QUESTIONING MODERN SPIRITUALITY What is neoliberalism and what exactly does it have to do with spirituality? Neoliberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time -it refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximise their personal profit. Associated initially with Reagan and Thatcher, neoliberalism has for the past two decades been the dominant global political economic trend adopted by political parties of the center, much of the traditional left, and the right. These parties and the policies they enact represent the immediate interests of extremely wealthy investors and less than one thousand large corporations. [McChesney, 1999: 8) For many, spirituality would seem to have little to do with questions of economics and politics. The roots of this modern attitude go back to eighteenth century European thought (the Enlightenment), where the underlying principles of liberalism were born. In challenging the traditional social, moral and philosophical authority of the Church, European intellectuals sought to establish a framework for society - and politics that avoided the religious conflicts of previous centuries. The solution, outlined most notably by philosophers such as John Introduction: The Rebranding of Religion 3 Locke, was to relegate the religious to the private sphere of life -to clearly demarcate it from the public realms of politics, science and philosophy. The Enlightenment is also a period characterised by attempts to define the specificity of these different aspects of cultural life. This led to an intellectual obsession with defining the precise characteristics of religion (a preoccupation that continues to this day). This is a misleading enterprise because it takes conceptual distinctions with a specific history of their own and treats them as if they are features of the world rather than of a culturally specific way of understanding it. It is clear for instance that it makes little sense to draw a sharp distinction between the secular (politics, economics, science, philosophy) and the religious dimensions of human life in any other culture than those conditioned by modern liberalism and the European Enlightenment philosophies of the eighteenth century. We should also make our position on this question clear from the start: There is no essence or definitive meaning to terms like spirituality or religion. The attraction of defining an essence is that it clearly demarcates a field for the purposes of analysis. Such a move, however, leaves the impression that spirituality is some-how really divorced from other spheres of human life such as econom-ics, culture and politics. The desire to attribute a universal essence to the meaning of spirituality also ignores the historical and cultural traces and differences in the uses of the term. Searching for an over-arching definition of 'spirituality' only ends up missing the specific -historical location of
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