health, consumerism & religion

‘The Healthy Body as Religious Territory” in: Catherine Brace et al. (eds.): Emerging Geographies of Belief, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars 2011 

Parallels between health, consumerism and religion are commonly established on the basis of similarities in appearance: Sites of consumption increasingly look like sites of worship,“cathedrals of consumption” (Ritzer 1999: 8ff.). At the same time consumerism seems to have consumed religion (Clapp 1998: 174) compelling religion itself to engage in a promotional culture (e.g. O’Guinn and Belk 1989), matching the cathedrals of consumption with “shopping mall churches” (Sargeant 2000: 106). The cult of the healthy body in consumer culture, the promise of health as beatitude, as“state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (WHO 1986) appears to constitute a new form of idolatry replacing salvation in eternity with fitness in an ever expanding life-span. Religions had already discovered the therapeutic aspects of belief as a selling point when they got entangled in the “web of the market” in antebellum America (Moore 1994:136ff.).
 One could say the body and its health has become a territory of both visible and“invisible religion” (Luckmann 1967) resacralizing the supposedly secularized sphere of everyday life. To go beyond the impressionistic I will approach the issue by developing such parallels from structural properties of religion, namely the “dialectics of probation” (Oevermann 1995) and“substance logic” (Dux 1982).
 
 I will argue that while religious production of meaning has become problematic in a consumer culture, consumerism itself offers effective and flexible alternatives. Religiosity migrates from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples into theconsuming body; and by this the nature of religiosity is significantly altered.  This body is no longer the “temple of the Holy Spirit” but the temple of the consumer self. 
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