Peace, Love, Yoga: The Politics of Global Spirituality

Peace, Love, Yoga: The Politics of Global Spirituality


[MUSIC PLAYING] ANDREA JAIN: All right. So thank you, Finn. FINN MOORE-GARETY: Mmm. ANDREA JAIN: Thank you
for being here to you all. And thanks to the Center
for Contemporary South Asia and to the Watson
Institute for hosting me. It’s really an
honor and a pleasure to be here this afternoon in
this lovely space, no less. So I’m talking about
neoliberal spirituality today, what I’m calling
neoliberal spirituality. So I want to begin with
these magazine covers to illustrate that the yoga
industry, which I think is a crucial note
of what I’m calling neoliberal spirituality,
has gone global and how in various contexts
it can look very different, so we’ve got Indian yoga
guru Baba Ramdev here and the American
model and beauty guru, Christy Turlington,
yet in other ways, similar. Believe it or not,
these are both CEOs of large corporations,
and they’re both doing a form of
what scholars refer to as modern postural yoga. So we’ve all heard
the expression, you are what you eat. And historically, the
extent of religious concern about when, what,
or how a person eats is met only by concerns
about with whom, or when, or how a person has
sex, hence attention in many religious
systems to purifying the body through rigorous
control over diet and fasting, alongside celibacy. Today, especially among
the privileged elite, religion is as much
about what a person buys, another kind of consumption. Hence, my work theorizes
what I’m calling neoliberal spirituality as a social,
economic, political, cultural, and religious project, locating
its disciplines, discourses, and institutions of self-care
within the late capitalist framework. Drawing cases especially from
the global yoga industry, I tease out this
religious complex as deep elective affinity
with the dynamics of neoliberal capitalism
and the tendency to wed the goal of
material prosperity to the quest for liberation. Rooted in some form of
ancient or exotic wisdom, personal growth, self-care,
and transformation are just some of the generative
tropes in the narrative of this spiritual identity. In its discourses, we
find a meta-narrative that frames things in
terms of market value, reflect certain assumptions
about human existence, value, and purpose, and works
hard to regulate authority. Huge swaths of consumers
in global cities all over the world
spend their money on spiritual commodities,
hence, the emergence of large transnational
corporations, indeed entire
industries, producing neoliberal
spirituality’s products. So as Finn mentioned,
the analysis I’ll get into in a minute builds
on my first book Selling Yoga, From Counterculture
to Pop Culture, which pivots around the question
of how the study of yoga can help us better understand
religion’s role in consumer culture. So in Selling Yoga, I combine
theoretical, historical, and cultural
approaches to explore the yoga boom in
contemporary culture, arguing for a double thesis. On the one hand, yoga has
always been polythetic in the many pathways of
its historical development as a part of South
Asian religious history and has remained so through
modern yoga’s evolution and popularization. On the other hand, although
the yoga industry’s devotion to fitness, self-care,
and health mirrors consumer cultures emphasis
on self development through careful consumer
choice, for many practitioners, yoga’s religious qualities
have not been eliminated. They’ve been transformed. So even though the
yoga industry was birthed by consumer culture, it
remains deeply religious, even in, and I would say in some
ways, through commodification. So my insistence that
we study commercial yoga as a body of religious
practice serves as a critique of
competing studies that bemoan the consumer
branding, commodification, and popularization of yoga and
other spiritual commodities as the loss of imagined, pure,
authentic religious practices, approaches that fit yoga
within a framework that pits corrupt
commodifications of religion against so-called authentic
religious complexes. Whereas in Selling Yoga, I asked
how yoga practitioners share many qualities with
what we often imagine as traditional
religions, including demarcating sacred
spaces and time, creating communities built
around shared values, posing solutions to the
problems of suffering and death, and constructing and
sharing myths and rituals, my current work asks about
their political dimensions, and especially
their relationship to the dominant power dynamics
of neoliberal capitalism. Of course, the argument
that neoliberal capitalism molds cultures of
self-care accords with the academic consensus
that the present moment’s arrangement of social
structures and ideologies shapes the ways people
are capable of thinking, even when they seek to think
beyond or against the dominant order. Whichever area of religion
or culture one studies under the current global system,
be it the so-called spiritual but not religious or the
religiously affiliated, one will likely
uncover the assumption that a person is
entitled to as great a share of the world’s resources
as that person’s money can buy, and in turn, that
the needs of capital largely determine the priorities
of the respective disciplines, discourses, and institutions,
that they reproduce inequalities, exclude the
majority of the population, especially from
positions of power, and produce surplus value for
a privileged, often white, hetero-patriarchal minority. Of course, scholars love arguing
over the meaning of words. And it’s fair to say
that neoliberalism is one of the most
contested terms in the contemporary lexicon. Following Wendy Brown,
I’m using neoliberalism to refer to not just a
set of late-capitalist, free-market economic
policies, but also a governing rationality that
disseminates market values and metrics to every
sphere of life, formulating
everything everywhere, in terms of capital
investment and appreciation, including and especially
living beings. Neoliberal governmentality
can be seen at play in discourses of
self-sufficiency, which reify the individual
construed as an automaton, ideally self-optimizing,
self-sustaining, and entrepreneurial. And so we can see in the
discourses of spirituality printed across, for
example, yogawear, not just examples of cultural
appropriation, and OM here is a nod to Finn,
but also neoliberal discourses. You’re exactly where you’re
supposed to be, what you think, you become– these discourses
of governmentality that put an enormous
amount of weight on individual choice and
control over her circumstances. We can address the politics
of neoliberal spirituality by attending to a number
of things, for example, the power dynamics underlying
cultural appropriation, authoritarian
abuses, particularly in cases of sexual
abuse and harassment, the ways yoga is
instrumentalized toward conservative ends, for
example, the criminalization of same sex and
transgender sex in India, and the perpetuation of gender
inequities, mass incarceration, and non-intervention in
the face of climate change. When we speak of the
spiritual commodities that consumers describe as
empowering, transformative, or liberating, we
are not talking about things that challenge or
weaken dominant hierarchies. Neither do they challenge
a conservative mindset. The connections between
neoliberal spirituality and many other areas of
public and private life are explicit in so far as
much of those industries products are rooted in
concerns about deviancy, not only in the form
of low productivity, but also forms of
social deviance. The prescriptions for self-care
or personal liberation, in other words, have
little or nothing to do with societal
transformation. Rather, they denote
the requirements for more productive, efficient,
and conforming workers and consumers. In other words, as
the demands on people to work and be productive
have increased, so we have seen an
increase in yoga teachers, natural dietary systems, and
mindfulness courses, which for the most part, claim
to enhance productivity, and simultaneously conformity,
to a rigid moral, not to mention bodily, standard. Put differently,
spiritual industries support neoliberal capitalism,
both in the pursuit of surplus value and
ideological control, that is, by reinforcing its
structures, norms, and values and punishing
deviations from them. Neoliberal politics are visible
in the discourses and practices of some of the industry’s
most powerful corporations and proponents, including
the current prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, and
his spiritual ally and the most famous living yoga
guru in India, Baba Ramdev, featured
on that first slide, as well as some of the most
popular yoga corporations today such as Spiritual
Gangster, from which these images are drawn. This is a US-based yoga wear
company, whose products are quote, “inspired by peace,
love, and all things yoga,” end quote, as well as Bikram
Yoga, or the original hot yoga. Creating deviant outgroups from
marketing strategies like these that present a narrow vision
of the ideal female body to Modi’s political strategies,
whereby yoga is weaponized against a Muslim
minority, and claiming that members of such
groups fail to choose the right spiritual
interventions to cultivate self-improvement
serves these ends. A wide range of commodities,
yoga mats, smoothies, mindfulness, mala beads,
crystals, natural foods, and anything with
zen printed across it are celebrated as good
consumer choices, products that lead to better living outcomes. If you are unhappy,
unwell, stressed out, or not the proper weight,
that’s because you’re not making the right consumer choices. You’re not buying
the right stuff. In addition to the problems
of cultural appropriation and Orientalism, there’s
also the heteropatriarchy of neoliberal spirituality. In fact, gender is central, not
peripheral to its operations, especially insofar
as heteropatriarchy shapes the ways authority is
demarcated and exercised such that structural transformation
is not expected as the solution to gender inequities. Rather, resolving
those challenges is a burden placed
on the shoulders of the disenfranchised, that
is, women and other gender and sexual minorities. Spiritual commodities,
in other words, are an individual’s tool for
breaking the glass ceiling, not dismantling the ceiling so
that all women and other gender and sexual minorities
have equal opportunity. So if you’re a working mom
and you feel exhausted all the time, take a yoga class. Study mindfulness. This is the way to achieve that
envied work/work life balance, not demanding structural changes
such as better parental leave policies or childcare
at the workplace. Most significantly,
spirituality industries individualize what are
fundamentally social and political issues in society. This obviously suits
neoliberal capitalism. It follows an ideology that
you need to work on yourself rather than look to social
resources for solutions to your problems, or
demand structural changes. Their discourses are highly
useful in depoliticizing the oppressive and increasingly
grim reality of life on this planet. The obstacles capitalism
poses are the very challenges of the anthropocene. And the main force
behind the anthropocene, which I’m having trouble
saying for some reason, is capitalism’s global
exponential growth. Capitalists recognize no
limit to its expansion. No amount of profit
wealth or consumption is enough or too much. Governments embedded in the
neoliberal capitalist economy, rather than design
universal social programs with the aim of
reducing inequality and establish market
regulations in order to serve the common good
and protect the environment, usually delegate the
task of managing markets to big businesses under
the guise of free markets and scale back social
programs in order to minimize government spending. As a consequence of capitalism’s
exponential growth, as I speak, the world suffers from
increased global warmth and the natural catastrophes
to which it contributes, more specifically, carbon
dioxide emissions, ocean acidification, fossil fuel
combustion, mass species extinctions, and other losses in
biological diversity, nitrogen and phosphorus
cycle disruptions, freshwater depletion, forests
lost and chemical pollution, resulting in a planetary
ecological emergency or earth system crisis. There are climate refugees
right here in the US. Devastating natural events
from flooding and hurricanes to tornadoes and forest
fires are increasingly becoming the norm. The involvement of spiritual
discourses, disciplines, and institutions here
is only one factor in the bigger problem,
which is, of course, the way the neoliberal
capitalist project destroys the social, the collective,
and the environment. Uh-oh. There we go. We work it out. Namaste all day. Good karma. Self-love club. Dope soul. Zen AF, that is, Zen As Fuck. And my personal favorite,
your ego is not your amigo. These are just a few of
the catchy expressions found printed across yoga wear. The website from
which this was taken– for Spiritual Gangster–
displays beautiful, slim, usually white bodies
clad in remarkable combinations of cotton and spandex and
forever in a state of leisure at varying locations, ranging
from an urban basketball court to a bed of white
linens in what appears to be a high-end resort, but
always with an exotic backdrop. This is the person
you should be, lounging in your yoga pants, or
in this case, no pants at all. You would feel beautiful,
positive, relaxed, and spiritual, but
in a fleeting moment, you might also slip into a
painfully reflexive state as you realize
you are also a cog in the economic
and social machine of neoliberal capitalism. You might marvel
and then retract at the neoliberal projects
of magical abilities to cultivate perpetual
anxiety about not only your productivity, but
also your responsibility for every dimension of life,
to make you work more even when doing so brings you less in
return, and to create a void and then to fill it. Spiritual Gangster
yoga wear it’s just one articulation
of this peculiar variant of spirituality that has come to
the forefront of global culture in the past few decades
and incites its adherence to accept full responsibility
for their own well-being, self-care, and liberation. Quote, and this is taken from
the Spiritual Gangster website, “our mission is to inspire
positivity, generosity, kindness, and connectedness
with this goal in mind, may all beings everywhere
be happy and free. We are connected. We are the same. We are one,” end quote. So there are a lot of
examples of neoliberal spirituality beyond
the yoga industry. In response to questions of how
to change your attitude when you cannot change
your circumstances, Jewish American health
coach, mindful weight loss entrepreneur and self-described
foremost expert on Maimonides and ancient health, David
Zulberg advises, quote, “change your perception, belief,
or opinion of the situation, and that will help you
change your attitude.” Some other tidbits of
advice include, quote, “admit to yourself
that you’re not happy. Realize optimism is a choice. Use positive words. Hang out with friends
who have a happy vibe, and say a daily
affirmation,” end quote. The Hindu yoga guru Baba
Ramdev I’ve mentioned, similarly espouses a
message of positive thinking and self-care, which
he disseminates across India through speeches,
interviews, and advertisements, and other media platforms. This self-care
spirituality is precisely the kind that informs
bestselling manifestos, such as Whole Foods CEO John
Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism, in which the ideal
person is construed as automatized, self-optimizing,
and entrepreneurial. Now neoliberal spirituality
embodies all sorts of contradictions, giving
rise to social and political controversies,
including that which arose around the closure
of the Berard Street Bridge for the 2015
International Day of Yoga. In 2015, in Vancouver, home to
yoga apparel giant Lululemon, a scheduled Yoga
Day event threatened to divide the city and
the local community due to the province of
British Columbia’s proposed $150,000 contribution, corporate
sponsors, including Lululemon, and the planned seven-hour
Om the bridge closure. The added irony was that
the event was largely sponsored by an affluent,
white Canadian demographic and threatened to eclipse
national Aboriginal day, all while its
organizers claim to celebrate an anxious
system of knowledge indigenous to India, that is, yoga. The event was canceled
following a week of protest. Events for Yoga Day have even
sparked controversy in India, where Indian Muslims
protested Yoga Day events, arguing they serve right-wing
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s saffron agenda, that is,
his Hindu nationalism. Modi is a tight ally
of Baba Ramdev, who’s also worked to criminalize
same-sex sex in India and has described
homosexuality as a disease and prescribed yoga as the cure. There’s a paradox
in Ramdev’s work. On the one hand, Ramdev’s
stance seems fundamentally nationalist and conservative. And this is an image of
a Ramdev here with Modi. He profits off of
products marketed as traditional,
natural foods and ancient medicinal practices. And Ramdev, his corporation,
Patanjali Ayurved, has a strong brand ambassador,
one credited with bringing yoga to the mainstream in India. He has supporters across the
country who choose Patanjali Ayurved products because
of the Yogic authority they invest in its
ambassador, as well as the nationalist
associations of the brand. Ramdev consistently
positions Patanjali Ayurved as a homegrown Indian
company fighting global multinational
corporations. Ramdev is piggybacking on
Modi’s Make in India campaign to promote his goods. His company’s logo and
packaging use the orange, white, and green of the Indian
flag, and although packaging information is
written in English, it says Made in Bharat, using
the country’s Hindi name, rather than Made in India. All of Patanjali
Ayurved’s products are marketed as Swadeshi,
meaning of one’s own country, or indigenous to India. But like other
entrepreneurs selling yoga and associated
products globally, Ramdev is also building
a massive corporation selling packaged, branded,
and commercialized products with sleek, modern
advertising, and he thrives in a modern
health and wellness sector that is growing
globally, a sector that calls on consumers to
take responsibility for their health, wellness,
success, and empowerment. His products include
skin-whitening cream, and he’s even announced
plans to compete in the athleisure
apparel industry with Made in Bharat yoga wear. So Ramdev is helping to
accelerate yoga’s entry into the 21st century neoliberal
capitalist global economy. He’s playing a modern, urban,
right-wing and neoliberal game. It thrives on nostalgia
about lost cultural norms as well as neoliberal
narratives about the value of self-care, personal
improvement, and free choice. Entrepreneurial gurus like
these might be appealing in part because they
successfully appropriate and commodify the ancient
ideas and symbols of India, but they also represent
one expression of a global shift toward
a form of spirituality that uses commodities and
consumption to demarcate the morally acceptable. So it might surprise
you, but I don’t mean to offer just one
more voice bemoaning the commodification
of spirituality as a numbing device through
which consumers ignore the problems of
neoliberal capitalism, or as the corruption or loss
of authentic religious forms. Many scholars have
already offered referenda on
spiritual commodities, suggesting they merely
serve as palliatives, or coping mechanisms. Here are just a couple
examples of some popular books on spirituality
that make this case. These commodities,
in their view, function like a fetish that
helps consumers feel as if they have escaped reality. In other words, they
offer consumers an escape into an experience of
the present moment, of a romanticized,
orientalist other, or an idealized
ancient past which allows them to
imagine themselves as separate from the
business of everyday life, and by extension, disconnected
from the social and economic relations of global capitalism. I agree that the solutions
to consumer’s problems that spiritual
commodities usually offer do not align the structural
and economic undergirding of the Earth’s population’s
greatest threats, for example,
environmental degradation. By ignoring that socioeconomic
and cultural structures shape our lives, they ensure
greater conformity to the reigning
ideology and system largely responsible for
conditions of exploitation in a dehumanizing workplace,
assaults against democracy, and vast social inequalities. These critical contributions
to the study of spirituality examine the material
and social operations of spiritual commodities
pursued with a sensitivity to subtle, and sometimes not
so subtle, power dynamics, complicating any
straight-forward progress narrative about religious
democratization, increased choice, or individual autonomy
among spiritual consumers, pointing out that this
form of spirituality ultimately directs its
address to the middle and upper classes,
effectively erasing the problems faced by the vast
majority of the population. Furthermore, as much as
individual consumers are not in control of their physical
living conditions or places on the socioeconomic
hierarchy, spiritual shopping gives consumers a sense of
control over their lives. Adherents of this
type of spirituality use the notion of consumer
choice to convince themselves they are in control
of their well-being, self-care, happiness,
and empowerment. So all of this has been said. And while acknowledging these
insights of these other studies on spirituality, in
three ways I invite us to consider a more
nuanced analysis. First, and I think probably most
importantly, to me at least, I ask what we should make
of the subversive discourses of spirituality that do
call on adherents to think beyond the individual, and
even out into the environment. Spiritual Gangster
products, for example, range from yoga
pants with good vibes appliqued across
the butt to t-shirts that read peace, love,
yoga, as if these were three inherently compatible
and mutually reinforcing commitments. The appropriation
of gangster itself could be read as subversive,
since gang culture is historically a space
of black resistance. And according to the
Spiritual Gangster website, quote, “we exercise love
as the most powerful form of activism,” end quote. The company also donates
an unspecified percentage of every sale to provide food
for those living in poverty. So what about these
entrepreneurs and corporations profiting off
spiritual commodities that claim to
counter the problems of unbridled capitalism
with charitable giving or various forms of
conscious capitalism? What should we make of
the Indian state’s efforts to challenge the imperialism
behind Western commodifications of yoga, more specifically,
the North American multi-billion dollar
yoga industry, by reclaiming yoga for India? Or Baba Randev’s company,
Patangali Ayurved, which claims to
offer alternatives to the products of
Western corporations and their natural
Ayurvedic products? What should we make of the
feminist spiritual discourses, the calls for
women’s empowerment that are nearly ubiquitous
in spiritual discourses, all while placing
the burden of success on individual women
and their willingness to work hard, think positively,
and aspire for equality? Some spiritual
consumers we all know might greenwash the products
they buy, from yoga apparel to tableware. Everywhere in the
developed world, plastic has taken over our
households, accessories, and even our clothes, and
there’s growing concern over the images broadcast
across mainstream media of plastic waste
crowding oceans and beaches. Spiritual consumers
might respond by opting for the high-end
apparel of Satva Living, which offers, quote, “mindfully
designed organic fashion,” end quote. The company claims to improve
the health and wellness of conscious
consumers, as well as the lives of Indian
organic farmers, by partnering with
Suminter India organics and working under the model
of creative capitalism, an approach that ensures
that a portion of profits are invested back
into the communities and agricultural
programs of the farmers. Satva Living products are
sold across India, as well as the United States,
and are available, for example, at Whole
Foods Market, where spiritual consumers
might also shop for eco-friendly,
biodegradable paper plates. The multi-millionaire
entrepreneur I’ve already mentioned, John
Mackey, uses this phrase conscious capitalism, arguing
that capitalism’s, quote, “heroic spirit is
the key to creating a world in which all people live
lives full of prosperity, love, and creativity, a world of
compassion and freedom,” end quote. So I suggest that we attend
to these subversive elements of neoliberal
spirituality, suggesting that rather than a mode through
which consumers ignore, escape, or are numbed to the problems
of neoliberal capitalism, many spiritual commodities,
corporations, and entrepreneurs do actually acknowledge
those problems. And in fact, they subvert them. But they subvert them
through mere gestures. From provocative taglines
printed across t-shirts or packaging to various
forms of charitable giving, commodification serves as
a strategy through which subversion itself is colonized. In other words,
neoliberal spirituality represents a religious
complex through which protest against the reigning
socioeconomic and cultural order is simultaneously
expressed and contained. So drawing on Mark Fisher’s
work on capitalist realism, the dominant idea that there
is no viable alternatives to capitalism, I suggest
choosing spiritual commodities that represent revolutionary,
egalitarian, environmentally friendly, or authentically
ancient values can best be understood as a form of
gestural anti-capitalism, or gestural subversion. Fisher describes this kind
of anti-capitalist counter discourse, which is widely
disseminated in pop culture. He discusses, for example,
Hollywood movies or television, how often as the villain
the evil corporation? This is a product, according to
Fisher, of capitalist realism. As Fisher points
out, Hollywood films that villainize capitalism
exemplify what Robert Pfaller calls interpassivity. The film performs our
anti-capitalism for us, allowing us to continue to
consume without blame or guilt. So in other words, we have these
anti-capitalist inclinations because of the violence
we’re witnessing, and so we perform
our anti-capitalism by paying to see a movie
or buying certain consumer products, and then
that’s our act in opposition to capitalism. It’s by buying stuff, by
buying anti-capitalist stuff. In other words, it
might be spirituality, with its countercultural
or subversive gestures, is domesticated to
the dominant culture, to a neoliberal
capitalist rationality. Another way to put this
is that consumption of spiritual commodities entails
a misrecognition, whereby the consumer confronts
certain problems of capitalism by consuming, that is,
by buying the products of a sustainable brand
name in a way akin to how a white consumer here
in Providence, per se, paying for a yoga class with
a teacher who’s traveled and studied in India might
assume that class is closer to authentic yoga
than one offered by a teacher who’s only
studied domestically. In both cases, the
consumer choices themselves confront some of the
greatest problems of consumer culture, say,
environmental degradation or cultural imperialism,
but without impunity for those very problems. Contrast this kind of self-care
with that of activists who refuse to cooperate with
dominant power structures, offering instead
socialist perspectives that emphasize a type of agency
exercised through critiques and diagnoses of unequal power
social structures, solidarity building, educational campaigns,
and ultimately, revolution. In 1988, black lesbian writer
and activist Audre Lorde famously said, quote,
“caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation. And is an act of political
warfare,” end quote. The call was to use self-care
as a means to remaining ever alert to the threat
of social inequality and the responsibility
of radicals to sustain political commitment and to
manifest social solidarity, which require that they insist
that they, whether black, brown, female, queer, whatever
are worthy of self-care. Since then, several prominent
black women activists have echoed this call, drawing
connections between race, activism, and self-care. Angela Davis, for
example, has suggested self-care must be incorporated
in all radical political efforts if there’s any
hope for victories. LGBTQ people from
across the world echoed this call following
the 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub
in Orlando, Florida, when people started posting
selfies under the hashtag #queer self-love. Most recently, the most notable
climate activists today, Greta Thunberg,
has demanded action in the form of
concrete policy changes to prevent catastrophic
climate change. She addresses world leaders
attending UN climate summits around the world for example, as
well as the general population. The 16-year-old climate
activist is a leading figure in the climate justice
movement, inspiring millions across the globe since she
launched her school strike in 2018. Thunberg is also on
the autism spectrum and has faced insults and
criticisms in light of that. She’s responded, quote, “when
haters go after your looks and differences, it means
they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re
winning,” end quote. And she posted this
on Twitter using the hashtag aspi, #aspie
power, sorry, #aspie power. While acknowledging that
being on the autism spectrum poses challenges, she also has
described it as a superpower. So those are just some
alternative models of self-care, self-love that
I wanted to put out there as models of self-care that is
wedded to political activism, as opposed to the kind that we
find in neoliberal spirituality that I’m critiquing. We went to sleep again. There we go. OK, so the second
way that I hope to add to nuance the
critique of spirituality is I think we should use
neoliberal spirituality as a way to intervene in
the narrative on religion and globalization. Studies on the commodification
of spirituality are largely focused on North
America and Western Europe, failing to account
for the reality that we now live in a globalized
world in which people, movements, and commodities
are not isolated by geographic boundaries. Furthermore, much
of the scholarship on religion and globalization
focuses on religious violence, especially in Islam,
and global Christianity. Less so do we hear about
spiritual ideas, practices, or commodities coming out of
India or other parts of Asia, for example. Yet movements like global yoga
offer a powerful alternative to the usual narratives
of globalization. And globalization is by no means
simply a Western phenomenon and by no means simply
a matter of the East responding reactively to
ideas and goods flowing from the West, or Eastern
ideas and practices becoming Westernized, resulting in,
quote, “American yoga,” or [INAUDIBLE] mindfulness. I don’t think these kinds
of categories are useful. Rather, globalization is a far
more decentralized multifocal and multidirectional process
emerging from countless points across the shifting,
interconnected network. And third, although
many have theorized global spirituality
is deeply neoliberal, they have also seen its rise
from yoga to mindfulness as an isolated and
unrepresentative episode within the broader historical
arc of neoliberalism rather than a phenomenon closely
linked to the 21st century successes of heteropatriarchy
and other forms of conservatism. In other words,
these have not been understood as a part of a
single, overarching phenomenon. I think we can provide a fuller
account of the neoliberal era that renders successes of
right-wing movements, Brexit, Trump, Modi and the rise
of neoliberal spirituality as integral and related
features of the global system. Spiritual consumers
largely refrain from seeing and critiquing
themselves from a distance, either historical or from the
advantage of another race, gender, or class,
and their consumer choices often signal
profound, sometimes violent, draw toward purity. In all of these ways,
neoliberal spirituality reifies racial and class
privilege as well as heteronormativity,
lending itself not only to neoliberal,
but in some cases conservative, agendas. So when it comes
to sexual violence, for example, as I’ve
already mentioned, Baba Ramdev was instrumental in
recriminalization same-sex sex in India, which exacerbated
the social and physical vulnerability of LGBTQ Indians. On the other hand, since the
October 2017 New York Times publication of
investigative work into the decades of
sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood
producer Harvey Weinstein, hundreds of women
from the yoga industry have stepped forward
to say, me too. Most notably, in December
2017, Rachel Graffin collected hundreds of
stories, #Me Too stories, and posted them on
her Yoga Girl website. These were drawn specifically
from the yoga industry. The hundreds of #Me Too
exposes chronicled mostly women’s stories
in which they were they accused mostly male
yoga teachers or gurus. Most notably, the
famous yoga guru responsible for inventing
Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabhi Jois, of exploitative and
sexually violent conduct. And so for those of
you who might not know as much about
the yoga industry, Jois is responsible for the
creation of Ashtanga Yoga, but also it’s from Ashtanga Yoga
that we get flow yoga, which is taught in yoga studios
all over the world now and is definitely the most
popular form of yoga today. And the picture here, I
don’t have it on this paper, but the picture here is
Bikram, Bikram Choudhry of Bikram Yoga, who’s
also been accused of sexually violent behavior,
sexual harassment, and even rape. The ways contemporary
yoga gurus and teachers are perpetrators of or are
complicit in sexual violence reflect the troubling gender and
sexual politics long embedded in neoliberal spirituality. Attempts to diagnose
the problem ranged from blaming the
guru model, pointing to the flawed attribution of
infallibility and insistence on submission to
gurus, the blaming the conservative sexist
and heterosexist ideals certain individual teachers
or gurus represent. I think these are
accurate in capturing the authoritarian dysfunctions
of particular guru/disciple relationships. However, none of
them sufficiently explains the unique strategies
through which power is abused and how so many industry
leaders get away with violence against women and sexual
minorities, especially when in the popular
imagination, spiritual practices such as yoga are associated
with health and wellness, women’s empowerment,
and self-care. The symbolic opposition of
yoga to sexism and heterosexism operates within a
theoretical framework that posits progressive
spirituality as an alternative to conservative religion. But this binary is just
not a lived reality. Alternative genealogies
around sexual violence can be narrated
through attention not only to individual
incidents of sexual harassment and assault, but also
by reading the texts of popular publications,
such as Yoga Journal, or listening to widely
disseminated yoga discourses such as those of Ramdev. And Yoga Journal,
for those, again, who aren’t really familiar
with the yoga industry it’s the most widely-marketed
yoga magazine. It’s a North
American-based publication. In these we learn that
single women, queer people, fat people, sick
people, people of color, differently abled,
and atypical people, and poor people
are real problems. We learned that yoga
practitioners, should they want to survive and thrive,
must avoid call out and regulate these problems of deviancy. Industry leaders learn that
its prescriptions about how to govern bodies and sexuality
has a productive energy that can be harnessed to
convince consumers to buy more commodities,
and therefore support to the industry,
even when that support also cultivates discrimination,
exclusion, and abuse. For example, many
spirituality industries call on women not to subvert
heteropatriarchal social structures that obstruct
their abilities to parent while fulfilling the
demands of a career, but to use yoga as
a means of achieving that envied, what I
already mentioned, the envied work/life
balance, which I think is impossible, by the way. [CHUCKLES] Corporations and industries run
only by convincing consumers that they are imperfect,
flawed, and that they can be healed, if only they
purchase the right products. So in short, I suggest we
use neoliberal capitalism as a framework for
understanding sexual violence in the generally conservative
ethos of spirituality, including the yoga industry. So I’m going to wrap up. In academic study of
religion, in pop culture, and in popular spiritual
publications themselves, there is often a desire
for a narrative of unity, as if there is an essence or
core to popular spirituality and to the cultures
it appropriates from. But the discomfort
that comes with efforts to illuminate the differences
and discrepancies, even in especially political
ones, is necessary. Ultimately, attending
to discrepancies and contradictions,
especially contradictions, acknowledging all of these
industries’ moving parts will strengthen the
collective project to understand not only
neoliberal spirituality, but religion in
contemporary society. Neoliberal spiritual discourses,
disciplines, and institutions, including its
countless commodities, for example, a
t-shirt with peace, love, yoga appliqueed
across the front, often enact an Orientalist
fantasy of enlightenment ethics that’s especially seductive
in a world of ever expanding obligations and needs. A desire to subvert the violence
of neoliberal capitalism is expressed and then contained. And in through its creative
usage of neoliberal governance, its capitalist,
orientalist tropes, in uses of neoliberal feminist
discourses around empowerment and freedom, the
text of spirituality provides a theoretical model
and ideological justification for a neoliberal ethic. For all the peace
and love it offers through yoga, health
foods, mindfulness, and countless other
modes of self-governance, neoliberal spirituality plays a
divisive and conservative game that thrives on nostalgia
about lost cultural norms, demarcating
outsiders, as well as narratives about
transformation, and liberation, and the value of self-care. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] FINN MOORE-GARETY: Thank
you so much, Andrea. So now, as we usually
do, we’ll just give over the next 45
minutes to an hour, depending on the energy
to discussion of this. So maybe I’ll just start and
give it out to the group. So yeah, this is a great
talk, really compelling, and in many ways just such
a devastating critique, of not only yoga, but its place
in perpetuating the [INAUDIBLE] inequities of the
world we live in. So I think you mentioned
this capitalist realism, this premise that whatever
stories we may tell ourselves, we’re ineluctably stuck in this
capitalist, neoliberal order. And so I guess that
begs the question for me of, around activism,
you mentioned some of the alternative
modes of self-care that might be able
to counter that, but maybe to broaden
that a little bit and make it more existential,
is it really possible working within the system that we’re
all doomed to be part of it, is it possible to
transcend and dismantle it in any meaningful way? And then bringing
it back narrowly to yoga, what can yoga
do toward that end? And then make it even much more
personal and maybe in a way that other people
in the room might be thinking, in light
of this critique, can one go to a yoga
class, without– do you know what I’m saying? ANDREA JAIN: Yeah FINN MOORE-GARETY: It’s partly
like an aha funny question, but it’s also I
think in a way gets at the what’s so devastating
about this critique, like really trying to
politically take responsibility for that kind of mundane
gestural subversion, as you said. So is there a yoga that is
subversive in a meaningful way? ANDREA JAIN: So this is the
question I get everywhere I go. FINN MOORE-GARETY: Sure. ANDREA JAIN: So
what’s the answer? Because obviously my project
is very deconstructive. But I’m not prescriptive. That’s the thing. I don’t buy into capitalist
realism, the idea that there aren’t
viable alternatives. I think a socialist
revolution is worth pursuing. It’s a socialist project. Yet I don’t prescribe how
we ought to go about it. And so there is I think
some value in just being a cultural diagnostician. Right? FINN MOORE-GARETY:
Uh-huh, right. ANDREA JAIN: And I see
that as my project. That itself, I would
hope would kind of serve to fuel some kind
of prescriptive vision and activism. But that’s not my role. So I don’t have answers. But that said, I would say– I will add that
we’re all complicit. Right? We are all complicit,
because we’re all consumers. And so we are in the system. This is the water
we’re swimming in. And so whether or not you
do yoga or tropical foods, you’re complicit because you’re
doing something else that’s a product of
neoliberal capitalism and it’s upholding
its power structures. I mean, by being in
higher education, we’ve seen the neoliberalization
of higher education as much as we’ve seen the
neoliberalization of spirituality. And so we’re in it. And I don’t want to
target spirituality as somehow uniquely complicit,
because they’re not. Instead, I think it’s
just a really helpful– it’s a helpful way to
think about neoliberalism and religion under
neoliberalism. But it doesn’t have to be yoga. It doesn’t have to
be spirituality. We could do this
through a number of cases, a number of ways. So, yeah. FINN MOORE-GARETY:
Well, let me follow up on that, because I mean,
first of all, yeah, that’s fair enough. Describing something in
itself is a real contribution. No one can ask you to somehow
give a prescription out. But if we’re honing
in on yoga and this is more germane to your
project and what motivates you, can you say more about why yoga? It if it doesn’t
have to be yoga, that is the kind of conduit
vehicle for this critique, why did yoga compel you
to develop this critique through a first
and a second book? ANDREA JAIN: OK,
for two reasons. Number one, because I find that
the critiques of spirituality have been really inadequate. I just never found
it compelling, and I think this is extremely
an anti-socialist position that consumers are so dumb
that they have no agency, and that they just
are brainwashed into buying these products. I think they
absolutely make choices based on their sense of
agency and their discomfort with the fact that the
world is coming to an end. And they’re witnesses to it. And you turn on the
TV and see whales being cut open and just
ridiculous amount of plastic coming out their guts. We see this, and it
makes us uncomfortable, and we want to do
something about it. And so we have
agency as consumers. We are empowered. And so we buy the
biodegradable paper plates instead of the plastic ones. I don’t think
that’s a dumb move. I think it’s not
an effective move. And so that was part
of what compelled me to focus on spirituality is
that I find these studies that paint spiritual
consumers as somehow dumber than consumers at large. And then also I think that– what was I going to say? Let’s see– oh, I suppose that
yoga consumers, themselves, oftentimes think of
themselves as activists or spiritual consumers. And so we saw it
in the discourses around Spiritual Gangster
this is a form of activism. And they will use this
language, and they’ll talk about freedom, liberation,
and empowerment, in particular. And especially you hear this
in the neoliberal feminist discourses and spirituality. And so I was seeking to counter
this idea that spirituality is somehow progressive
and empowering, as opposed to traditional religions. And so for these two
reasons, I was just drawn especially to looking
at spirituality in yoga. But again, you see neoliberal
feminist discourses in lots of other industries,
not just the yoga one. FINN MOORE-GARETY: Yeah, great. Any other questions? Yes, sir? AUDIENCE: Thanks. I love that in a talk
that brings together Baba Ramdev, [INAUDIBLE],, whale
gut, [INAUDIBLE] I’m totally [INAUDIBLE]. But I actually mean that. But I also mean that
in a scholarly sense, to actually productively
bring [INAUDIBLE] and neocapitalism
together is fantastic. ANDREA JAIN: Thank you. AUDIENCE: So thank you for that. ANDREA JAIN: Thanks. AUDIENCE: Because
they’re often kind of things that, especially– I mean, I’m not a
liberal studies scholar, but I’m an anthropology
capitalism, right? There are things– those
are catalyst kind of space [INAUDIBLE]. But I think it’s really cool
that you’re bringing that together. ANDREA JAIN: Thank you. AUDIENCE: So since [INAUDIBLE]
talk about it as cultural– cultural diagnosticians,
[INAUDIBLE] diagnostician of this
yoga industrial complex. I kind of wanted to
maybe just hear you maybe talk a little bit more about
the empirics of a project, maybe even historicize some
things maybe a little bit more, and particularly right on
this kind of project of yoga as a program of making
normative bodies, making normative consumers,
making normative [INAUDIBLE] in these diverse forms. So I was wondering– I was attentive to that
production, that production of the guru that
makes that, then, in this kind of
[INAUDIBLE] complex, that does that [INAUDIBLE]
normative, right, so yoga teacher trainings [INAUDIBLE]. And [INAUDIBLE] I understand the
spiritual nature kind of stuff. But like what about
the [INAUDIBLE] experience [INAUDIBLE] of bodies
and that kind of other sense? So it’s such that this
project is maybe more fractal and [INAUDIBLE] it allowed to
kind of persist and replicate itself in this
kind of [INAUDIBLE] cancerous capitalistic
kind of way. So maybe just are you talking
about teacher trainings? What are the kind of
[INAUDIBLE] of the critique? ANDREA JAIN: Yeah. Well, first let me just comment
on the historical question. So in the [INAUDIBLE] yoga book
I make the case that yoga was really– it didn’t– we oftentimes
imagine it as following this sort of linear trajectory of
increasing popularization. But in fact, yoga, it didn’t
have this linear trajectory. Instead, it was countercultural
up until the ’80s. And I’m talking about
modern postural yoga. Even in India,
modern postural yoga was not popular by
any means, right? And so in terms of
the historical roots, and especially this idea around
creating normative bodies, yoga was not a way of
engaging in any form of normative embodiment. In fact, it was
just the opposite. It was seen as radically
countercultural. And there were many figures
in the modern yoga’s history, like Vivekananda, who strongly
condemned postural yoga because it was an
embodied practice. And so he saw it as dangerous. And then in India,
modern postural yoga was really countercultural
but in a sort of anti-imperialist way. It was a mode through
which you didn’t strengthen women’s bodies. You strengthened men’s
bodies in opposition to Western imperialism. So it was a mode through
which men were masculinized. So anyway, there’s
some really interesting historical background there. And it’s also interesting
to see that it’s really not until the ’80s that yoga
starts to become popular as a way of achieving a sort
of ideal beauty standard. And then related to your
second question about where– I think you’re asking, where
I’m going to study body norms? When I’m looking at– AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE], yeah. It’s like what–
like, what, yeah. ANDREA JAIN: Yeah,
so I pay’ a lot of attention to the actual
discourses of packaging and yoga wear in this
particular project. I’m really fascinated by
this cultural obsession with the spiritual script
that we wear on our bodies. And this is– you
don’t have to buy– Spiritual Gangster’s
very high end. It’s sold at like, Saks
Fifth Avenue, right? But you can go into Target and
buy a Peace Love Yoga T-shirt. You can even get it at
various levels of cost. And we see it everywhere. And so that’s what
I mostly focus on. I also focus on
marketing campaigns for companies like Lululemon
and Spiritual Gangster and Whole Foods
and Yoga Journal. And then also I also
draw on the literature that is used by certain
yoga corporations to attract potential yoga
teachers for teacher training. And so Bikram Yoga is known. He now has run away to Mexico
because of these accusations of sexual harassment, abuse. But he still is hosting
hundreds of people a year training to
be yoga teachers. So I look at the
literature that tries to convince people to train
with us as opposed with them. Like, this is authentic yoga. Or that bring yoga teachers
to India for their training because that somehow
makes them more authentic, or yoga teacher
trainings now in Africa. I’m also– so one of the things
that started me on this project was I was interested
in prison yoga. And so I write a book
about prison yoga as also this neoliberal
project, where, oh, my gosh, you’re in prison. It’s so dehumanizing. So you’ve been traumatized
by the prison system. And so take responsibility for
recovering from your trauma by doing yoga. And we see this not just
in the United States, but in India and also Africa,
through the Africa Yoga Project. And the Africa Yoga
Project is training hundreds of yoga teachers
in Africa, especially Kenya, with what I was saying
as this neoliberal lens. So that just gives
you some examples. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks. FINN MOORE-GARETY: Someone
else had a question [INAUDIBLE] area. AUDIENCE: Yeah. So you talked about how this
interplays with race and class and gender. And I was wondering if you’ve
done any work with kind of a generational critique– I hear anecdotally Millennials
buy experiences as opposed to consumer items. And [INAUDIBLE] might be
inter-played with this, especially as you just talked
about people who do yoga self-identifying as activists. And so [INAUDIBLE] yoga as
opposed to buying things, as an activist. ANDREA JAIN: I don’t engage with
these generational arguments. I don’t find them compelling. I really can’t stand it when
people say that Millennials are so superficial
or Millennials aren’t deep thinkers or that
Millennials aren’t activists. I just don’t find it compelling. But also, yoga practitioners
are largely not Millennials. They’re largely the
generation– right now, at least we’re talking about
the United States demographics. They’re like 40- to
50-year-olds doing yoga as much as there are 20- and
30-year-olds doing yoga. So no, I haven’t engaged with
that particular critique. And what was your
second question? AUDIENCE: Oh, [INAUDIBLE] same. ANDREA JAIN: OK. AUDIENCE: Thanks. ANDREA JAIN: Yeah. FINN MOORE-GARETY: Yeah, please. AUDIENCE: Yeah, I thought that
was really powerful and really useful to know that
information and to have that critical perspective. And it reminds me of when
I was in grad school, and we learned that [INAUDIBLE]
one foot in and foot outside of culture [INAUDIBLE]. ANDREA JAIN: Oh, yeah. AUDIENCE: But the older
I get, I know this is not popular [INAUDIBLE]. But the older I get,
I just feel like, [INAUDIBLE] asking people, do
you think that spirituality is totally constructed– [INAUDIBLE] theory background
[INAUDIBLE] performance– or is there something
essential to it? And I know that essence is
like a totally nasty word, and I shouldn’t even
probably say it. But that’s an exaggeration. But in my heart, I grew up
in gender studies and writing about feminist playwrights. But I talk to people
and ask this question. They said, oh, that
reminds me of mindfulness. And I think, no, there’s
got to be more than that. Like, what about love? What about sacrificial love,
love for your children? And where is– do we
have a responsibility to help [INAUDIBLE],, in addition
to and in contradiction to. This is sort constructed,
deconstructed version. And I was wondering [INAUDIBLE]. ANDREA JAIN: Well, I actually
am really interested in bodies and embodiment. And I think that for me,
thinking about embodiment does bring up a lot of issues
around universalisms, right? Like, we give birth in
similar ways across cultures. And there is– I’m interested in affected
emotion as embodied, rather than as purely
cultural and constructed. So I think you’re right. I think also there are– there’s ways of talking
about religious experience, transformation, spiritual
experience, that speaks across one’s
own cultural context. But that said, I think we
have more of a responsibility to address the fact
that the world is likely coming to an end unless
we do something right now to change it, right? The suffering is just– it’s– we can’t– it’s– we can’t even put it into words. And so I’m pretty apocalyptic. I’m pretty convinced that we’re
probably not going to survive, that we’re destroying
the environment. And there’s very little
hope that anything is going to save us and
we’re going to go down, and it’s going to be ugly. It’s going to be way worse than
it is today, the suffering. So in terms of, do we
have a responsibility? I think it’s not
that there aren’t ways of talking about embodied
experience across cultures, but we don’t have time. We don’t have time. We’ve got to talk about
the social structures that are destroying the earth. So– FINN MOORE-GARETY: [INAUDIBLE]
please Andrea [INAUDIBLE].. AUDIENCE: Yeah,
thank you very much. I appreciate your time. I was coming mainly because I
teach martial arts [INAUDIBLE].. And so it was interesting,
the comparisons there. But I’m also teaching
[INAUDIBLE] that, using David [INAUDIBLE]
books [INAUDIBLE].. And so I find the
connection more there. But putting those
two things together, actually it leads
me to a question that [INAUDIBLE] adopted. And that is, if we were to
try [INAUDIBLE] and the idea that capitalism is coming to
an end, it’s nonsustainable, but it’s principally
nonsustainable because of the
basic contradiction between [INAUDIBLE]
and [INAUDIBLE].. And what this is so
illuminating, for me at least, is the way in which children
have become so dominated by exchange [INAUDIBLE]. But one of the things that
makes it unclear [INAUDIBLE] is whether it matters, in
your analytical framework, to find those instances
in which yoga resists its own comodification,
whether it matters where we could
accumulate experiences of yoga that are resisting
their thin-like quality, rather than moving
toward a spirituality or whatever resists capitalism. And I’ll put this to
suggestion, and that is that, one of the
things in the late ’70s and the ’80s that was so
empowering on martial arts, was the idea that you were
training, in martial arts, in the accordance with
[INAUDIBLE] social structures. Everybody was
fighting [INAUDIBLE].. [LAUGHTER] It wasn’t an Afro-Asian eunuch– ANDREA JAIN: Mm-hm, mm-hmm. AUDIENCE: –right? So my question for hope
is, where in the yoga world are these resistances,
not only to that comodification of the other practices,
but also to the generation of anti-systemic practices,
that at least create value between what is
fictitious and what might be. ANDREA JAIN: I think that could
be a really great book project. [LAUGHTER] I do. And in fact, that’s where I
started with this project. First, I was interested
in prison yoga. And then I thought– I got disillusioned, and
I thought, no, prison yoga is just another form
of milagro yoga. And in fact, it’s really
dark and terrible. I mean, because the
prison industrial complex is so deeply oppressive. And so then, I
thought, OK, so I’m going to seek out some of
these pocket yoga communities who are resisting neoliberal
capitalism in various ways. And I did find yoga communities
that attempt to do this. There are co-op yoga
communities where people don’t charge for yoga
classes, where they take turns teaching, and they
don’t require students to have any special accessories. And they use the space
to politically organize. But that didn’t
become my project. My project just increasingly
became attention to what is the most popular
form of spirituality. I mean, it’s not that
these pockets of resistance don’t exist. But if we’re going to theorize
yoga in the contemporary world, then it’s mostly this stuff. I mean, so that’s just
where my attention went, and that’s where
this project went. But I think
absolutely there could be a project that identified
and studied and analyzed spiritual communities
that are engaged in political resistance. They exist. They’re there. But they’re just little pockets. And if there’s any hope
for a socialist revolution, they’re going to
have to play a part. I mean, that’s our only hope– not the yoga people, per se,
but these pockets of resistance. FINN MOORE-GARETY: [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHTER] [INAUDIBLE] please get involved. AUDIENCE: I just–
quick comment. I actually spent
17 years working in the prison system
in Rhode Island, and I saw yoga being used. ANDREA JAIN: Wow. AUDIENCE: I wasn’t
actually in the classes, but I know [INAUDIBLE]
teaching the classes. And what I heard was that it
really helped people a lot with healing, self-healing. So I just see real
positive benefits of yoga among
certain populations. So I guess I find it hard
to dismiss it all together. ANDREA JAIN: So this
is absolute truth. There’s no doubt. Mindfulness and
yoga heal people. They do. I mean, I would never– if
somebody came to me and said, oh my god, I’ve got
this back injury, and somebody
suggested I do yoga. I wouldn’t say,
don’t do it, right? Sure, I mean, we have
aches and pains and trauma, and we want to heal. We all want healing. And yoga and mindfulness
absolutely can be effective. Nevertheless, my argument
is that this focus on individual healing is not
constructive for any sort of political agenda
that seeks to dismantle the structures that caused
the trauma, to begin with. And that’s my critique,
is that yeah, you’re traumatized by these
oppressive social structures, and you’ve been
imprisoned and tortured. And yoga can help
you survive that. Yet, it doesn’t help
to dismantle the cause of the suffering, right? And that’s where
our focus should be, is on preventing the
suffering, to begin with, dismantling the prison
industrial complex. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] ANDREA JAIN: Which
puts the burden not on the shoulders
of the oppressed, but on those who are empowered
and privileged, right? We can’t expect that those
who are the most oppressed need to shoulder the burden
of their own oppression. AUDIENCE: You used
the phrase yoga and mindfulness along
often with confidence. And they [INAUDIBLE]
talks in the comment. And I was just
wondering if you’re seeing any differences between
those two mind movements, yoga and mindfulness? ANDREA JAIN: Yoga
and mindfulness? Well, there’s a gender
difference for sure. And I think that has to do with
beauty standards and yoga being used specifically because yoga
creates certain body types that have generally, especially
in North American and Western Europe, have been seen
as feminine ideals, the trim muscle, as opposed
to big, bulky muscles. And so yoga was
marketed and sold to women as a women’s
fitness practice, that wouldn’t make you look too
big and bulky and masculine. Mindfulness, on
the other hand, was wedded to science
and biomedicine, which has historically
been male-dominated. And so doctors tend to
have taken up mindfulness, like [INAUDIBLE] being the most
famous example of this, who weds the modern biomedical
model of mental health to mindfulness. And so yeah, so I think
that, beyond that, though, I see the discourses
as very similar. I just don’t see the neoliberal
feminist discourses as much in mindfulness. And again, but I really
see them as clearly closely interrelated. Are you thinking of
anything in particular? I’m curious. AUDIENCE: No, I mean, I’d have
to think about it some more. Obviously, I think
a lot of the things that you talked about
today definitely do apply to my [INAUDIBLE], as well. I think the most compelling
thing you said to that end was about marketing of a
particular type of experience, which one type would be in
the present moment experience and the consequences
of that in terms of, when you’re marketing
that experience, were you turning away from as
you turn towards that, to just be. So I think a lot of
it very much applies. I was just curious,
given that you did tend to put them
together in the same breath, I got the sense that
you largely thought that they were similar
and parallel and working within this broader
neoliberal spirituality. I just wondered if there were
any ways in which maybe there could be something
productive or illuminating, by thinking about
how they actually differ from each other. ANDREA JAIN: Yeah, and
that’s a good point. Most of my case studies are
drawn from the yoga industry. But I do attend
some to mindfulness. AUDIENCE: I mean, obviously,
some of these critiques have been coming out, obviously,
too, with [INAUDIBLE].. ANDREA JAIN: Although
he provides the approach I am trying to critique here. Because he says,
basically, consumers are duped into thinking– AUDIENCE: It’s very one-sided. ANDREA JAIN: I mean, it’s just
so simplistic to me and again, anti-socialist. I think it’s really
unhelpful for any sort of a socialist agenda to
paint consumers that way. But he also has– I refer to McMindfulness. And his is the book recently out
that’s called, McMindfulness. FINN MOORE-GARETY: [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: Hi. I’m a [INAUDIBLE] in ’60s, ’70s. So I was interested
in [INAUDIBLE],, And for my
experience, of course, as part of peace/love
generation, is spirituality was not
just about self-healing and self [INAUDIBLE],, making
changes the social [INAUDIBLE].. And I always had a [INAUDIBLE]
this whole popularization to go with this. It’s about self. And I hear people talk about
spirituality in the culture. It’s all about self-image. That’s [INAUDIBLE]. And the other– there’s
[INAUDIBLE] institutions spirituality is a
relationship, isn’t it? And so is there yoga movements
or any of these popular yoga movements that really focus
on that and really generally [INAUDIBLE]? Or is that just part of the
yoga religion [INAUDIBLE].. ANDREA JAIN: Oh. AUDIENCE: The
essence of, I mean, love and character, what you’re
suggesting is what we do. The revolution is an act
of love and is actually the spirituality, I
think, what you’re doing. ANDREA JAIN: Yeah I think that
the yoga industry, in general, uses these discourses. But it’s very much– I won’t say it’s not genuine,
because I think it is genuine. But it’s not getting
a sense, the sense used in the counterculture
as a way to organize, right? Let’s organize around our
shared commitment to love. And that is tied to a
certain model of society that is more fair. Right? And so that’s not the
same way that love is invoked in popular yoga
discourses, where it’s invoked all the time everywhere. But it’s about self-love. And but it’s also
about community-making, because communities are
created around self-love. And so one of the things
I argue in selling yoga is that yoga is
oftentimes written office as highly individualistic
and hedonistic, it’s all about the consumption
in this hedonist sense, just buying stuff for your own
self-glorification or pleasure. And I don’t think
that’s the case at all, because yoga consumers
are definitely bound to communities. They become committed
to certain studios, to a certain brand of yoga. And these communities,
they eat together. They’re friends. They spend time
in the yoga class and outside the yoga class. So there is a sort of
community-making that happens. But the community-making is not
around political commitments or an agenda, generally. AUDIENCE: I just wonder if
there’s community studies to see if people
that go into yoga, who actually have [INAUDIBLE],,
try to work for social change. I mean, it seems like
[INAUDIBLE] Plato’s [INAUDIBLE] becomes [INAUDIBLE] committed
to share with everybody else. So I mean, [INAUDIBLE]– ANDREA JAIN: [INAUDIBLE]
think of products. And again, he has
this narrative. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] and
the extension of, if you’re– yeah, [INAUDIBLE]
compassion [INAUDIBLE].. I mean, I wonder if there’s
any studies that [INAUDIBLE].. Because of all those
popular [INAUDIBLE] videos or [INAUDIBLE] are people coming
out [INAUDIBLE] more truly mindful not towards just their
own experience, but others. ANDREA JAIN: Well, people
do have real experiences of transformation through yoga. And they do want to share that. And so they write about it,
and they become yoga teachers. I mean, I do think
people are transformed. I take them seriously
when they say they are. But they’re still situated
in neoliberal capitalism and articulating
their transformation through neoliberal
discourses and values. AUDIENCE: Yeah, [INAUDIBLE]
is not transformed really step outside the system,
so they didn’t want to make a change [INAUDIBLE]. I mean– ANDREA JAIN: Well, do they? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] so
I’m wondering if they– ANDREA JAIN: Well, sure they
want to make a change, yeah. So they want to
spread the good vibes. They genuinely want to. But whether that’ll bring
about a world in which we are happy and free,
their good are not effective in that sense. FINN MOORE-GARETY:
Can I jump in here? Because as someone who
is really interested in pre-modern religions
in south Asia, [INAUDIBLE] expected echoes in this phase
of conversation of yoga’s roots in an ideology of
renunciation, small communities of asceticism, and a basic
goal of total withdrawal from– or sorry, a goal
of self-absorption, that’s the absorption
in the self for purposes of liberation, and the mechanism
of withdrawal from society. Right? So if we look at
yoga historically, it has never– it might
have inadvertently involved social change and
catalyzed social change in certain contexts,
but in some ways, maybe it’s no
surprise that we’re getting a similar
self-absorption just expressed in a neoliberal framework here. ANDREA JAIN: Yeah. FINN MOORE-GARETY: There’s
a form of asceticism that you’re talking about, even if
it’s a highly commodified– ANDREA JAIN: Oh, totally. I write a lot about– FINN MOORE-GARETY: [INAUDIBLE]
indulgent asceticism. ANDREA JAIN: Yeah, no, I write
a lot about the asceticism of consumer culture. It’s absolutely deeply ascetic. And I get these anecdotes. And one of them I recently
included in the book. I had a friend text me, I just
got out of my first yoga class, and pigeon– fuck pigeon. It’s the antithesis
of peace and love. And I mean, he was
tortured, right? FINN MOORE-GARETY:
And loving it. ANDREA JAIN: Yeah, and then he
was like, and I’m going back. And he absolutely did, right? And so no, there’s
it’s deeply ascetic. But I get it’s also
about purity, right? We get all these
discourses around purity. And you mentioned bringing
together the right wing, Hindu [INAUDIBLE] stuff and the
neoliberals spiritual gangster and stuff. One of the things that
unites these worlds is the discourses around purity. And for me, that’s
about creating in groups and out groups and
maintaining social hierarchies. Right? And so we could also say, well,
this is not just historically, what yoga has been about, but
this is what, historically, religion has been about. Right? So that’s why I like
yoga, too, though. It’s this way of really
talking about everything. FINN MOORE-GARETY:
Yeah, [INAUDIBLE].. Please, yeah. AUDIENCE: I have a question
about popular critiques of yoga. So I mean, the one
that I think is most obvious is the cultural
appropriation routine, which, arguably, I think also
relies on a argument of purity. And I’m thinking also of Islamic
aesthetic yoga practices, and a critique of that could
be, oh, this is Hindu influence, this is anti-Islamic. So you capitalize on
the purity critique. Do you find popular
critiques that can move outside of
reliance on purity? ANDREA JAIN: So one of the
things I did in selling yoga, and I also do in
this current project, is I do talk about
cultural appropriation. But I also try to
nuance this critique. Because I see the critiques
coming out of the Indian side, where South Asians
are saying, we’re uncomfortable with the
commodification of yoga, because we experience
it as a violation of our cultural heritage. Right? I think that essentializes
yoga in a way that echoes the essentialisms
of consumers themselves, who are like, ooh, yoga–
it’s ancient and Indian. And they have really no notion
of yoga’s actual history. It’s just ancient,
and that makes it cool or somehow authentic. Right? And so I resist all of these
essentialisms and just say, we’ve got to just bracket. And you see this
in the meditation, the work on meditation, too. So selling spirituality,
for example, I see this study as falling
victim to essentialism. They don’t get the history
of South Asian religions, and they don’t care to
actually engage experts on the history of
South Asian religions. And so instead, they make
these vast generalizations about what yoga was
before it was commodified or what mindfulness was
before it was commodified. And this drives me nuts. And so I think there are
better and worse ways to engage in cultural appropriation. And I know that’s not
a popular thing to say, that cultural
appropriation isn’t always equally bad in every way or that
sometimes, it can be even OK. But I do think that sometimes,
cultural appropriation can be OK. So I try to offer
a critique that reflects that, that
anti-essentialist position. AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you for the talk. I’m very interested in how
a person– because I’m also [INAUDIBLE] of my [INAUDIBLE]
have that perspective. It’s very different also,
I think very strong. And second, is I
also do research on this kind of
neoliberal or activism. And you mentioned in
your talk donation and intentional consumption
of certain [INAUDIBLE].. Yeah, and I was thinking, if you
have compared how [INAUDIBLE] the practitioners, when
they’re engaged in this kind of practice, then how
is that different from– because there are many
other people that are also doing this kind of activism. They don’t want [INAUDIBLE]. They don’t see a way
that that’s actively encouraging them to go out there
and push for structural change. So they’re also just
doing this [INAUDIBLE].. I was wondering if, since
you were activist growing up, function, do you feel like
yoga practitioners, when they do these things, they
are maybe just thinking more like compassion and
love, instead of just [INAUDIBLE] different from
what other actions [INAUDIBLE] Or just, I guess, it’s
different kinds of attributes that people will have, if they
do yoga and do this activism. ANDREA JAIN: Ah. So are you asking,
is there a way– or is there something
unique about yoga, is that what you’re asking? As compared to other forms
of conscious capitalism? I see that this as
interlinked in phenomena, the conscious capitalism
stuff and the neoliberal spirituality discourses. I don’t see them as different. I see all of them as
ultimately upholding neoliberal capitalism,
but in a way that allows people to
express their discomfort with capitalism. So in this example
of the Hollywood film that villainizes
capitalism, I feel like the same thing
is at play in both the conscious capitalism
and neoliberal spirituality, where the consumption performs
our subversion for us. So we buy from
Whole Foods, or we buy from a spiritual
gangster or a company that’s giving a certain percentage
of profits to feed the poor. And that performs our
subversion in our discomfort with capitalism for us. Then our activism is done. So does that answer
your question? And I think that there’s
probably some interesting work that could be done. And I haven’t dived
into this conversation. But with philanthropic studies– and of course, there’s
all sorts of work there on charitable giving and
ethics of charitable giving. And I think that
that could also be like another kind
of critique, one that engages with
philanthropic studies, to look at conscious
capitalism, and specifically in terms of spirituality. Does that answer your question? AUDIENCE: Yeah. Do you feel like, with yoga,
people, when they do activism, are they less antagonistic? ANDREA JAIN: Or they less what? AUDIENCE: Antagonistic, because
there’s more [INAUDIBLE].. ANDREA JAIN: Oh. I don’t think so. I mean, I think that
yoga is oftentimes sold as a product that gives
us– well, yoga and mindfulness are sold as products to
deal with stress, right? I do think that they
can alleviate stress. Whether that makes
people less antagonistic, though, I’m not sure. I think those are
two different things. So I’d have to think about
that, but I don’t think so. FINN MOORE-GARETY:
All right, well, thank you, Andrea, so much. [APPLAUSE] ANDREA JAIN: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for all your questions. I really appreciate
it, and they got me thinking about a lot
of things, appreciate it. FINN MOORE-GARETY: Great, great. We can continue this
conversation in the hallway. We have some refreshments here. So thanks, everyone, for
coming and for making this a great discussion. Well done. ANDREA JAIN: Thank you. I was thinking that you’ve
heard really a very close [INAUDIBLE]. FINN MOORE-GARETY: [INAUDIBLE] ANDREA JAIN: So while I was up
here reading it, [INAUDIBLE].. FINN MOORE-GARETY:
[INAUDIBLE] again. ANDREA JAIN: Oh, poor thing. FINN MOORE-GARETY:
No, [INAUDIBLE] there were some new
[INAUDIBLE] in there. ANDREA JAIN: Yeah, I do– I always, every time
I go over a talk, I re-word, even if I’m giving
it based on [INAUDIBLE].. I still try to re-work
it a little bit. But yeah, [INAUDIBLE]. FINN MOORE-GARETY:
That was really cool. ANDREA JAIN: Oh, thanks. Thanks so much. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
See you later. ANDREA JAIN: Thanks for coming,
and thanks for your questions. I really appreciate it. [INTERPOSING VOICES]