This dissertation will explore the rise and secularisation of consumer society and the advent of New Age religions with their focus on commercial aspects where religion is treated as a mere consumer item.
The first chapter will concentrate on the early steps of mass production in the industrialisation period including Marx’s critique on the capitalist production which leads to an alienation of work and commodity fetishism. It will also include Max Weber’s prediction of increasing rationalisation of society which will lead to the ‘iron cage’ as well as fordist forms of production will be introduced. Then a look at the history and the development of advertising will be taken including the different forms of advertising (such as mass marketing, branding, lifestyle marketing etc.) and the influence they had on consumption. This will be followed by different approaches of explaining the underlying motivation of consumption from more modern approaches leading to postmodern approaches and semiotics.
The second chapter concentrates mainly on the secularisation theory of Marx and Max Weber. The approach of the latter is expanded by Wilson. The chapter will highlight how changes in production and consumption have affected the secularisation of society and how this was already predicted by Max Weber. In addition the background is illustrated to provide some explanations for the rise of New Age religions.
Chapter three will suggest some definitions and summaries of the New Age religions as well as examining their development. This will be followed by a literature review on New Age consumption in order to attempt to tackle the issue.
Finally chapter four presents the outcomes of the primary research of this dissertation in form of a content analysis of a selection of New Age and Health magazines. The findings of this analysis will support the assumption that the New Age religions include certain commercial elements however it will also be suggested that one cannot generalise thus commercial elements as well as the rejection of commercialism are juxtaposing in the New Age religions.
Current Western society is often described as a consumer society where almost every aspect of life is reduced to a consumer item. It is argued that culture is dominated by a range of juxtaposing areas which are often unrelated. The boundaries between high and low culture are disappearing (Featherstone 1991) [ see references]. Featherstone (1991) suggests that this is understood as postmodern culture where in contrast to modernity a lack of centrality takes place and culture is presented in a superficial and easy-digestible way. The reality in which we live is replaced by a hyper reality in which the representation of reality is reduced to a simulation and is perceived as even better than the real world (Baudrillard 1998).
It is argued that this kind of phenomena drives the consumer society forward, which leads the consumer in a world where everything communicates through signs (Baudrillard1998 /Ritzer 1998). Goods are no longer purchased for their real value rather than through an indoctrinated ‘sign value’ (Baudrillard 1998). It is suggested that consumption becomes even a form of leisure activity in itself (Ritzer 1993). Ritzer’s (1993) McDonaldization theory, developed from the background of Max Weber’s prediction of an increasing rationalisation in capitalism and thus to the ‘iron cage’, highlights how the consumer becomes controlled and exploited with maximum efficiency. Contrary views celebrate the sophistication of the consumer as well as consumer sovereignty (Nava 1991).
This dissertation will consider the early steps of production where profit was gained through an exploitation of the work force which was criticised by Marx (Fetscher 1983) as an alienation of work as well as commodity fetishism where goods are no longer being produced and exchanged for their original utilitarian value.
Different approaches of the underlying motivation and suggested manipulation of the consumer will be introduced and set in contrast with the argument of consumer sovereignty. In addition the dissertation will consider the suggestion that modernity has shifted to postmodernity and the effects this might have had on consumption.
The development of increasing capitalism and thus consumption was foreseen by Max Weber (Ritzer 1993) who predicted that late capitalism will lead to secularisation or at least marginalization of religion in society (Harris 2001 [online]).
Wilson (1966) develops Weber’s theory further and predicts that religion becomes more and more privatised and one possibility is that there will be a growth in a superficial search for religious alternatives in order to fulfil this vacuum. One form of replacement could be the New Age movement with its central commercial aspect of providing a client and audience cult (Bruce 1996). However Wilson (1992) argues that one cannot be sure if these new religions fulfil only the needs of a rationalised society for more social aspects or if the new religions evoke these needs in the first place.
This dissertation attempts to clarify whether consumer culture necessarily leads into the world of a superficial consumption of religion and then to New Age. It will be examined how consumption enters and dominates more and more areas in current life where even sacred spaces such as religion become secularised and commercialised and thus privatised. In this context the advent and development of the New Age movements will be discussed and their commercial aspects analysed.
This research strongly relies on secondary research material provided in the literature review which will be supported through some primary research in form of a content analysis of a selection of New Age magazines.
The ensuing literature review will examine the relationship between production and consumption and how changes of production had an influence on the new means of consumption. Following that the changes in consumption will be highlighted focusing on the argument that there was a shift from exploiting production to the exploitation of the consumer. It was felt that consumption needed to be explored more intensively in the following chapters in order to understand the current culture. Chapter one, which will provide the necessary background of understanding of the consumer society, will then be applied to understand the rise of secularisation and the New Age movement as well as to help identifying the commercial aspects of New Age.