The tendency in recent years of some U.S. evangelical and Pentecostal Christian preachers to celebrate immense wealth, rather than critique it—what is known as the “prosperity gospel”—is not unique to those forms of Christianity or to the United States. According an article by Mary Fitzgerald in The Irish Times, Meera Nanda’s new book, The God Market, chronicles a similar movement emerging in India. As globalization creates a new Indian middle class, the increasingly wealthy are becoming more religious, and not more secular, as secularization theory would have predicted. But they are not merely becoming more religious—they are embracing a type of religion that celebrates their new prosperity rather than asking them to adopt a more ascetic lifestyle. For instance, the headquarters of the Art of Living Foundation near Bangalore has a five-story meditation hall with more than 1,000 marble lotus petals on the walls, with Lakshmi, a goddess of wealth and prosperity, prominently displayed. About Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the head of the foundation, who has been called “India’s Pat Robertson,” Fitzgerald writes:
Many of those who flock to the man they call Guruji are young Indians working in the country’s thriving high-tech sector who feel pulled between tradition and their role as players in India’s rush towards globalised modernity.
They praise Sri Sri’s stress-relieving meditation exercises and say his teachings help add depth to their high-powered lives. [. . .]
A former disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who introduced the Beatles and many others to transcendental meditation, Sri Sri has developed Art of Living into something of a global empire – the foundation claims 20 million people have taken its meditation courses. He is the most prominent of a burgeoning band of “God Men” – TV-appearing gurus offering balm for the souls of India’s new rich.
Globalization and the spread of modern capitalism have not only made many parts of the world, including the U.S. and India, more religious. Many religions are also proving adaptable to these changes, finding ways to reach out to the newly wealthy and to capitalize on their success by turning their backs on the critiques of wealth associated with religious incarnations of the past.
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