The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture Paperback – Apr 24 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
This intriguing academic study challenges the heart of the much-touted "secularization thesis"-the idea that modern cultures will gradually abandon religion in favor of the rigors of scientific agnosticism. On the surface, deChant argues, it might seem that America's contemporary observance of Christmas fits the secularization thesis, since it has gone from being a Christian holy day to a commercial holiday. However, deChant argues that in American culture, commercialism itself is a viable religion. In fact, he says, Christmas is "perhaps the best example of religiosity in our culture." What is most startling about deChant's fascinating book is his contention that postmodern American consumerism closely resembles premodern religious worldviews, in which the "everyday world of commerce and consumerism" was "saturated with religious myth and ritual." Drawing on the work of 20th-century theorists such as Paul Tillich and Jacques Ellul, this revisionist study is sure to fan the flames of scholarly debate.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
DeChant is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida.
Top Customer Reviews
The main point-- Christmas has not been desacrilized. Rather, it has become a sacred holiday of the emerging dominant religion, consumerism.
This is a splendid work for anyone interested in religion, post-modern culture or sociology.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
At a fundamental level Dechant challenges the dominant narrative in American religious studies, that modern society is becoming less overtly religious and more secular in orientation. The movement of Christmas from its status as a holy day to a commercial experience might seem to confirm that narrative, but Delchant quickly turns this idea on its head. No question, he believes, mainstream religion is less central to the lives of most of the population, but he also demonstrates the pervasive power of the holiday ritual of gift giving and receiving and its folkways of religious observation. By suggesting that consumerism has become the modern American religion Delchant has expanded the discussion of the subject in the same way that earlier scholars have suggested that there is an American civil religion built around reverence for the nation's Founding Fathers, the celebration of democracy and republicanism, and the veneration of iconic spaces and symbols. Delchant finds similar elements in modern consumerism.
Delchant's thesis is provocative and suggestive of many other avenues of research into American religious life. An interesting question, if consumerism is the dominant religion of modern America what happens when society become unable to sustain the level of consumerism currently practiced? All signs point to fundamental shifts in the place of the United States as the leader of the world in standard of living, etc., and two or three generations from now--unless something changes--the manner in which Americans live their lives will be quite different. In such an environment does consumerism evolve to remain a major part of society or is it replaced with something else or is there a crisis of faith? I could go on and on.
This is a very interesting and useful book. I recommend "The Sacred Santa" as a worthwhile thesis helping to explain modern American society.
The main point--Christmas has not been desacrilized. Rather, it has become a sacred holiday of the emerging dominant religion, consumerism.
This is a splendid work for anyone interested in religion or consumerism.
He writes in the Preface to this 2002 book, "'The Sacred Santa' takes seriously the widespread perception that contemporary culture witnesses a profound struggle between two antithetical belief systems---a collision of two worlds. Unlike other studies that interpret this struggle in terms of dichotomies of religious and secular, this book reads the struggle as a conflict between two distinct religious systems... rather than being secular and nonreligious, America's late capitalist, postmodern culture is actually intensely religious, and best classified as a contemporary version of ancient cosmological religiosity... And while American holidays have certainly become secular events, I contend that precisely their 'secular' (materialist/commercial/consumerist) dimension makes them most obviously religious events in the context of postmodern cosmological culture. Christmas is certainly the most obvious example of a contemporary cosmological religious celebration, so it receives a detailed treatment in the book; other holidays also reveal the same sort of cosmological sense of the sacred."
Later in the book (Pg. 135) he sets forth what he calls "The Postmodern Liturgical Year," including such holidays as Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, Super Bowl Sunday, Mother's Day, Back-to-School, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, etc.
Here are some other quotations from the book:
"'The Sacred Santa' is based on the contention that Christmas has not lost its religious significance, only its CHRISTIAN religious significance... Rather than a desacralized holy day or purely secular one, in this book I propose an understanding of Christmas that sees it as not only decidedly religious but perhaps the best example of religiosity in our culture." (Pg. 2-3)
"The substance of this argument, then, is that the culture we increasingly understand as POSTmodern, while certainly antithetical to the modern, may not be such a novel cultural system after all. Our culture may actually be quite PREmodern and have more in common with the grand imperial cultures of late intiquity than any seen in the West since the advent of Christianity. To overlook this possibility may overstate the extent to which Christianity still functions as a viable religion and understate the sacredness of our seemingly secular world." (Pg. 6)
"'The Sacred Santa is not intended as a hostile critique of Christmas. Instead, this book seeks to present a neutral and straightforward analysis of the religious dimensions of Christmas and the other holy days of postmodern culture." (Pg. 105-106)
"Together, (Clement Clark) Moore and (Thomas) Nast, along with many others who followed their lead, had fashioned an entirely new holiday visitor. More supernatural than his predecessors, the American Santa Claus was also kindler, gentler, more prosperous, and capable of generating far more material goods than any of his European rivals. He was, thus, the perfect embodiment for the emerging American Christmas festival." (Pg. 192)
"Santa is not the embodiment of secular 'commercialism.' He is the embodiment of our culture's greatest religious myth of success and affluence, right engagement with the economy, and the acquisition and consumption of images and objects. Santa is the incarnation of this myth... In short, Santa is not secular. He is sacred. To attack him as secular is to attack his shadow." (Pg. 194)
"I have argued that the struggle is actually between two distinct and distinctly different religious systems and have further contended that some rather clear indications are that the traditional religion of America and the West, Christianity, has been eclipsed by a contemporary version of cosmological religiosity." (Pg. 197)
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