Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

The Church as a Prescriptor of Consumption - an Outline for a Sociology of Luxury

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

The Church as a Prescriptor of Consumption - an Outline for a Sociology of Luxury

Article excerpt

Argument

The recent economic crisis that has gripped most of the world's economies offers researchers new opportunities for reflection on themes such as: consumption, the lack of balance between production and consumption and greed. Whether we place ourselves in the doctrine of consumerism, meaning excessive concern for the acquisition of goods, whether we linger in postmodernity, the consumer practices and life styles, we still characterize the social status, social stratification and competition through consumption. The present study presents a quick overview of the evolution of luxury representations, with emphasis on the attitude of the Orthodox Church towards luxury, in more general terms, with a focus on the process of modernization of the Romanian country. The social change is another concept that our study is focusing on, and for the purposes of the current paper we equate modernization and Westernization1. That is, in fact, the first modernization of the Romanian society, seen as "a process that involves access to capital, to information, to culture. If upgrading is tied to capitalism and industrialization, then this will manifest itself in the Romanian society only after more than a century"2. The link between consumer's behaviour and modernity is obvious. Incidentally, "sociologists explain the phenomenon of consumption as being a combination of envisage (comfort, safety), pleasure (hedonistic, consumer satisfaction) and meaning (differentiation, lifestyle, membership of a group or the group itself). The social actors are combining various strong reasons (...) in order to consume the goods"3.

Luxury has been a landmark in social stratification, a cause of frustration, indignation and philosophical reflection. Luxury, from the perspective of religious practice means sin, vice, excess, foolhardiness. In the present study we will analyze how the luxury is passing from the stage of being the object of the curses, to the stage of being a necessity, or even the engine of the development of industry and commerce. We will focus on the struggle between old and new, between the ethics promoted by the Church and the ones promoted by liberalism. We will also focus on the tension between traditional consumption (aborigine, predictable and conformist) and the turnover generated by the industrial revolution. Preserving the status quo, i.e. maintaining inherited inequality, maintaining the already existing status quo- this is one of the Church's obsessions. Do not dare! seems to be the command that can easily be noticed in many reactions of the clergy, and if you would dare to overcome the socio-economic level that you were born with, then it would be appropriate to give something back to the Church. Over time, some things that were considered to be cursed, i.e. wealth has become a gift, "the giftof wealth". And if God gave you too much, you need to give something back in return. "The gift" is an institution, after all in the New Testament we are being told that "the one who gives to the poor lends the Lord. And He will reward his deed"4. Let us note here an educational dimension of the religious discourse, normative, because "education always consists in the inoculation of cultural patterns, among whom the duties of social status are included (...) the duties of the personal social status are transmissive to all religions"5. The normative dimension of the discourse of the Church is evident, especially in the context of the belief that living together is made possible only through the establishment of rules- "religions always present the human existence as being placed in a social context"6. On the other hand, what was happening in the Romanian cultural space was not altogether different from what was happening in the Western world, especially because ever since religion is known "we cannot deny the fact that it plays a major part in the construction of ethical behavior"7.

Curses for the Rich

In the Romanian space, one of the institutions that has the role of prescriptor of consumption is the Church. …

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