work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

Is the Cult of Health our New Religion?

05.24.2011 · Posted in Uncategorized

Here’s my answer

Health may well have become “our new salvation” (Williams 1998: 440), which we try to achieve through consumerist rituals that are imbued with magical powers. In this respect the healthy body has indeed become a major new religious territory. But there are important differences to traditional religiosity. The new consumerist self-religiosity of health offers absolution and salvation only on a short term basis and in the form of ironical or even cynical half-belief. The cult of health therefore does not constitute a new religion; it cannot offer a unified system of beliefs and practices. Also, it lacks the sincerity of belief and commitment that religion traditionally implied and consequently it also lacks the collective nature of traditional religion, has a markedly individualistic tendency. On the other hand, it can be seen as part of the cult of the individual that as such unites “postmodern” consumer-capitalist societies even more than it did the modern society it was diagnosed for. It unifies societies around a central totem, health, which is sacred. While the ways to narrate and worship health are contested, health itself is an ultimate value. Health is now a “great international god” (Durkheim 1915: 426) shared by the various “tribes” in consumer culture. Violating Health is a functional equivalent to sinning – and rejecting it altogether may count as a contemporary form of blasphemy.

More in

Varul, M. Z. (2011): ‘The Healthy Body as Religious Territory: Health Consumerism as New Religious Practice?’, in: C. Brace et al. (eds):  Emerging Geographies of Belief, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, pp.239-54

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