Christianity and Advanced Consumer Culture: Shaping a Response with Reference to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Consumerism impacts all parts of life including identity, values, hope and desire. Advanced consumerism, with its ability to commodify any system of belief, is able to then become its own meaning making system. As such, consumerism can take the role of folk religion for consumer-oriented cultures and thereby compete with, commodify, and challenge traditional constructs of religiosity. This thesis will explore how an ethos of advanced consumerism impacts Christian belief and practice, particularly in reference to the Seventh-day Adventist Community in Australia. It will then, after surveying wider responses that can be pertinent for Adventism and by drawing on and re-ascribing Adventist motifs and practices, shape a response for how the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in Australia can effectively engage within consumer culture yet, at the same time, be a counter-cultural community that imagines beyond consumerism.

After defining advanced consumer culture and how it acts as a meaning making system, the thesis will overview the factors that shaped the development of advanced consumer culture as it is expressed in western capitalist democracies including the influence of Protestant individualism. The thesis then interacts with the principal perspectives on, and constructs of, consumer society to establish the location and agency of a response. Consumerism’s ability to shape a fluid identity is mapped out in view of later implications for ecclesiology and spirituality. The response balances both reflexive and participative perspectives to establish a social productionist construct that maintains room for individual agency.

The second section maps out the nature and place of religion in advanced consumer culture. Commodification has deregulated spirituality in Australia and created a privatised “spiritual” consumer category and corresponding homogenous religiosity. The implications of this shift will be outlined in terms of the individualised mode within which the reflexive participant relates to the church. The interplay between the Christian church and consumer culture in Australia is overviewed with a particular focus on factors that have shaped the Seventh-day Adventist expression.

Seventh-day Adventist theology and experience is explored in terms of the commodified abstraction of Adventism and what factors might be drawn on to inform a response. The Seventh-day Adventist church’s agency, in responding to consumerism, is established and its capacity to engage with the various systematic and personal responses, outlined in the literature, evaluated. The response is further informed by exploring Seventh-day Adventist tokens and signifiers that might be co-opted as part of a creative counter-cultural engagement within advanced consumer culture. In developing a way forward, the tension of and balance between formal and substantial commodification is outlined. A balance is sought between the denomination being able to offer a consumer engagement, to remain relevant, yet protect its essential substance from the oversimplification and reduction of commodification. It is within the substance of Adventism that an imaginary can be developed to inform and mature beyond simplistic consumer engagements. Seventh-day Adventist beliefs, grouped under the Great Controversy motif, including Creation, Eschatology, and the Nature of Humanity are shaped into a counter consumer narrative to guide the Adventist community as it interacts within consumer culture. Particular attention is given to the powerful signifiers of Sabbath and the Adventist constructs of Babylon and the remnant. Growing out of this counter narrative, challenges and recommendations are outlined to inform local church expressions and national strategies.

This thesis adds to a growing body of consumer studies with an inter-disciplinary analysis of advanced consumer culture through the socio-theological window. It provides a guide for the Seventh-day Adventist church in Australia that informs its missional interaction within advanced consumerism along with addressing the challenges of commodification.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Moore, Gerard, Principal Supervisor, External person
  • Jackson, Wendy, Co-Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2021

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