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Culture and religion 

Culture and religion
Culture and religion

Peter van der Veer

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date: 29 June 2022

As we have seen, Indian spirituality has been formulated by Vivekananda during a trip to Chicago and has been further developed in constant interaction with the rest of the world. A political figure like Mahatma Gandhi fits seamlessly in this history. When in the 1970s and 1980s till the present day highly educated members of the Indian middle class migrate to the USA for medical and engineering jobs they are confronted with a quite aggressive marketing of Indian spirituality in a market for health, for exercise, and for management practices. This, in turn, is brought back to India where especially successful new movements like the Bangalore-based Art of Living with Guru Ravi Ravi Shankar cater for a mobile, transnational class of business entrepreneurs. China’s isolation between 1950 and 1980 has ensured a belated entry of Chinese spirituality on this market, but nevertheless it is quickly catching up with products like taiji quan and qigong. In the Chinese case there is a stronger connection with sports and especially martial arts, which are also promoted by Hong Kong and mainland movies. In both India and China one finds a similar appropriation of spiritual traditions to cater for the newly emerging middle classes. These newly manufactured spiritualities have a tenuous relationship with textual traditions, guarded by centers of learning and spiritual masters. They are creative in their response to new opportunities and anxieties produced by globalization and are, as such, comparable with Pentecostal and charismatic varieties of Christianity. This new political deployment of spirituality is what is now considered to be ‘new age’ or indeed a form of de-politicization. I hope I have shown, however, that these understandings of spirituality as a-political or even anti-political obscure the fact that spirituality, as much as secularity, can be and has been deployed in radical struggles both in the East and in the West.

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