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The Ubiquity of Spiritual Appropriation — The Revealer

(Picture supply: Yoga Journal)

Over the previous few years of the pandemic, as time each appeared to hurry up and decelerate, I began to mark the altering of the seasons by the vacation decorations displayed at my native grocery retailer. Sooner or later throughout 2021, I started to note a weird pattern: leprechaun themed “yoga water,” an Easter Bunny in a yoga pose, a witch holding an indication that learn “namaste,” turkeys meditating, and eventually, a Christmas tree decoration formed as a yoga mat with the phrase “yoga” painted on it in silver glitter for good measure. My associate received used to me shopping for these things, bringing them house, and lining them up on our eating desk and finding out them, like a mad scientist making an attempt to crack a code.

These yoga-themed tchotchkes perplexed me. What was taking place right here? Who could be fascinated with shopping for these things? And maybe most perplexing, how had yoga develop into tethered to U.S. and Christian seasonal merchandise?

Just lately, I introduced this assortment of trinkets to my undergraduate college students and requested them to assist me perceive why folks may purchase, of all issues, a figurine of an Easter Bunny doing yoga. In response, a heated debate ensued. One group of scholars felt strongly that this was disrespectful and an instance of stealing the non secular practices of Indians—that “commercializing” yoga on this manner was inappropriate as a result of it was an acute occasion of “cultural appropriation.”

A separate and competing faction of scholars instructed that this kind of commercialism was “harmless,” particularly because it was meant to be light-hearted and even humorous. These college students argued that we must always merely perceive these things as a benign instance of “cultural appreciation.” Actually, one scholar instructed that slightly than learn malintent into the manufacturing and consumption of these things, we must always have a good time how yoga had develop into a part of U.S. tradition and its “melting pot.”

In fact, that dialog left me unhappy as a result of, like many conversations about capitalism and tradition within the U.S., the controversy appeared to heart on whether or not or not adopting one other group’s practices or objects, particularly if related to faith, was proper or incorrect. This kind of oversimplified right-or-wrong, innocent-or-guilty framing displays a bent to counsel that one thing is simply dangerous if or when there may be a person or group to whom we are able to assign blame.

Fortuitously, Liz Bucar’s new e book, Stealing My Religion: Not Just Any Cultural Appropriation, injects new life into what has develop into a stale discourse on the idea of “cultural appropriation.” Bringing collectively three disparate case research, Bucar brilliantly demonstrates how definitions of faith fuse with practices of capitalism and possession.

Within the introduction, Bucar explains what she means by appropriation, particularly non secular appropriation. “Spiritual appropriation,” she writes, is “when people undertake non secular practices with out committing to spiritual doctrines, moral values, programs of authority, or establishments, in ways in which exacerbate current programs of structural injustice.” By contemplating the best way non secular appropriation each creates and sustains types of inequity, Bucar affords a compelling critique of secular liberalism, arguing that the “proper to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” excuses and maybe even encourages acts of exploitation since secular liberalism means that every thing must be accessible to everybody, even when it means usurping others’ cultures and spiritual traditions.

To help her declare, the primary chapter explores how progressive political actions, like feminism, can perpetuate inequity via non secular appropriation. Bucar examines the implications when non-Muslim girls have worn the hijab to point out allyship with Muslim girls. Bucar reveals how, regardless of its good intentions, the adoption of the hijab as a political assertion amongst non-Muslim girls produces unintended penalties. For instance, Bucar illuminates how white feminists within the U.S. failed to contemplate that their adoption of hijab may reinforce the false thought that every one Muslim girls put on veils. Highlighting the critiques of “solidarity hijab” that emerged from the Muslim group, Bucar explores how “some Muslim girls skilled these well-meaning acts as exploitation…[and that] these expressions of liberal inclusion didn’t all the time have the impact of supporting Muslim girls. Actually, simply the alternative: in some instances, solidarity hijab contributed to the additional racialization and subjugation of Muslim girls.”

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Within the second chapter, “Taking part in Pilgrim,” Bucar explores the collision of U.S. evangelical Christianity, heritage tourism, and research overseas packages. Primarily based on ethnographic analysis carried out with a research overseas program Bucar developed and led for years, the chapter focuses on the Catholic pilgrimage route in Spain generally known as the Camino de Santiago.

Whereas the whole e book is participating, I have to admit that this chapter has stayed with me for its insights on evangelical Christianity. The chapter explores how sure sorts of evangelical Protestants place themselves as superior and extra righteous Christians than all others. Bucar shares how her evangelical Christian college students engaged with the Camino as a Catholic observe, and behaved as if it was at odds with and in the end inferior to their very own perception programs. In line with Bucar these college students exhibited a way of superiority when confronted with Catholic beliefs and practices on the Camino, revealing a type of self-feeding narcissism amongst evangelical Protestants. Finally, Bucar’s evaluation uncovers how evangelical Christianity fuses with white supremacy in terrifying methods, to this reader not less than.

The third chapter focuses on Bucar’s time receiving trainer coaching at a Kripalu yoga retreat. The Kripalu heart the place Bucar underwent 200 hours of yoga coaching is among the oldest in the USA. Via evaluation of her time there, Bucar affords a deeply delicate perspective of the considerably frequent critique right this moment that training yoga represents a type of cultural appropriation, particularly amongst white Individuals.

After a quick however thorough historic overview on how yoga emerged as a shopper wellness observe in the USA, the chapter explores the advanced and at occasions contradictory methods people expertise yoga as a non secular observe. Bucar cleverly dubs the fashion of yoga frequent right this moment “respite yoga,” which she defines as a type of yoga supposed “to cut back stress and obtain well-being…marketed as vaguely non secular and but requires no non secular commitments, making it accessible to everybody.” Bucar goes on to make clear:

“Respite yoga depends on practices, together with bodily postures, borrowed from devotional yoga, as a approach to current itself as historic, mystical, and highly effective, however usually with out the bigger programs of thought and perception they developed from, comparable to ethics and cosmologies. However fashionable respite yoga additionally provides new issues to the combo to make the observe appear extra ‘genuine,’ together with the opening and shutting of a category with namaste as a type of pseudo- liturgy. In different phrases, respite yoga is determined by the appropriation of devotional yoga. It’s simply as a lot an invention of one thing new because the observe of one thing outdated.”

Bucar convincingly argues that respite yoga, as it’s at the moment practiced, is a type of non secular appropriation. In making this argument, nevertheless, Bucar deftly avoids indicting or absolving the individuals who observe yoga. Relatively, her exploration of respite yoga’s success in the USA demonstrates the way it operates as a direct byproduct of the formation of an Indian and majority Hindu nation-state after the autumn of the British Empire and the brand new nation’s want to export a few of its traditions overseas.

The e book concludes by zooming again out and connecting the three case research to one another. Bucar weaves the case research collectively to query the way it may be attainable to borrow from non secular traditions responsibly and in methods that don’t contribute to reinforcing social hierarchies.

To this reader, Stealing My Faith accomplishes what it units out to do after which some. Bucar takes on a messy and sometimes alienating subject – how we perceive and make room for crucial understandings of, and conversations about, faith in society. Bucar’s e book helped me perceive why, for instance, the yoga seasonal trinkets in my grocery retailer exist and why folks may need to purchase them. She does so by explaining how frequent appropriation has develop into in our capitalist world, and the way it, “depends on and contributes to current types of structural injustice.” Furthermore, she shines a brilliant if uncomfortable gentle on how, as U.S. Individuals, we’re inured to this mechanism as a result of most of us expertise and eat appropriation as tradition. Put one other manner, these yoga tchotchkes exist and may even promote as a result of they meld symbols of white U.S. Christianity with Hinduism in a manner that also retains majoritarian Christian holidays on the heart of how we manage time and our shared lives as members of a society.

Finally, Bucar imparts to her readers a transparent and unsettling consciousness of how basic non secular appropriation is to U.S. types of liberalism. And he or she affords us a path ahead, reminding her readers in her conclusion that we are able to and will resist normalizing these types of on a regular basis harms: “the flexibility to say ‘No, I shouldn’t do that [or buy this or support this] regardless that I do know I can’ is a robust acknowledgement of private privilege and a dedication to not permitting inherited entitlement to proceed unchecked.”


Rumya S. Putcha is an assistant professor of music and girls’s research on the College of Georgia. Her first e book, The Dancer’s Voice: Performance and Womanhood in Transnational India (Duke College Press), might be launched in December 2022. Her subsequent e book, Namaste Nation: Orientalism and Yoga within the twenty first Century, explores how concepts of well being are carried out as public expressions of id.

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