Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Commodification of religion.

My favourite place to visit in any European city is a church or a cathedral. The older, the colder, the more stained-glass windows, the better. But when I arrived here, I was quite surprised to see how many churches were not in use. Some are emptied of carvings and figures of saints and outsourced to be sites for flea markets, restaurants or even parties (where people make out in the west front).

However, mass on the night before Christmas is so popular in some cities that the church even has to sell tickets to avoid overcrowding! Now, if they distribute tickets so that two or three people can visit a church every day of the year, I'm sure it can stay open all year round...

Reform Christians are looked upon with some hesitation, mostly because they have large families and dress nicely to go to church every Sunday.

It's also probably clear that Islam is not the most popular religion here. Nevermind that plenty of white Dutch people are also Muslims. Thanks, Geert.

That leaves Buddhism as the most popular religion here, in the form of Buddhist imagery and cliches at least. A glance at any of the yoga shops will tell you that. No politician has railed against Buddha heads, Oriental souvenir shops, yoga shops and meditation sessions. 

A whole theory and symbolism has developed around Buddha heads in particular, even down to the details such as: You can't buy a Buddha head for yourself, it has to be a gift from someone. Apparently this trend started when looters of temples sold parts of a statue off to Western tourists looking for an 'exotic' gift from the Orient. An Indonesian friend once saw a Buddha head from Borobudur temple complex sitting in some museum in the US, after the 2006 earthquake damaged a lot of the Buddha statues in Borobudur.

So now Buddha as an image popularly signifies spirituality. But I'm uneasy with selling it so easily in the form of common goods, like these gifts I found in a flower shop a few days ago:

Buddha candles

Huggy Buddhas, really?

This is a revered figure of a group of people in the world! Don't make a mockery of religion, even if you don't want one yourself.


natayeen said...


Interesting post. Which part of Europe did you find all these souvenirs? I'm writing a paper on it and would love to find out more :)

Sya said...

Salam natayeen! It's in my neighbourhood, sold in a florist. Do you need more information about it?


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