Though religion in general and Christianity in particular is traditionally viewed as the realm of spirituality and a complete isolation from the materialistic realities of the mundane world, it can be viewed from the perspective of materialism, as McDannell explains (McDaniel 1).
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As the author claims, the connection between pop culture and Christianity is, in fact, far deeper and stronger than one might expect it to be. According to McDannell, the study of the material culture has always been aligned with the study of religion (McDaniel 1). The link between the two can be attributed to the fact that the former allows “paying attention to the form, distribution, function and changing character of the objects and their environment” (McDannell 2), as it allows for a detailed analysis of the visual and the built environment, which constitutes a significant part of religious customs and traditions.
Orsi, in his turn, offered a slightly different perspective on the subject by stating that the connection between popular culture and religion occurs at a slightly different level; to be more specific, the scholar invited the opportunity of viewing the key tenets of the Christian religion through empiricist approaches: “The shared methodology [in this approach] is radically or phenomenologically empiricist, concerned with what people do with their religious practice” (Vasquez 253). Thus, the idea of material Christianity does not necessarily reduce the theological concepts to the insights of the lowest common denominator of the U.S. population, but, instead, helps analyze the ways, in which Christianity transforms everyday reality, including the processes of social interaction and the individual vision of the world.
The approach in question, being clearly original and rather bold, incorporates a range of supposedly positive outcomes, yet also presupposes addressing a range of controversial issues and, therefore, may trigger rather undesirable effects within the Christian society. As far as the obvious benefits are concerned, the approach suggested by Orsi and McDannell allows one to avoid interpreting the subject matter from the perspective of the traditional dichotomy of the sacred and the profane; as a result, the “model of secularization” (McDannell 4) is no longer applicable to the study of Christianity from the perspective of the cultural tendencies of the modern culture. Therefore, the breakthrough, which the concept of material Christianity presupposes, and the opportunities that it invites, is truly worth appreciating.
A new and unique perspective on the popular culture, as well as the rediscovery of the role of Christianity in the everyday life of the U.S. citizens can be defined as another important benefit of the material Christianity approach: “The image cannot stand alone; it must be a part of a human world of meaning in order to come alive” (McDannell 16). As it has been stressed above, there used to be a very thick line between the secular life and the spiritual journey of an individual.
The approach suggested by Orsi and McDannell, in its turn, helped redefine the role of religion in the secular life of the adepts of the Christian religion: “As ‘multimedia events,’ religious practices are areas where speech, vision, gesture, touch, and sound combine” (McDannell 14).
More importantly, the theory proposed by Orsi and McDannell helped enhance the role of the traditional Christian values in people’s lives. The above-mentioned process can be paralleled with the process of identity search and the following movements for liberation, which the American society witnessed at the time: “In the aftermath of the civil rights movement and the student rebellions of the 1960s and 1970s, ‘the masses’ became a more appropriate subject matter” (McDannell 11). Therefore, the connection established between religion and mass culture may have been one of the factors that prompted the search for people’s identity and, therefore, the following process of liberation and the establishment of the key democratic principles in the society.
Unfortunately, the theory suggested by McDannell and Orsi also has several dents in its overall strong canvas. Specifically, the possibility of linking mass culture and, therefore, mass conscience with the individual spiritual journey needs to be mentioned first. Although McDannell makes it quite clear on several occasions that materialism Christianity does not presuppose the secularization thereof, the approach in question may still be viewed as questionable, as it compares religion as the phenomenon that affects one on an individual level to mass culture as the phenomenon that alters society as a whole.
Despite the above-mentioned problem, the concept of searching for the materialistic effects of the Christian ideas within the contemporary society is quite promising. It may shed some light on the aspects of the human personality, which have not been studied thoroughly yet. In addition, the transformation of the basic Christian principles in the contemporary society under the influence of modern mass culture tendencies is a rather interesting subject to study. Overall, while having certain problems in the area of individualist and populist perceptions of religion, the approach suggested by McDannell and Orsi is bound to lead to a range of unique discoveries.
McDannell, Colin. “Material Christianity.” Religion and Popular Culture in America. New Haven, CT, 1995. 1–16. Print.
Vasquez, Manuel A. More than Belief: A Materialist Theory of Religion. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.