religion

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Throughout our class, we have been discussing many aspects of dystopia and its context in society, but one topic we keep returning to is the definition of dystopia. In the article “Christianity in Dystopia,” Peter Halabu dedicates a significant section to defining dystopia, and his conclusions are well-thought out and pertinent. He reflects many ideas we have discussed in class when defining a dystopia while also introducing some new interpretations. Similarly to my presentation, he identifies a five-point system towards defining a dystopia: “1) It is intended by the author to be a critique of his era’s sociopolitical climate; 2) It is set in a world recognizably our own, though in the future; 3) It follows a single individual protagonist or small group of individual protagonists, each of whom is a realistic, normal human being; 4) It is set in an ostensibly utopian (but actually dehumanizing) society, which has serious deficiencies caused by human drives and characteristics; 5) And it contains direct sociopolitical commentary inserted into the plotline,” all five of which he expands upon in greater detail in his paper (Halabu 9). Anyone aiming to supplement their definition of dystopia or find inspiration for other avenues to explore when defining it should absolutely check out this section in the paper.

While his section on defining a dystopia would be most useful for everyone in the course, Halabu’s main topic centers around the role of religion, Christianity specifically, in dystopian society. Halabu concludes that while most dystopias do not portray Christianity specifically, most “present dystopian societies in a deeply and consciously religious paradigm,” even if there is no outright god to worship (Halabu 2). Many contain a godlike figure around which the society revolves, priest-like figures that expound on the “morals” and divinity of this god and enforce its teachings, and the proliferation of sins and punishments. Therefore, some dystopias have Christian influence even if Christianity is not present outright. Although I am the only one that I know of specifically focusing on how religion is portrayed and used in dystopia, anyone who is researching what goes into creating a dystopian society would be remiss without including the role of religion since it is so important in our society now, and as Halabu asserts, “the message of a dystopian novel, however, is not so much to warn “that we must brace ourselves for a certain disaster” (18), but that if preventive measures are not taken in the present, today’s society is likely to turn into the novel’s future dystopia” (Halabu 3).

In order to support his thesis, Halabu explores the role of religion in seven dystopian books, 1984, Brave New World, Anthem, Player Piano, Farenheit 451, We, and The Handmaid’s Tale. This further validates his thesis that dystopian societies are, for the most part, inherently religious, by showing how each novel portrays a religiously oppressive society. His definition of dystopia is therefore relevant because by outlining the skeleton of a dystopian society, he can demonstrate how religion can go towards maintaining that control and oppression. One of the most pertinent points he displays this way is his assertion that “the god of any given dystopian society is (by my analysis) an embodiment of that society’s first principle, the goal or value which animates the society” because in his definition of dystopia, he posits that a dystopian society is a representation of a wrong the author sees in society now (Halabu 36).

 

Image result for america at the mall the cultural role of a retail utopia

     During my research on the dystopian aspects of consumerism, I came across many sources with original and creative ideas in directions that I’ve never thought about. The book America at the Mall: The Cultural Role of a Retail Utopia by Lisa Scharoun is a good example. The book examines the origin and development of shopping malls in the U.S. throughout history, analyzes the influence on different populations, especially seniors and the youth, brought by the malls, and outlines a possible future for malls based on the recent decline in popularity. Chapter 4, titled “The Mall and Religion”, is especially worth noting because it inspects malls, a secular place, from a religious perspective as the temple of consumerism, from which Scharoun derives original conclusions on people’s belief and behavior.

In this chapter, Scharoun first claims that consumerism is a new form of religion. Consumerism is compared to a traditional religion, Christianity: the analogy indicates that consumerism promotes acquiring material as the ultimate goal of life, similar to Christianity’s life after death; malls are the “sacred places” that embody the religious symbol of consumerism, which people can experience through the “ritual” of shopping, not unlike churches and masses in Christianity. She then uses other’s research and quote demonstrating that “consumerism has surpassed all other belief systems” around the world to prove her point.

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“Akasya Acıbadem Shopping Mall, Acıbadem, Istanbul.” 15 Best Shopping Malls in Istanbul.

Next, she further portrays the mall as a temple by noting its architectural features. The atrium, the most conspicuous part of a mall, for example, is often circular, which symbolizes perfection and are also present in religious symbols as well as churches. Water fountain is usually found in the atrium, too, because water is a strong religious symbol associated with purity and sublimation. Such design appeal to people’s spiritual pursuit, shaping them to view consumerism as sacred. However, Scharoun then points out the difference in consumerism and traditional religions lies in that consumerism corrodes morality and community values promoted by most religions.

By quoting many scholars, from Adam Smith to David Loy, Scharoun demonstrates that consumerism eliminates public life and direct people to engage in socially costly behaviors. Finally, it is shown from a survey that most people now choose to “worship at the ‘temple of consumerism’” rather than go to churches, which points to consumerism and malls as a powerful and dangerous force.

The arguments and evidence provided by this chapter is unique in its viewpoint. The religious and spiritual impact of consumerism is seldomly considered but well interpreted by Scharoun, and it may complement other aspects to allow people to evaluate consumerism and shopping behavior more thoroughly. Though it is centered on consumerism, the analysis on religion and architecture may prove valuable to Catherine in her paper “The Cult of Religion in Perfect Ruin and Real-Life Dystopias” as well as Sydney in her paper “Architecture: The Implications of Dystopian Architecture.” As Catherine focused more on individual worship as a religion, this might lead her to think about worshipping values promoted by a dystopia and how a simple idea may be constructed as a religion by the people with power. And the analogy of malls and churches may help Sydney to consider the spiritual and even religious functions of architectures in dystopia. I hope such a useful source can be read by more people and add to their research findings.