Religious Studies should be Ideology Studies

Caveat: I know the term ideology is quite loaded, and also has many expressions and meanings etc. etc. However, the most broad and non-judgemental meaning includes all the above. So that’s how I mean it here.

Caveat 2: this post is bitchy. and ranty. and nearly incoherent. But I gotta get it out! Maybe someone can translate for me in the comments.

So, I came across the video above at Sociological Images about David Harvey’s take on the economic crisis and blah blah. Interesting video and all that. At the end of the video, however, Harvey says we should be debate and discussing the issue and thinking differently and all that warm fuzzy stuff that makes critical thinkers think of rainbows.

My immediate reaction, however, was that nowhere is it more clear that ideology is afoot is when we think about economics and capitalism. While Marxists by no means have a monopoly on the term Ideology, they were a powerful voice in shaping what we mean by ideology. To be a jerk about it, this is how I think we tend to think about ideology today: everything you believe is ideology and what I believe is truth.

Sound familiar? Anyway, it got me thinking about why Religious Studies perspectives are so powerful. Basically, we tear apart people’s most cherished beliefs and their most un-reflective behaviors and see what makes them tick. This includes tearing apart the very fabric of Religious Studies itself. Recently, RS scholars have been doing this with things like pop culture, celeb worship, political religion, Opraism, Neo-Liberalism, etc. Neat. But, then no one listens to the very interesting things that come from these interrogations, because Religious Studies scholars “are theologians” or wev the current trope of being an idiot is that allows people to dismiss things that scare them.

Anyway, In thinking about Harvey’s admonition to debate and discuss, my first reaction was, as I said, “that will never happen”. Why? Because when it comes to economics, we are collectively so beholden to our own presuppositions and assumptions and fears and anxieties and rarefied “economic” discourse and wrap it all in fact and truth and identity and bullshit that discussion is impossible. Where do we start when we can’t even agree on the fundamental issues we are talking about?

And here I think the value of Religious Studies perspectives could be extremely useful. You know, all that mamby pamby inter-faith dialogue crap is just basically saying “how do we have intractible ideological positions start talking about the same thing”. Bullshit. Better to ask, why do we think that these positions are intractible? What makes these positions the way they are? Historically? What interests are served by these identity positions of intractible religious difference? What makes us want to have people come to mutual understandings? blah blah

In essense, the video above made me misanthropic. 1) there are powerful relations of force that are obfuscating the understanding of the issues about contemporary capitalism, because it serves their direct economic interests. 2) Late-capitalism has fundamentally affected how we live identity. We are what we consume and produce, and this has made us intractably ideological beings. We define ourselves (our True Selves we say now) through a set of ever-shifting signifiers that are supplied by various competing systems of semiological production. 3) Economic identity positions are especially opaque to self-reflection because we are all so immersed in daily lives of money, capital, wages, being broke etc. 4) This makes discussion about economic positions and realities often as virulent and dramatic as religious ones, without having the  “faith” positions of all involved being explicit. 5) This all sets up an impossible task. How do we talk about something that is so ideologically driven and so close to us, and yet affects us so significantly? So basically, my analogy is that Harvey’s injunction to discuss and debate is like having a monotheist Muslim, a polytheist Hindu, and an “atheist” Confucian talk about the definition of God, and holding a gun to the head of the debate loser, given an apartment to the second place winner and a mansion etc. to the winner. Or something. I dunno.

All I’m saying is that I wish religious studies scholars of the pop cultural ilk started looking at the problem as if economic positions were expressions of religion and going to town attempting to understand the issue. I think this would open up more discussions than anything else (aside from the increasing poverty and brutality of people’s daily lives living in global capitalism).

Or, to put more simply: “we’re doomed”.


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