Since I started this blog I have been arguing against the concept ‘the postsecular’, an academic buzzword for almost twenty years. The idea behind that concept is the ‘new visibility of religion’. This idea means a changed relationship between religion and surrounding society in general, and between religion and politics in particular. But the problem is that very little (if any) empirical data seems to support this claim. At the very least not in Sweden.
Here is seems as if people have the same negative attitude towards religion as they’ve had for a long time. An attitude that in many respects is a result of the state’s way to act over the last one hundred years. The Swedish state has managed to replace religion as a ‘provider of goods’. That means a place that provides certain social aspects, a safety net or network. It seems like we’re rushing onwards to a society where, if the state doesn’t take care of us, it’s up to the individual to be self-sufficient. The Swedish expressions are: Ensam är stark (alone is strong)and Sin egen lyckas smed (the smith of your own happiness).
The problem is that this doesn’t add up. It doesn’t seem to be true. Even if it may be fantastic with a state that provides a safety net, there is also an ideological component to this. More and more we buy into the notion that we are supposed to be self-sufficient individuals. Individuals who can provide everything s/he needs. Or possibly manage everything if you’re two people. We make efforts to live up to this ideal, and by doing so, turning to ourself as the ultimate resource that provides all we need, we oftentimes take a turn for loneliness. And as we know from the empirical data: Loneliness kills. Loneliness should come with the same warning that is printed on the cigarette packs, as loneliness shortens your life-expectancy as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Luckily, more and more people seem to discover that this idea/ideal of self-sufficiency is a dead end.
So how do we break our strong ties to a loneliness that follows in the tracks of the individualist doctrine? And what does it have to do with religion? I would say; quite a lot. One way to tackle this challenge is to look to the monastery as a place that can contain and provide a basis for living the good life. Of all the possible blueprints we can turn to; why a monastery? That may seem like an odd choice. But for those of us who feel that some kind of spirituality has a place at the centre of our life, it is maybe not so weird. Spirituality here is used loosely, including not only new religious movements, old religious movements, but also being deeply moved by art and feeling like there is a certain mystery to life.
Historically, the monastery has filled many different functions. Besides being filled with monks or nuns, they have also welcomed people who have been helpless or seeking refuge from some kind of persecution. A safe haven. Food and drink have been important aspects. Just think of all the wonderful Belgian trappist bear, made by trappist monks. (The monastery is the original micro brewery).
Kitchen gardens have grown what has been needed for cooking. The feeling of community has been something that has been closely tied to sharing a meal, breaking bread, not merely being a necessary intake of the correct nutritional substances (which is a typical way of viewing food in Sweden, The US and UK). It is something more. One of many core rituals. Before the printing press it was also in the monasteries that the libraries existed (think the maesters and the Citadel of Game of Thrones). The way to preserve valuable scriptures and texts was simply that some monk or nun painstakingly copied the text by hand. Furthermore, many exciting musical expressions emerged in monasteries. So: The monastery was a community, a place that valued literature and wisdom, full of music, a sense of belonging and a place that appreciated the value of food and drink. All this, and then we haven’t even talked about the spiritual parts and rituals! For me, this encapsulates much of the good life. Pieces of being a human being amongst other human beings, that we should incorporate into our lives.
That is also why a community around Norrköping and Linköping, myself included, is now expanding what for the past two years has been the event Subsecular Arts, at Stora Kinäs Gård in Östergötland. Now this place instead becomes Kinäs Kloster (Kloster meaning monastery). We will have our opening event the last weekend of May: 24-26th. More details about this, and what to expect if you want to join in our endeavours, will follow shortly. I hope to see you all at the monastery!