you expand on that a little, perhaps?

AP: Their own religious texts?

SB: Yes, their kind-of religious resources.

AP: Ah that’s what you do have. And this was really in the 1980s with the New Age: people speaking about what they were interested in, taking a bricolage approach, or an eclectic approach and by this I mean people taking a bit somewhere and linking to something else, and this gives meaning to people. And they will be writing about that or speaking about that, and now they’re able to post this on-line. And some people speak about their interests in the world in a blog, and some of them will mention spirituality of course, and spirituality inspired by popular culture. So hyper-real religions basically refers to those religions that come out of the internet, but also the Pygmalion process by which people feel that they can speak about popular culture on the internet as a source of inspiration, and not necessarily being a religion as such. Myself, I’m influenced by popular culture sometimes. This is not a religion for me and not for other people – as I said. We were brought up with popular culture and sometimes we find inspiration from certain works of popular culture, either a reflection about the world or reflections about the self. And this is a growing trend. And some people speak about that quite openly on blogs, for example.

SB: Where do you see your own research going with this in the future? What are you working on at the moment?

AP: With this? I’ve got a book coming out in December of this year, on the i-zation of society and neoliberal post-secularism, in which I speak about religion and digital capitalism. And this work on the Pygmalion process and hyper-real religion is a part of it. I also speak about the way religious groups now are creating apps for iphones or ipads and how religion is really moving into new social media and how the new social media is changing your practices. So there are plenty of apps that you can find, such as Bible reading. And we find that some people attend a church and check that the religious professional is quoting the Bible accurately. And so people use apps for various reasons through their everyday life and there are changing patterns as well. And it’s this idea that you can use your iphone, you carry it with you all the time. And so, basically, you’re connected to digital capitalism – this online world – at all times. If you go back in the 1980s or ‘90s, you had to walk to a computer to do it. Or even if you had a laptop, physically, you had to set it up. Now you just walk everyday, you take your ipad, your iphone. It’s instant. And I speak about those new social trends that are affecting our everyday life, and how it impacts on religion, and how religion also impacts on those trends as well.

SB: What would you say are the main impacts that they have on religion?

AP: More and more people are more networked and instantly they can use a Twitter account, or they can put some reflection on themselves, on their religion in the new social media and its very instantaneous. So, to explain the impact, I’ve adapted George Ritzer’s theory of the McDonaldisation of society. For Ritzer, the McDonaldisation of society is the increase of rationalism. He was inspired by the work of Max Weber on the rationalisation of society and instrumental rationality as we move bureaucracies to everyday life. And with the idea of the McDonaldisation of society, that we get out of the home and we go to a restaurant, we go to a school and we’re exposed to this rationalisation process. Now this has changed. It has accelerated with those new i-technologies: iphones and ipads. And that’s why I speak about the i-zation of society, in which the rationalisation process has increased and is now part . . . it’s on the self, we carry it all the time. And we’ve got access to new apps in which we can manage our life in a better way. And part of managing our life is, for religious people, it includes being religious. It’s a very hectic world. People are very busy: work is demanding; people want to read or see popular culture; some people have children that have to be driven all around, very often; and people are short of time. And those new technologies are basically helping people to rationalise their life and be able to be more active as a religious person. So, I’ve read research which showed that some people don’t have much time to read the Bible before going to a church reading group, but they will get the app and check what they have to read very quickly, so they will be ready. So those new technologies are allowing people to be able to be more organised in their life: organised, as if we manage ourselves as a small company or a small bureaucracy. But this is our life today in which we try to fit everything in. And some of those apps are basically allowing religious people to continue to be religious in a more efficient way. And this is why I speak about the i-zation of society in which there’s been an increase in rationalisation through those new technologies.

SB: Great. OK, I think that’s about our time up.

AP: OK, thanks.

SB: Professor Possamai, thank you for spending time with us today.

AP: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Citation Info: Possomai, Adam. and Sammy Bishop. 2017. “Hyper-real Religion, Digital Capitalism and the Pygmalion Effect”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 6 November 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 3 November 2017 Available at:
https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/hyper-real-religion-digital-capitalism- and-thepygmalion-effect/

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The Logics of Bricolage Reconsidered: A Cognitive Approach to Individuals and Their Constraints

An Important Intervention

Veronique Altglas is to be commended for her intervention into the contemporary academic discussions and (often uncritical) usage of the concept of bricolage. As she rightly suggests, the naïve view that the acts of cultural improvisation of a modern bricoleur are unconstrained and unlimited by anything beyond the free and willful activity of his or her own individual whims is long overdue for retirement. And, in the wake of her efforts, one certainly hopes that the analytic appeal to such a naïve sense of radical cognitive autonomy becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.

However, I must admit that I do wonder to what degree such an extreme view ever actually had a significant conceptual hold over sociological analysis in the first place. Throughout her interview, Altglas is very careful to emphasize that, of course, bricoleurs cannot be so extravagantly free in their acts of picking and mixing among cultural representations because, after all, not all cultural resources are available to them. This is both an important intervention and, simultaneously, a rather obvious and nearly tautological point: people cannot pick from, or mix with, resources that are not available to them. One wonders if there were ever actually any scholars who would have argued otherwise, or who have genuinely suggested that cultural context plays no role whatsoever in the syncretic activities of modern bricoleurs.

Even Thomas Luckmann, who Altglas uses as her go-to example of a sociologist who supposedly endorses this radically individualistic stance, doesn’t really express such an extreme view as the one that Altglas uses as her foil. She quotes Luckmann as having said that, in the case of contemporary bricoleurs, “anything goes,” and suggests this view as indicative of a position that holds the creative powers of the bricoleur to be “unlimited.” However, in the very sentence that Altglas is quoting, Luckmann, himself, characterizes his claim as little more than a suggestive “exaggeration” (Luckmann 1979, 136; cited in Altglas 2014, 2). In fact, what Luckmann had in mind here seems to be precisely the same point that Altglas herself eventually comes around to in the final portion of her RSP interview: When religious organizations begin to lose their hold as authoritative interpreters of available cultural representations, especially in a context of easy access to a large and highly diverse spectrum of informational resources, this can result in a situation, as Dr. Altglas seems to agree, in which, due to a context of “religious deregulation in modern societies,” as she puts it, “a dimension of choice and diversity” becomes a relevant factor in analyzing the types of constraints on, as well as, I would add, the types of empowerments toward, bricolage that are present in this kind of institutionally deregulated social environment

A Further Appeal to the Individual as a Relevant Level of Analysis

This response, then, is not so much a defense of the scholarly value of the concept of bricolage, as I am not particularly invested in its use. This is, however, a defense of the academic interest in the individual, which I take to be inclusive of the variety of ways that the activities of individuals are constrained, or not, in any given context. It is an insistence that all macro-scale social phenomena are composed of a large number of micro-scale processes among individual humans. To that degree, it is important to notice that while, indeed, all acts of bricolage are constrained, they are certainly not all equally constrained and, indeed, some contexts may encourage bricolage while others might act, relatively speaking, to diminish its occurrence. There are always, in any act of cultural improvisation, a unique array of factors which go into determining whether any particular representation will be chosen as the tool for a particular job at a particular time by a particular individual. However, Altglas’ analysis would seem to overemphasize the importance of external, social factors and, as a result, downplays other significant, internal, cognitive factors that are inevitably in play during any act of bricolage. Indeed, Dan Sperber has emphasized that,

“[t]hough which factors will contribute to the explanation of a particular strain of representations cannot be decided in advance, in every case, some of the factors to be considered will be psychological, and some will be environmental or ecological (taking the environment to begin at the individual organism’s nerve endings and to include, for each organism, all the organisms it interacts with)” (Sperber 1996, 84).

To the extent that it is, indeed, true that scholars have tended to ignore what Sperber calls the environmental or ecological factors that influence the reception, retention, and further conceptual utilization of available cultural representations, Altglas’ attempt to bring environmental factors, such as nationality or economic class, back into focus is an important correction to an analytic oversight. It is also important, however, to insist that she be careful not to pull too far in the other direction toward an equally lopsided type of analysis which leaves the mental or psychological factors largely unconsidered. Since, as Sperber notes, both will be present in every case, when a potential bricoleur encounters a cultural representation, both psychological and environmental factors need to be considered when analyzing constraints on, and empowerments toward, the utilization of that representation for an act of bricolage.

Potentially pertinent psychological factors include the ease with which a particular representation can be memorized, the existence of background knowledge in relationship to which the representation is relevant, and a motivation to communicate the content of the representation. Ecological factors, include the recurrence of situations in which the representation gives rise to, or contributes to, appropriate action, the availability of external memory stores (writing in particular), and the existence of institutions engaged in the transmission of the representation” (Sperber 1996, 84).

But, where does that leave us? To my reading, it leaves us with quite a wide spectrum of potential degrees of constraint on the abilities of individuals to pick and mix cultural representations. Are there some contexts in which such constraints are more oppressive toward innovation than others? Are there, on the contrary, some contexts in which interpretive freedom is relatively more unconstrained? Does the relevant question, then, become not simply ‘when is bricolage taking place’, but, rather, to what degree is the density and regularity of the practice of bricolage itself encouraged or constrained by different psycho-socio-cultural contexts?

Individualism and Organizations: On the Selection of Case Studies

I will look forward with anticipation toward the studies that Altglas has signaled that she is interested in pursuing in the future. I think that analyses of “bricolage in more conservative religious settings” or in “in messianic congregations” might provide important accounts of exactly to what degree institutional settings might constrain (or even empower) certain acts of bricolage. I would argue, however, that ultimately, as important as such studies will inevitably be, they cannot adequately address the question that Altglas most seems to want to address, which is the issue of religious individualism. I fear that in her eagerness to debunk Sheilaism, Altglas has failed to select representative case studies for her analysis. Given an attempt to investigate radical individualism, the choice to undertake that examination through the sociological analysis of religious organizations (Altglas’ study is based on fieldwork among Siddha Yoga and Sivananda Centers and the Kabbalah Center) that are rooted in particular cultural traditions would seem to obviate any serious chance at arriving at the desired conclusions. It is simply an analysis of the wrong data. In the introduction to her book, Altglas attempts to account for this oversight but, ultimately, her mea culpa does not overcome the problem.

“The readers might wonder why these case studies in particular have been selected. For a start, new religious movements (NRMs), as circumscribed groups with a specific teaching, represent good settings to the production and appropriation of religious resources. These processes in less ‘formative’ (Wood 2009) environments, such as those designated New Age, are more diffuse and therefore less easy to study” (Altglas 2014, 19).

In other words, the very populations that would be most appropriate to a study of religious individualism are here claimed to be too difficult to study, precisely because they are so individualistic and lack a central organizational hub from which to launch the study. Now, don’t get me wrong, as someone who spends his time studying these ‘non-formative’ communities of discourse, I am well aware that what she says is true. It can certainly be much more difficult to systematically study a decentralized milieu than to study a centrally-organized group with a more clearly delineated membership (though it certainly need not be inherently more difficult to do so—I’m quite sure that I’ve had more success with analyzing many of my decentered populations of interest than others have had getting access to, for instance, the inner realms of Scientology). For those of us who have spent quite a lot of time and effort investigating such ‘non-formative’ milieus, however, Altglas’ justification for her selection of case studies is not likely to be satisfying, when we note that the materials that we specialize in are shrugged off so effortlessly, as though that omission were, in the end, unlikely to actually inform the conclusions drawn from the study. In that sense, Altglas has provided us a particularly intriguing analysis of the of the constraints on activities of bricolage among members of the movements that she has studied, but, in order to corroborate her broader arguments against considerations of more radically individual combinatory practices, a study is still needed of the right kinds of case studies to address those issues, and that has not been accomplished here.

This discrepancy becomes clear in some of Altglas’ comments during the interview. For instance, she describes a potential bricoleur “doing a bit of yoga and then, perhaps, after two or three years, deciding that meditation is better.” This hardly sounds like the kind of highly individualized bricolage that we would be interested in so much as it appears to be an instance of serial participation in different activities. This seems miles apart from the types of improvisational cultural combinations that I would want to study in terms of bricolage or anything that might be considered a pronounced variety of individualism. If we really want to look at the types of bricolage that many of the scholars that Altglas critiques are actually interested in, we’d want to look at people creating websites which lay out their beliefs that link, for instance, Jesus’ last words on the cross, the Mayan calendar, Atlantis, Freemasonry, the electric telegraph, Vedic astrology, UFOs, the secret government, the Galactic Federation of Light, and the psychoactive properties of the pineal gland into some sort of ‘cohesive’ narrative that makes sense to them (at some point in time). There are millions of people like this out there in the world who don’t actively participate in centrally-organized religious communities, who don’t have a local group of peers to share metaphysical discourse with, and who develop their views primarily through reading books, participating in online forums, listening to music, watching YouTube, and the like. These individuals, too, are, of course, not unlimited in their improvisational capabilities. They also only have certain cultural resources available to them. They exist in a certain kind of society that instills certain kinds of values. Nonetheless, many of these individuals are significantly less constrained in their acts of bricolage than many others who explore religious themes only in the context of an established community or from within a particularly restrictive national setting (e.g. North Korea). Indeed, many of these individuals exist in social contexts that actually empower them to participate in copious acts of bricolage. The outlook of the Perennial Philosophy, in particular, which sees all religious traditions as equally fair game for religious inspiration as they are all taken as access points to a single, universal truth, dominates contemporary alternative spirituality, and, in many ways, actually demands those who adopt such a viewpoint to become rampant bricoleurs. While these modern bricoleurs still face very real and very important constraints, it is pertinent for scholars to take note of the ways in which their acts of bricolage are undertaken in a more highly individualized manner than is common in many more traditional, institutional religious settings. The question then should not be simply whether or not individuals are free or constrained in their combinatory endeavors, but rather how free or constrained they are in any given context and, thus, precisely how individualistic they are being. In the final analysis, all constraints are certainly not equal.

References

Altglas, Veronique. 2014. From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luckmann, Thomas. 1979. “The Structural Conditions of Religious Consciousness in Modern Societies.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6, pp. 121-137.

Sperber, Dan. 1996. Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Bricolage

BRICOLAGE: construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand; also : something constructed in this way

“Bricolage.” Merriam-Webster.com.

Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1960s and has undergone a complex genealogy of modifications within the sociologies of culture and religion. As Véronique Altglas writes in a forthcoming article, ‘originally a metaphor, “bricolage'” became an anthropological concept to understand cultural and religious creativity, with an emphasis on what organizes it, despite its contingent nature. Transposed in the study of contemporary European societies, bricolage became about what individuals do in relation to cultural practices and lifestyles’ (Altglas Forthcoming).

In this interview with Chris, Altglas – the author of the recent OUP monograph From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage – discusses this complex genealogy, tracing a movement from forms of cultural warfare to ‘playful, postmodern bricoleurs’ – what many might be tempted to dub ‘pick and mix spirituality’. However, as Altglas goes on to demonstrate, with a particular empirical focus upon Hindu-based Yoga centres and the Kabbalah centre, far from a carefree process of shopping at the ‘spiritual supermarket’, ‘the original meanings and otherness of elements used in this religious bricolage matter, and in fact limits, the popularization of “exotic” religions’ (Forthcoming).

IMG_20141112_114757This broad-ranging interview provides a fascinating overview of an important concept that is not only relevant for the study of contemporary ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, but also speaks to cultural appropriation and construction in general, utilizing a number of stimulating contextual examples along the way. Chris enjoyed the interview so much, he immediately went out and bout Véronique’s book… and he suggests you do too!

This interview was recorded at the European Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Research Network Conference in Belfast in September 2014. You can also download this podcast, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make – particularly in the run up to Christmas!

Picture-41

Thanks to Culture on the Edge for posting this passage. http://edge.ua.edu/monica-miller/the-myth-of-origins/

References

  • Forthcoming 2015. ‘Bricolage’: Reclaiming a Conceptual Tool. Culture & Religion. 2015. 4.

Claude Lévi-Strauss

claude_levi_strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) was the founder of structural anthropology, and is widely considered to be a foundational figure for modern anthropology. In books including Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949, The Elementary Structures of Kinship), Tristes Tropiques (1955) and La Pensée sauvage (1962, The Savage Mind, 1966), Levi-Strauss laid out the argument that the structures underlying both “civilised” and “primitive” societies are identical. However, his work has not been appreciated by Religious Studies scholars as much as it has by anthropologists.

Tremlett, Levi-Strauss on Religiontremlett

Here, David Robertson talks to Paul-Francois Tremlett of the Open University about Levi-Strauss’ legacy for the study of religion. As well as introducing a structuralism inherited from linguistics to the field, Tremlett argues that he also anticipates contemporary cognitive approaches. We discuss his notion of bricolage and how it affected Levi-Strauss’ analyses of mythology.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when buying your Christmas presents etc.

This is the second episode on a series on early 20th century theorists of religion. The first featured Robert Segal on C. G. Jung; next week features Ivan Strenski on Durkheim.

Podcasts

Hyper-Real Religion, Digital Capitalism, and the Pygmalion Effect

 

 

In this interview, recorded at the SocRel 2017 conference in Leeds, Professor Adam Possamai discusses the rising popularity of ‘Hyper-Real religion’ – a category encompassing Jediism, Matrixism, and other movements taking influence from popular culture. Situating hyper-real religions within the contemporary context of digital capitalism, Possamai discusses how changes in the market can also affect religion, with particular reference to the ‘pygmalion effect’: the blurring of boundaries between popular culture and everyday life. How do these Hyper-Real religions relate to the hegemony of capitalism? The interview then turns to Possamai’s more recent work on how religious actors can use technology to fit religion into their daily lives.

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.

Hyper-Real Religion, Digital Capitalism and the Pygmalion Effect

Podcast with Adam Possamai (6 November 2017).

Interviewed by Sammy Bishop.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Transcript available at: Possamai-_Hyper-Real_Religion … nd_the_Pygmalion_Effect_1.1

Sammy Bishop (SB): Hi. I’m Sammy Bishop, here on the last day of SocREL 2017. I’m here with Professor Adam Possamai from Western Sydney University. And today we’re going to be covering hyper-real religions. So thank you very much for joining us.

Adam Possamai (AP): It’s a pleasure, and hello everyone!

SB: (Laughs) So hyper-real religions are, for example, religions such as Jediism, Matrixism. But before we discuss them in some more detail, could you give us some of the cultural context that they’ve come from?

AP: Yes. And in my work I discuss how new religions are created through new social media and the internet. But ,of course, the changes in society and culture are not just about those new technologies. They’re also about some profound changes happening with regards to markets, capitalism – in my work I speak about neoliberalism, which started since the 1980s with the work, of course, of the politicians Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But it has moved and invented itself. To use the work of Mitchell Dean, it’s a “ thought collective”, in the sense that it adapts itself, it moves around. And today we are faced with what can be called digital capitalism. It’s the new face of capitalism. If I can go back to the work of Frederic Jameson, in which he speaks about three phases of capitalism, and the latest, that he mentioned in his work in the 1980s, was late capitalism. Today we can argue that we’re in a fourth stage, which is digital capitalism. And there are new fortunes that are made in the digital world. There are new inequalities that are made, as well. And these new technologies, those social and cultural changes are also affecting religion. And one of these changes is allowing people to go on-line to mix and match these spiritualities and philosophies, together with popular culture. And today, in those new activities, the religious actors are “pro-sumers”, the producer and the consumer of culture on-line. And with Jediism, which I’ve called a hyper-real religion, which is a type of simulacrum of religion. hyper- reality makes reference to the work of Jean Baudrillard and where he speaks about “copy of the copy” and the simulacrum. And here, when you analyse the text online, or in various other forms of new social media as well, you see that people involved in Jediism construct a kind of bricolage or assemblage, pick and choose certain elements from various spiritualities and philosophies and use this as a source of support to speak about Jediism. But Jediism in a way . . . they do, of course, realise that this is a work of fiction, but it makes sense to them. If you go back to the 1980s, with the New Age movement, in which people were creating spirituality for themselves by themselves, by picking and choosing certain elements of spiritualities and philosophies – in hyper-real religions you have people who do that as well. They create a spirituality for themselves by themselves, but include popular culture more and more.

SB: You referred to this as the Pygmalion Effect.

AP: Yes.

SB: Could you explain that in some more detail?

AP: Yes indeed . The Pygmalion effect – and here I’m making reference to the Greek myth of Pygmalion who was this sculptor who created the sculpture of a woman, whom he fell in love with. Her name was Galathea. And he wanted that sculpture to come to life. And Aphrodite heard him and gave life to this statue and she came to life. And that’s the idea with the Pygmalion process. More and more we see the divisions between popular culture and our everyday life being blurred. And it’s not just in religion. You have, for example, the phenomenon of Cosplay: people who go to certain festivals and events and start to dress as their favourite character etc. On May the 4th, more and more there are events and conventions and people dress in various costumes. You have zombie walks where people will go and disguise themselves as zombies and start marching. You have Quiddich games from the Harry Potter and some new sports have been created – not just the Quiddich game but also Chess boxing, which is from the comics of Enki Bilal. And that author created the sport of Chess Boxing, which is mixing playing chess and boxing. And we now have competitions happening in real life. So here, to come back to again to the work of Frederic Jameson, when Frederic Jameson speaks about late capitalism – and when I speak about digital capitalism, it also affects culture – when Jameson was speaking about late capitalism he realised that the way it was affecting culture: it was blurring the distinction between art and popular culture. And art was getting influenced by popular culture and popular culture was being influenced by art. And he was speaking about various forms, a pastiche approach – bricolage – and this intersection between those two fields of creativity. And in digital capitalism what I’m arguing is that it’s popular culture with everyday life. You find that everyday life gets inspired by popular culture and, as always, popular culture is inspired by everyday life. But we’ve got this new direction. It’s always existed, but it’s becoming stronger and stronger. And so the Pygmalion process makes reference to this blurring of the boundaries between culture and everyday life in this phase of digital capitalism. And some religions are affected and some religions are created, such as Jediism and Matrixism. But there are different variations as well. You do have people who will follow that religion and say, “I’m a Jediist and I’m inspired by the narrative of Star Wars”, which is based on various aspects of various philosophies and religions. But some people might say, “I’m inspired by Star Wars, but I won’t call myself a Jediist.” So it’s not that . . . or someone will go and read or watch the Da Vinci Code, and be inspired by the story there and reflect on their own religion. It’s not necessarily believing the narrative that’s been said, but it’s about people getting some inspiration. And, of course, at different levels of inspiration that you can find when you use popular culture and religion.

SB: So, some of these hyper-real religions, the pop culture that they come from can contain some quite revolutionary aspects. Could you say more about that in relation to their contexts as well?

AP: Yes. One of my questions in my research studying Jediism was that Star Wars is a great narrative of a sort of spirituality. But what we often forget – in those spiritualities, I mean – is that in Star Wars there is a fight against the Empire. There is a counter- hegemonic process. And the whole story is based on that: the rebellion against the empire. And what I discovered is that there’s not much discussion. I don’t necessarily speak about rebellion or revolution, but that leaves some room for discussions against the hegemony, in the face of digital capitalism. And it creates new inequalities. There are more and more inequalities in the world. As we said, a strong difference is between the haves and the have-nots. And I’m thinking that Star Wars can be a source of narrative to be counter-hegemonic, in that sense, trying to see what can be done. But to this day, in the research that I’ve collected, I haven’t found that. And here I come back to the work of Gramsci, who was speaking about popular religion and he equates hyper-real religions to popular religion. Although he doesn’t put popular religions in the same category he speaks about certain of elements of certain popular religions, that they can be counter-hegemonic. They can, at least, state something against the status quo, act against the status quo. But in this world of internet, in which we expect a world of multiple possibilities, with multiple interpretations, I realised that it’s not that multiple. And that aspect that it could have, I didn’t find it.

SB: So, looking to the future, do you think these hyper-real religions might become more established and more recognised than they are at the moment?

AP: That depends on how you define established. Because there is a whole debate about it. This discussion is happening on the internet: should hyper-real religion stay on the internet or should a temple be created and become more physical in the offline world? I don’t know, it might happen, it might not happen – establishment. It’s very fluid. It can be transient . Someone will interested for a few months or a few years and then move to something else. Will it grow in giving inspiration to people? Yes. We are born with popular culture, straight away. And especially the younger generation, through YouTube now, access to popular culture is so easy. It’s not like when I was growing up, waiting for certain shows to come on television at certain hours. Now you go on the internet or use Netflix and you can access almost everything instantaneously. And more and more we live through popular culture. And we make reference to popular culture. So people will still be influenced by popular culture for religion, for sure. And I expect this to grow with the new generations as they’re influenced more and more by popular culture. Will it be established? I’m not able to answer that question.

SB: Could you tell me some more about the demographics of people involved in hyper-real religion?

AP: Yes we don’t have concrete data on this, but I expect it will be generation X and Y, mainly. Although there are some baby boomers involved as well. Because we do have some hyper-real religions that started before the internet, like the Church of All Worlds which is a neo-pagan group. and they were extremely influenced by the science fiction book by Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land. But here, in those hyper-real religions, before the internet there was inspiration from popular culture, but that was more secondary. And what I found is that in those that appear after the internet, popular culture became more central: Jediism from Star Wars; Matrixism from The Matrix. And to come back to the Church of All Worlds, they were inspired by Star Trek. But I haven’t found a religion in Star Trek, although some work has been done on people following Star Trek in a religious way. So what I find is that hyper-real religion started before the internet, and there are still some people involved in the Church of All Worlds who will be older of course. But the growing trends are really starting at the beginning of the 21st century, especially with the development of Web 2.0. And we do have a younger generation – who were fully immersed in that – who are getting older. But we do have a younger generation coming on board as well and using all the forms of new social media. So I won’t say it’s generation specific, but there’s a larger proportion of generation Y, I would say, in my estimation.

SB: And, kind-of linking on from that, the freedom that the internet allows: someone might think that people would beginning to create their own texts rather than looking to popular culture. Could you expand on that a little, perhaps?

AP: Their own religious texts?

SB: Yes, their kind-of religious resources.

AP: Ah that’s what you do have. And this was really in the 1980s with the New Age: people speaking about what they were interested in, taking a bricolage approach, or an eclectic approach and by this I mean people taking a bit somewhere and linking to something else, and this gives meaning to people. And they will be writing about that or speaking about that, and now they’re able to post this on-line. And some people speak about their interests in the world in a blog, and some of them will mention spirituality of course, and spirituality inspired by popular culture. So hyper-real religions basically refers to those religions that come out of the internet, but also the Pygmalion process by which people feel that they can speak about popular culture on the internet as a source of inspiration, and not necessarily being a religion as such. Myself, I’m influenced by popular culture sometimes. This is not a religion for me and not for other people – as I said. We were brought up with popular culture and sometimes we find inspiration from certain works of popular culture, either a reflection about the world or reflections about the self. And this is a growing trend. And some people speak about that quite openly on blogs, for example.

SB: Where do you see your own research going with this in the future? What are you working on at the moment?

AP: With this? I’ve got a book coming out in December of this year, on the i-zation of society and neoliberal post-secularism, in which I speak about religion and digital capitalism. And this work on the Pygmalion process and hyper-real religion is a part of it. I also speak about the way religious groups now are creating apps for iphones or ipads and how religion is really moving into new social media and how the new social media is changing your practices. So there are plenty of apps that you can find, such as Bible reading. And we find that some people attend a church and check that the religious professional is quoting the Bible accurately. And so people use apps for various reasons through their everyday life and there are changing patterns as well. And it’s this idea that you can use your iphone, you carry it with you all the time. And so, basically, you’re connected to digital capitalism – this online world – at all times. If you go back in the 1980s or ‘90s, you had to walk to a computer to do it. Or even if you had a laptop, physically, you had to set it up. Now you just walk everyday, you take your ipad, your iphone. It’s instant. And I speak about those new social trends that are affecting our everyday life, and how it impacts on religion, and how religion also impacts on those trends as well.

SB: What would you say are the main impacts that they have on religion?

AP: More and more people are more networked and instantly they can use a Twitter account, or they can put some reflection on themselves, on their religion in the new social media and its very instantaneous. So, to explain the impact, I’ve adapted George Ritzer’s theory of the McDonaldisation of society. For Ritzer, the McDonaldisation of society is the increase of rationalism. He was inspired by the work of Max Weber on the rationalisation of society and instrumental rationality as we move bureaucracies to everyday life. And with the idea of the McDonaldisation of society, that we get out of the home and we go to a restaurant, we go to a school and we’re exposed to this rationalisation process. Now this has changed. It has accelerated with those new i-technologies: iphones and ipads. And that’s why I speak about the i-zation of society, in which the rationalisation process has increased and is now part . . . it’s on the self, we carry it all the time. And we’ve got access to new apps in which we can manage our life in a better way. And part of managing our life is, for religious people, it includes being religious. It’s a very hectic world. People are very busy: work is demanding; people want to read or see popular culture; some people have children that have to be driven all around, very often; and people are short of time. And those new technologies are basically helping people to rationalise their life and be able to be more active as a religious person. So, I’ve read research which showed that some people don’t have much time to read the Bible before going to a church reading group, but they will get the app and check what they have to read very quickly, so they will be ready. So those new technologies are allowing people to be able to be more organised in their life: organised, as if we manage ourselves as a small company or a small bureaucracy. But this is our life today in which we try to fit everything in. And some of those apps are basically allowing religious people to continue to be religious in a more efficient way. And this is why I speak about the i-zation of society in which there’s been an increase in rationalisation through those new technologies.

SB: Great. OK, I think that’s about our time up.

AP: OK, thanks.

SB: Professor Possamai, thank you for spending time with us today.

AP: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Citation Info: Possomai, Adam. and Sammy Bishop. 2017. “Hyper-real Religion, Digital Capitalism and the Pygmalion Effect”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 6 November 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 3 November 2017 Available at:
https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/hyper-real-religion-digital-capitalism- and-thepygmalion-effect/

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The Logics of Bricolage Reconsidered: A Cognitive Approach to Individuals and Their Constraints

An Important Intervention

Veronique Altglas is to be commended for her intervention into the contemporary academic discussions and (often uncritical) usage of the concept of bricolage. As she rightly suggests, the naïve view that the acts of cultural improvisation of a modern bricoleur are unconstrained and unlimited by anything beyond the free and willful activity of his or her own individual whims is long overdue for retirement. And, in the wake of her efforts, one certainly hopes that the analytic appeal to such a naïve sense of radical cognitive autonomy becomes increasingly difficult to maintain.

However, I must admit that I do wonder to what degree such an extreme view ever actually had a significant conceptual hold over sociological analysis in the first place. Throughout her interview, Altglas is very careful to emphasize that, of course, bricoleurs cannot be so extravagantly free in their acts of picking and mixing among cultural representations because, after all, not all cultural resources are available to them. This is both an important intervention and, simultaneously, a rather obvious and nearly tautological point: people cannot pick from, or mix with, resources that are not available to them. One wonders if there were ever actually any scholars who would have argued otherwise, or who have genuinely suggested that cultural context plays no role whatsoever in the syncretic activities of modern bricoleurs.

Even Thomas Luckmann, who Altglas uses as her go-to example of a sociologist who supposedly endorses this radically individualistic stance, doesn’t really express such an extreme view as the one that Altglas uses as her foil. She quotes Luckmann as having said that, in the case of contemporary bricoleurs, “anything goes,” and suggests this view as indicative of a position that holds the creative powers of the bricoleur to be “unlimited.” However, in the very sentence that Altglas is quoting, Luckmann, himself, characterizes his claim as little more than a suggestive “exaggeration” (Luckmann 1979, 136; cited in Altglas 2014, 2). In fact, what Luckmann had in mind here seems to be precisely the same point that Altglas herself eventually comes around to in the final portion of her RSP interview: When religious organizations begin to lose their hold as authoritative interpreters of available cultural representations, especially in a context of easy access to a large and highly diverse spectrum of informational resources, this can result in a situation, as Dr. Altglas seems to agree, in which, due to a context of “religious deregulation in modern societies,” as she puts it, “a dimension of choice and diversity” becomes a relevant factor in analyzing the types of constraints on, as well as, I would add, the types of empowerments toward, bricolage that are present in this kind of institutionally deregulated social environment

A Further Appeal to the Individual as a Relevant Level of Analysis

This response, then, is not so much a defense of the scholarly value of the concept of bricolage, as I am not particularly invested in its use. This is, however, a defense of the academic interest in the individual, which I take to be inclusive of the variety of ways that the activities of individuals are constrained, or not, in any given context. It is an insistence that all macro-scale social phenomena are composed of a large number of micro-scale processes among individual humans. To that degree, it is important to notice that while, indeed, all acts of bricolage are constrained, they are certainly not all equally constrained and, indeed, some contexts may encourage bricolage while others might act, relatively speaking, to diminish its occurrence. There are always, in any act of cultural improvisation, a unique array of factors which go into determining whether any particular representation will be chosen as the tool for a particular job at a particular time by a particular individual. However, Altglas’ analysis would seem to overemphasize the importance of external, social factors and, as a result, downplays other significant, internal, cognitive factors that are inevitably in play during any act of bricolage. Indeed, Dan Sperber has emphasized that,

“[t]hough which factors will contribute to the explanation of a particular strain of representations cannot be decided in advance, in every case, some of the factors to be considered will be psychological, and some will be environmental or ecological (taking the environment to begin at the individual organism’s nerve endings and to include, for each organism, all the organisms it interacts with)” (Sperber 1996, 84).

To the extent that it is, indeed, true that scholars have tended to ignore what Sperber calls the environmental or ecological factors that influence the reception, retention, and further conceptual utilization of available cultural representations, Altglas’ attempt to bring environmental factors, such as nationality or economic class, back into focus is an important correction to an analytic oversight. It is also important, however, to insist that she be careful not to pull too far in the other direction toward an equally lopsided type of analysis which leaves the mental or psychological factors largely unconsidered. Since, as Sperber notes, both will be present in every case, when a potential bricoleur encounters a cultural representation, both psychological and environmental factors need to be considered when analyzing constraints on, and empowerments toward, the utilization of that representation for an act of bricolage.

Potentially pertinent psychological factors include the ease with which a particular representation can be memorized, the existence of background knowledge in relationship to which the representation is relevant, and a motivation to communicate the content of the representation. Ecological factors, include the recurrence of situations in which the representation gives rise to, or contributes to, appropriate action, the availability of external memory stores (writing in particular), and the existence of institutions engaged in the transmission of the representation” (Sperber 1996, 84).

But, where does that leave us? To my reading, it leaves us with quite a wide spectrum of potential degrees of constraint on the abilities of individuals to pick and mix cultural representations. Are there some contexts in which such constraints are more oppressive toward innovation than others? Are there, on the contrary, some contexts in which interpretive freedom is relatively more unconstrained? Does the relevant question, then, become not simply ‘when is bricolage taking place’, but, rather, to what degree is the density and regularity of the practice of bricolage itself encouraged or constrained by different psycho-socio-cultural contexts?

Individualism and Organizations: On the Selection of Case Studies

I will look forward with anticipation toward the studies that Altglas has signaled that she is interested in pursuing in the future. I think that analyses of “bricolage in more conservative religious settings” or in “in messianic congregations” might provide important accounts of exactly to what degree institutional settings might constrain (or even empower) certain acts of bricolage. I would argue, however, that ultimately, as important as such studies will inevitably be, they cannot adequately address the question that Altglas most seems to want to address, which is the issue of religious individualism. I fear that in her eagerness to debunk Sheilaism, Altglas has failed to select representative case studies for her analysis. Given an attempt to investigate radical individualism, the choice to undertake that examination through the sociological analysis of religious organizations (Altglas’ study is based on fieldwork among Siddha Yoga and Sivananda Centers and the Kabbalah Center) that are rooted in particular cultural traditions would seem to obviate any serious chance at arriving at the desired conclusions. It is simply an analysis of the wrong data. In the introduction to her book, Altglas attempts to account for this oversight but, ultimately, her mea culpa does not overcome the problem.

“The readers might wonder why these case studies in particular have been selected. For a start, new religious movements (NRMs), as circumscribed groups with a specific teaching, represent good settings to the production and appropriation of religious resources. These processes in less ‘formative’ (Wood 2009) environments, such as those designated New Age, are more diffuse and therefore less easy to study” (Altglas 2014, 19).

In other words, the very populations that would be most appropriate to a study of religious individualism are here claimed to be too difficult to study, precisely because they are so individualistic and lack a central organizational hub from which to launch the study. Now, don’t get me wrong, as someone who spends his time studying these ‘non-formative’ communities of discourse, I am well aware that what she says is true. It can certainly be much more difficult to systematically study a decentralized milieu than to study a centrally-organized group with a more clearly delineated membership (though it certainly need not be inherently more difficult to do so—I’m quite sure that I’ve had more success with analyzing many of my decentered populations of interest than others have had getting access to, for instance, the inner realms of Scientology). For those of us who have spent quite a lot of time and effort investigating such ‘non-formative’ milieus, however, Altglas’ justification for her selection of case studies is not likely to be satisfying, when we note that the materials that we specialize in are shrugged off so effortlessly, as though that omission were, in the end, unlikely to actually inform the conclusions drawn from the study. In that sense, Altglas has provided us a particularly intriguing analysis of the of the constraints on activities of bricolage among members of the movements that she has studied, but, in order to corroborate her broader arguments against considerations of more radically individual combinatory practices, a study is still needed of the right kinds of case studies to address those issues, and that has not been accomplished here.

This discrepancy becomes clear in some of Altglas’ comments during the interview. For instance, she describes a potential bricoleur “doing a bit of yoga and then, perhaps, after two or three years, deciding that meditation is better.” This hardly sounds like the kind of highly individualized bricolage that we would be interested in so much as it appears to be an instance of serial participation in different activities. This seems miles apart from the types of improvisational cultural combinations that I would want to study in terms of bricolage or anything that might be considered a pronounced variety of individualism. If we really want to look at the types of bricolage that many of the scholars that Altglas critiques are actually interested in, we’d want to look at people creating websites which lay out their beliefs that link, for instance, Jesus’ last words on the cross, the Mayan calendar, Atlantis, Freemasonry, the electric telegraph, Vedic astrology, UFOs, the secret government, the Galactic Federation of Light, and the psychoactive properties of the pineal gland into some sort of ‘cohesive’ narrative that makes sense to them (at some point in time). There are millions of people like this out there in the world who don’t actively participate in centrally-organized religious communities, who don’t have a local group of peers to share metaphysical discourse with, and who develop their views primarily through reading books, participating in online forums, listening to music, watching YouTube, and the like. These individuals, too, are, of course, not unlimited in their improvisational capabilities. They also only have certain cultural resources available to them. They exist in a certain kind of society that instills certain kinds of values. Nonetheless, many of these individuals are significantly less constrained in their acts of bricolage than many others who explore religious themes only in the context of an established community or from within a particularly restrictive national setting (e.g. North Korea). Indeed, many of these individuals exist in social contexts that actually empower them to participate in copious acts of bricolage. The outlook of the Perennial Philosophy, in particular, which sees all religious traditions as equally fair game for religious inspiration as they are all taken as access points to a single, universal truth, dominates contemporary alternative spirituality, and, in many ways, actually demands those who adopt such a viewpoint to become rampant bricoleurs. While these modern bricoleurs still face very real and very important constraints, it is pertinent for scholars to take note of the ways in which their acts of bricolage are undertaken in a more highly individualized manner than is common in many more traditional, institutional religious settings. The question then should not be simply whether or not individuals are free or constrained in their combinatory endeavors, but rather how free or constrained they are in any given context and, thus, precisely how individualistic they are being. In the final analysis, all constraints are certainly not equal.

References

Altglas, Veronique. 2014. From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luckmann, Thomas. 1979. “The Structural Conditions of Religious Consciousness in Modern Societies.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 6, pp. 121-137.

Sperber, Dan. 1996. Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Bricolage

BRICOLAGE: construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand; also : something constructed in this way

“Bricolage.” Merriam-Webster.com.

Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1960s and has undergone a complex genealogy of modifications within the sociologies of culture and religion. As Véronique Altglas writes in a forthcoming article, ‘originally a metaphor, “bricolage'” became an anthropological concept to understand cultural and religious creativity, with an emphasis on what organizes it, despite its contingent nature. Transposed in the study of contemporary European societies, bricolage became about what individuals do in relation to cultural practices and lifestyles’ (Altglas Forthcoming).

In this interview with Chris, Altglas – the author of the recent OUP monograph From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage – discusses this complex genealogy, tracing a movement from forms of cultural warfare to ‘playful, postmodern bricoleurs’ – what many might be tempted to dub ‘pick and mix spirituality’. However, as Altglas goes on to demonstrate, with a particular empirical focus upon Hindu-based Yoga centres and the Kabbalah centre, far from a carefree process of shopping at the ‘spiritual supermarket’, ‘the original meanings and otherness of elements used in this religious bricolage matter, and in fact limits, the popularization of “exotic” religions’ (Forthcoming).

IMG_20141112_114757This broad-ranging interview provides a fascinating overview of an important concept that is not only relevant for the study of contemporary ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, but also speaks to cultural appropriation and construction in general, utilizing a number of stimulating contextual examples along the way. Chris enjoyed the interview so much, he immediately went out and bout Véronique’s book… and he suggests you do too!

This interview was recorded at the European Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Research Network Conference in Belfast in September 2014. You can also download this podcast, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make – particularly in the run up to Christmas!

Picture-41

Thanks to Culture on the Edge for posting this passage. http://edge.ua.edu/monica-miller/the-myth-of-origins/

References

  • Forthcoming 2015. ‘Bricolage’: Reclaiming a Conceptual Tool. Culture & Religion. 2015. 4.

Claude Lévi-Strauss

claude_levi_strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) was the founder of structural anthropology, and is widely considered to be a foundational figure for modern anthropology. In books including Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949, The Elementary Structures of Kinship), Tristes Tropiques (1955) and La Pensée sauvage (1962, The Savage Mind, 1966), Levi-Strauss laid out the argument that the structures underlying both “civilised” and “primitive” societies are identical. However, his work has not been appreciated by Religious Studies scholars as much as it has by anthropologists.

Tremlett, Levi-Strauss on Religiontremlett

Here, David Robertson talks to Paul-Francois Tremlett of the Open University about Levi-Strauss’ legacy for the study of religion. As well as introducing a structuralism inherited from linguistics to the field, Tremlett argues that he also anticipates contemporary cognitive approaches. We discuss his notion of bricolage and how it affected Levi-Strauss’ analyses of mythology.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when buying your Christmas presents etc.

This is the second episode on a series on early 20th century theorists of religion. The first featured Robert Segal on C. G. Jung; next week features Ivan Strenski on Durkheim.