Putting a Price on Zen: The Business of Redefining Religion for Global Consumption

Joshua A. Irizarry

Abstract


Over the past several decades, Zen has become a mark of global cosmopolitanism. Largely divorced from its religious context, the word “zen” appears in many languages with a remarkable diversity of accepted meanings and usages. In this paper, I outline the historical and cultural factors which have contributed to the dramatic semiotic transformation of Zen in the popular imagination and international media over the past century. I demonstrate that ideas about Zen have evolved through strategic cultural and linguistic associations, and show how the resulting polysemy has led to Zen becoming an ideal marketing byword – one that is freely appropriated and commoditized in a manner that differentiates Zen from almost all other religious traditions. I further suggest that for the Japanese Zen sects, the global popularity and cosmopolitan appeal of Zen has come hand-in-hand with a decentralization of traditional authority and a challenge to the clergy’s role in shaping the future development of Zen.

Keywords


Zen; marketing; commoditization; consumption; semiotics

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Copyright (c) 2015 Joshua A. Irizarry

The JGB is indexed by ATLA Religion Database, ProQuest, EBSCO, and eGranary Digital Library. The works published in this journal are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.  ISSN 1527-6457

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