Saturday, December 25, 2010

Drawing room spiritualism

Like insurance, faith has become a matter of drawing room solicitation. Be it saffron robed Swami Ramdev or superstar evangelist Joel Osteen, faith of all hues are on display over the convenience of a television screen in the drawing room. The press of a remote button opens window to the world of emerging telefaith, a marketplace of spirituality of least resistance which is producing ‘consumer worshippers’ rather than worshippers ‘consumed with God’.

McDonaldisation, Masala McGospel and Om Economics looks at globalization from a cultural and religious standpoint. Backed by content analysis of two each of the Christian and the Hindu television channels, research for the book was followed by interviews with middle-level priests in Mumbai and Hyderabad. What emerges is a cutting edge research, providing insightful reading on the development of telefaith within India and around the world.

As mediated religions gain new foothold, faith is finding strange bedfellows in politics and the capitalist market. Not only does control over airwaves connect to the world of marketing and finance, the new links create political economies that support and sustain the religious media enterprises. High-profile televangelist, Ramdev who teaches and demonstrates his breath control techniques, has cashed in on television to build a huge religious enterprise.

But televangelism has reduced faith to a commodity for the calculating consumer. No wonder, the phenomenal following of some of the tele-gurus like Swami Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar could be attributed to the medical bills that are impossibly high for the middle class in the event of an illness. It is no coincidence therefore that a large number of those taking part in healing crusades hope to be healed for free.

The growth of telefaith, the author asserts, may imply that the media will simply be a venue for the fragmentation of faiths, where multiple faiths are ‘narrow casted’ to specific interest groups, with various religions in a state of co-existence. However, the crucial question is whether global communication will co-create a world where multiple religions co-exist or will it create a world of homogenized global cultures?

As powerful generators of cultural meanings, religious media and mediatised religion have tremendous potential for generating strong identities that can have powerful implications for either understanding or misunderstanding, peace for conflict. If handled without care, the media could inadvertently become the venue for ‘clash of civilizations’, the book concludes.....Link

McDonalisation, Masala McGospel and Om Economics
by Jonathan D. James
Sage; 232 pages, Rs 595

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