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Studies,iek>iekandtheIdeologyofReligionlessSpirituality

iekandtheIdeologyofReligionlessSpirituality
January21,2013AllenG.AndersonLeaveacommentGotocomments

MarxisttheoristSlavojiekiswidelyknownfor
hisprovocative,ifsometimesreckless,pronouncementsoncontemporaryculture.Heis,of
course,lesswellknownforcareful,restrainedorrigorousanalysis.Despitethis,there
arenotablemomentsinwhichiekissorightonthatonewonderswhetherevenhe
knowshowrightheis.InanowoftenquotedpassagefromhisopeningchapterinThe
MonstrosityofChrist:ParadoxorDialectic?(coauthoredwithROtheologianJohn
Milbank)iekwritesthefollowing:

https://grandampersand.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/zizekandtheideologyofreligionlessspirituality/ 1/8
2/21/2017 iekandtheIdeologyofReligionlessSpirituality|TheGrandAmpersand

whentodaysNewAgeideologistsinsistonthedistinctionbetweenreligionand
spirituality(theyperceivethemselvesasspiritual,notpartofanyorganizedreligion)
Theideaisthatallreligionspresuppose,relyon,exploit,manipulate,etc.,thesamecoreof
mysticalexperience,andthatitisonlypureformsofmeditationlikeZenBuddhismthat
exemplifythiscoredirectly,bypassinginstitutionalanddogmaticmediations.Spiritual
meditation,initsabstractionfrominstitutionalizedreligion,appearstodayasthezero
levelundistortedcoreofreligion:thecomplexinstitutionalanddogmaticedificewhich
sustainseveryparticularreligionisdismissedasacontingentsecondarycoatingofthis
core.Thereasonforthisshiftofaccentfromreligiousinstitutiontotheintimacyof
spiritualexperienceisthatsuchameditationistheideologicalformthatbestfitstodays
globalcapitalism.

WhileitsnotreallyclearfromthecontexthowthisNewAgeinsistenceonspirituality
withoutreligionissupposedtoberelatedtotodaysglobalcapitalism,elsewhereiek
hasofferedaslightlymoredetailedexplanationofthissamebasicidea.InhisbookOn
Beliefforinstance,henotestheironythattoday,whileEuropeantechnologyand
capitalismaredominatinggloballyatthelevelofeconomicinfrastructure,atthesame
time,thisNewAge,Asiaticthoughtisestablishingitshegemonyatthelevelof
ideologicalsuperstructure.iekexplainshowthispervasiveculturalshiftfrom
institutionalreligiontospiritualexperienceis,hethinks,tiedtowhatAlvinToffler
referredtoasFutureShocki.e.,theinabilityofthoseintheWesttocope
psychologicallywiththeeverincreasingrateoftechnologicalprogressanditsresulting
socialchanges.TheappropriationofvariousEasternspiritualitiesseemstoallow
Westernersawayoutofthisdilemma.AccordingtowhatiekcallsWestern
Buddhism:

Insteadoftryingtocopewiththeacceleratingrhythmoftechnologicalprogressand
socialchanges,oneshouldratherrenouncetheendeavortoretaincontroloverwhatgoes
on,rejectingitasanexpressionofthemodernlogicofdominationoneshould,instead,
letoneselfgo,driftalong,whileretaininganinnerdistanceandindifferencetowards
themaddanceofthisacceleratedprocess.

Thus,iekclaims
makingonlyapassingreferencetotheoldMarxianadageabouttheopiumofthemasses
thatthecurrentemphasisonspiritualitywithoutreligionallowsWesternersawayto

https://grandampersand.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/zizekandtheideologyofreligionlessspirituality/ 2/8
2/21/2017 iekandtheIdeologyofReligionlessSpirituality|TheGrandAmpersand

copewiththemaddanceoflatecapitalismthattraditionalreligiousinstitutions,
especiallyChristianity,cannot.Theunfortunateironyofthissituationhowever,isthat
thoughthisreligionlessspiritualitymayappeartousasaformofresistance(e.g.,to
capitalism,tothestatusquo,toWesterntechnologicalsociety,etc.),itis,ineffect,the
mostefficientwayforustofullyparticipateinthecapitalistdynamicwhileretainingthe
appearanceofmentalsanity.Inotherwords,intheveryactofrenouncingcontrolover
ourcircumstances(whichoftenamountstolittlemorethanarenunciationoftherightto
judgeagivensituationasobjectivelyunjust),andcontentingourselveswithamerely
subjectivestanceofindifference(i.e.,lettingoneselfgo),weeffectivelyundoany
possibilityofrealresistance,allowingourselvestobecomethepassiveinstrumentsofthe
capitalistdynamic.

ItsimportanttonotethatiekisntcriticizingEasternspiritualityassuch.Heinsists,for
instance,onadistinctionbetweenreal,authenticBuddhismthatis,Buddhismasitmight
bepracticedbydevoutfollowersandthedecontextualized,andcherrypickedversion
thatfiguresprominentlyintheNewAgepastiche.Itsthelatter,ratherthantheformer,
thatdrawshiscriticalire.

IfieksanalysisisabletoindicateonepossiblewayinwhichthissocalledNewAge
ideologyfunctionsonceitappears,perhapstheworkofagrowingnumberof
anthropologistsandscholarsofreligioncanshedlightonhowitisabletoappearinthe
firstplacei.e.,howisitthatwehavecometoinheritasourbasicstartingpointits
foundingassumption:thatthereisapure,universalcoreofundistortedspirituality
underlyingeachparticularreligionsmanipulationofit.Inmynextpost,Inafuturepost,
IdliketoexplorethecontentionofreligiousscholarssuchasS.N.Balagangadhara,
TomokoMasuzawa,TimothyFitzgeraldandahostofothers,thattheconceptofreligion
asauniversal,transhistorical,transculturalfeatureofhumanlife,isnotanobjective,
neutraldescriptorofacertainkindofpractice,outthereintheworld,butisaninvention
ofearlyWesternmodernitywhichwassuperimposeduponorborrowedbyothercultures
throughtheprocessofcolonization.Iwillthenexaminetheimplicationsofthisworkfor
thekindofNewAgeideologythatiekaddressesabove,inordertoshowthatits
emphasisonareligionlessspiritualitynotonlyfunctionsasasupplementtoour
capitalisteconomics(asiekclaims),butthatitisalsothelogicalextensionofa
particularideologicaldiscoursewhichhasitsrootsinalonghistoryofcolonization,and
westernimperialism.

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