martes, noviembre 06, 2018

The polarities of religious power

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The polarities of religious power

Congregation. Source:
Angélica Eliú Patiño

Nowadays there is a gallery of religious systems competing among themselves and the believers are deemed as clients. Diverse marketing techniques, which are more complex everyday among the religious systems, are used; and these are effective in this spiritual and mercantile bricolage. The growing marketing applied to religious acts and institutions is adjusted to the purchaser’s tastes. It is the consumer public, created, discovered and organized according to marketing rules, which “determine the type of elaboration and distribution of religious assets, as well as the very structure assumed by the producing instance (…) the industrial society has opened the market of religious consumption, which led to the creation of certain conditions for the surging of a religious marketing”.1

Marketing should be understood as a group of techniques employed not only to work upon the mechanisms of the exchange, but also to explain the human actions involved in the process. But then, which actions are involved in this process of the religious systems? Among them: consolidate the agencies, strengthen and guarantee the reproduction of the religious system, create diversified products to supply to their own community, extend their scope of believers, and the search of power. It is interesting to observe how religious systems have used marketing to expand their dominion. In this article, we will focus on analyzing the polarities of power and the task of marketing as its legitimizing factor.

What is power?

From a linguistic point of view, the word in vulgar Latin corresponds to “posere”, verb whose translation would be “being capable of” or “being possible”. The faculty or ability of performing an action. The power described by Max Weber from an anthropological point of view expresses itself in the ability of influencing in the actions and the will of others.

Power is a socio-psychological relationship between people or operating units, capable of deciding the most convenient course of action in a concrete situation. There is a decision-making or managing ability involved. The subject decides whether to subordinate him/herself or not.2

Power is a social relationship that can be:

Independent: When the subject remains in control and can make decisions.

Dependent: When the decision is made by one or several individuals, normally the subject yields.

In this dynamic of actors within the religious systems, power turns into a bounty that everyone wants to get, and authority, even more. Why? Because authority has to do with legitimacy and effectiveness. We could say that authority is: the legitimated power. Authority is built, it undergoes a process of influence and seeks resources, tangible or intangibles. Legitimacy has its grounding in immanence and transcendence.

Accordingly, it is possible to deduce that marketing becomes a strategy of the legitimation process. If power or authority could be bought, marketing would be a tool that turns this activity logically possible. If we allow ourselves to make a comparison between classical ethnographies of anthropology and the current religious systems, we could say that in the same way as rituals are an instrument to legitimize the authority of the tribal chief, marketing and its activities look for this legitimate power in order to have influence in the life of believers. Marketing looks for pathways to reach to legitimation. There may be small changes in language, for example: calling the leader spiritual Father, that, on the one hand it strengthens the sense of parenthood, and at the same time it gets the recognition of the authority.

This search for power exists within and outside the group. The idea of conquest is looked for and according to the effort put unto it, it is achieved, satisfying personal necessities, propelling a range of followers, and consolidating the fidelity of those who trust in its legitimacy –thus is the system reproduced. In all religious systems, there is a management of power, and a distinction among its types, each one linked to the next one interdependently, forming a distribution of activities, with specific goals or particular strategies.

Types or polarities of power

1.- Charismatic polarity

This polarity of power has its grounds in the ability of conviction that certain persons have to persuade others through their arguments: charisma, seduction and charm. It is an ability that normally moves multitudes. The word “charisma” comes from the Greek “krisma” and from its analog “kharis” which means “grace” or “gift”; in its etymological and historical sense it is the group of talents given to a person, that must be applied to have a positive influence in the making of a common goal.

Social power, according to R.N. Adams, is the ability to exert the subject´s will unto another, through the control of the energetic processes which interest him or her and are fundamental for his or her survival.3 The charismatic polarity entails a process of intensification4 in which external and internal meanings are involved.

The religious systems give great dedication to this distinction of power, the selection of the “correct person” has become one of the most important decisions of the system. Whoever becomes leader, bearer of power and authority, must have charisma to get the empathy and collaboration of his followers. This is team work: the leader consolidates its authority and the followers get satisfaction by finding their own goals met, thus strengthening their identity. In the religious systems, the charismatic leader is that one who, focused on relationships, committedly arranges and uses his talents, gifts and resources for the benefit of the group, thus allowing it to grow.

As Michael Foucault stated, “Discourse is power”. The religious systems invest a great percentage of their time preparing the speeches that will be delivered to the community, with clear purposes, showing the path that ought to be followed; thus they obtain the power of affecting the individual conducts of their believers.

The charismatic polarity allows to open a path in shady topics within communities, and the charismatic leader can give voice to these situations. Such is the case of the famous preacher, Joel Osteen, same way as pastor of Hillsong London, Brian Houston, respected by the evangelical community in England and in the United States of America. Both include the homosexual community in their churches, counteracting the rejection of other sectors. They also address other topics such as: termination of pregnancy, or the social homosexual cohabitation.

In this sense, charismatic domination supposes an emotional communication process. This means that there is a possibility for a variation in the direction of consciousness and action, a complete reorientation of all attitudes, before the previous lifestyles or before the world in general. Marketing takes care of preparing the qualities of the charismatic leader, preparing propaganda for him, taking care of his public image, distributing his material in magazines and books to orient the community on how to “act in social life”.

2.- Bilateral polarity – Prosumer (Producer and consumer)

Marketing involves the knowledge of the market and its segmentations, and similarly, it adopts a view that includes the client´s point of view. Nowadays, we observe that believers of different religious systems are simultaneously producers and consumers.

Marketing has dealt with identifying and satisfying human and social necessities in a profitable way; when prosumer marketing is introduced in a religious context, power and autonomy are obtained because they do not depend on the “other”, whether it is a system or a company, to satisfy these necessities, but the group has the capacity to create products that can supply its own community.

We can observe that in the religious systems there are increasing groups that produce their own faith instruments, such as: “the oil”, or the “consecrated wine”, the books of the UCKG, the increasingly more sophisticated books and T-shirts offered by the catholic church, the editorial production of the Jehovah witnesses, and the immense range of ministers who offer products in the evangelic community, such as financial administration or multimedia services; among many other examples in the religious alternatives.

Each one of them is oriented towards a prosumer focus, because it gives them power of mobility of capital according to their needs; besides, every religious denomination may turn into a financially sustainable agency.

3.- Power of Digital-Radical Marketing

Starting from the former power polarity, the prosumer type, we can observe that the term “prosumer”, coined since 1980, synthetizes the words “consumer”, and “producer”, and comes along with the technology, mainly the internet and the World Wide Web, that we know as www web, and this gives birth to a power polarity of digital-radical marketing.

This is due to several reasons: 1) The interactivity supplied in its use 2) Zero speed 3) The opportunity of using new tools to involve them in the process. The point is to create solid strategies in the social networks and in the virtual world in general.

Religious systems and believers, depending on the freedom they find within the system, create blogs, Facebook pages, web pages, or twitter messages. In these spaces, it is easier to know the opinions of the receptors through the comments in real time and free. It is necessary to say that the management of these media does not involve an abandonment of the traditional media; nevertheless, they widen the line of influence, chasing power and authority that through the flux of information and images can reach to the believers; these, in turn, feel identified and may follow one of these groups or charismatic figures.

In these contexts, we can find another marketing, denominated “relational”, which looks to create direct relationships with the clients using these media, and responding in real time. For example, creating messages that can be heard 24 hours a day, or creating a live chat. In consequence, the marketing becomes viral. In other words, it uses the internet to propagate over the web the name of its religious system, and multiply the number of followers.

This type of power is sough after by most religious systems; such is the case of the figure of the Pope, whose team produces videos that appear in the form of advertisements or commercials in YouTube; his Twitter account, which is followed by some 6 million people; the Muslims, with their Facebooks groups to find couples like: “Muslims men and women to marry: Ihalal; the Evangelical community, with their musical and devotional web materials; some closed Facebook groups, like “Gay Mormons”; or the Jehovah witnesses and their life biographies in YouTube, among many others. This power gives them the opportunity to reach thousands of people in matter of minutes, mainly to consolidate the identity and faith, and as an attempt to expand the community of believers.

It is possible to think that the prosumer activity and digital-radical marketing exist thanks to the cultural characteristics: trans-nationalization, political organization, satellites, networks and technological convergence that make the worldwide interdependence easier.

We can glimpse that the religious systems, in this competitive context, turn into creative industries, that invest time in designs and publicity, plan their messages and products according to their audiences, and there is a rationalization of the distribution techniques.

4.- Emotional power

This polarity of power is highly involved with the work of the charismatic leader, but must appear independent according to the modalities it represents.

The emotional power is an attention focus for marketing and its goal. It is well known that brands invest huge capital in publicity to associate their product with pleasant feelings, with luxurious ideas, exclusivity, prestige, and others. This emotional modality is translated to religious systems, built with diverse ideas such as: peace, family harmony, and the purpose in life. In other words, the religious system is associated with positive and pleasant feelings, associated with health, life style, or whatever the religious system wants to preach or promote.

This search for a favorable perception is sought after to obtain power over the subject´s decisions and compete with the other religious systems.

Emotions are also consolidated as strategies within the regular cult services and in the products they offer, for example, in neo-pentecostal groups such as the UCKG, in which a dynamic of emotions (mainly alpha) are employed. Music from swift to slow rhythms, from extreme joy to reflection. It can also be observed in the products of the zodiac followers in which there exist manuals on how to control the emotions, such as the manual: “The Dark Side of your Sign. How to Balance your Emotions?” Pointing out that the zodiac marks contradictions and dualities which disharmonize the subject.

The zodiac system and card readings provide several articles for this type of emotional power and the subsequent action of the subject; the evangelical products are not far behind, with manuals such as: “How to improve your attitude in 30 days”, or the case of Buddhist reunions to learn to find inner peace. This brings as a result the search for modelling the subject´s attitude, and that is why emotional power is mainly sought after.

5.- Political-Religious power

The polarity of the religious-political power is a chiasm between religion (the spiritual and permanent) and political organization (temporal), which intimately united are directed to ensure social and collective wellbeing. These relations constitute a group among them; on one side, we have the man “bestowed” with power and divine authority to signal the direction of the subjects, and, on the other side, we have the one who has the ability to modify the laws that transcend in social life.

This type of power is one of the most difficult to analyze because of its big web of complexities, even though we can see how many religious systems search for it and ensure it, and the alliances derived from these relations are remarkable. Political, governmental leaders look for religious authorities, or vice versa, to get to agreements according to their interests, or to send symbolic messages; some are subtle, and others are not; for example: the encounter of Enrique Peña Nieto with the Pope; Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador´s visit to the evangelicals, which ended with a prayer on his behalf, and a laying on of hands; or we can also see exceptional figures that accomplish to become religious and political leaders at the same time, such as Rosa Maria de la Garza, which was a congresswoman of the lower chamber and leader of her civic and religious association Casa Sobre la Roca (“House Upon the Rock”); the meetings that she organized so that Felipe Calderon (at that time, President of Mexico) would gave a speech. And, in a religious context, she supported Josefina Vazquez Mota´s electoral campaign.

The marketing done in this context is concerned in using digital tools and public image strategies. This polarity is different from the others for using these elements.


Power has many polarities and we have explored some: charismatic, emotional, prosumer, political-religious, and digital; each one has specific goals, but undoubtedly, to have influence over social action is one of the most remarkable. Marketing turns into a strategy that helps to build legitimacy; thus, the holder of power gets authority, in other words, the legitimate power is reinforced, consolidated, and sustained by marketing.

It is relevant to look at these relationships that may not be apparent in the functioning of religious organisms, when we look at the extraordinary sums of money spent in publicity and marketing strategies. Then, we find out that they are, without a doubt, changes and new actions, new strategies that the religious systems are using.

The quest and consolidation of power through marketing.

Who might have imagined that the rules of world trade would turn into a political space, a stage for the fight for power at a universal scale?5

This article was translated by Alfredo Francis and reviewed by Nicolás Manfredi, under the grant “God's Evolution” awarded to the Science and Faith Centre (Spain) by the BioLogos Foundation (USA).

  1. Silveira Campos, Leonildo. Teatro, Templo y Mercado, Comunicación y marketing de los nuevos pentecostales en América Latina. Quito, Abya-Yala. 2000. p. 183
  2. Adams, Richard N. La red de la expansión humana. CIESAS- UAM. Mexico. 2007.
  3. Adams, Richard N. La red de la expansión humana. CIESAS- UAM. Mexico. 2007.
  4. Mintz, Sidney. Dulzura y poder. El lugar del azúcar en la historia moderna. Espiral. 1998.
  5. Abeles, Marc. Política, globalización, desplazamiento. Una perspectiva antropológica. A dónde va la antropología. Biblioteca de Alteridades. 2000.

Cite as (ISO 690:2010): PATIÑO, Angélica Eliú. The polarities of religious power [online]. RYPC Translations, 6 November 2018. <> [accessed: ].