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Religion, science and secularization: a consumer-centric analysis of religion’s functional obsolescence

Michele Pinelli (Centre for Family Business Management, Faculty of Economics and Management, Libera Università di Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy)
Mara Einstein (Queen’s College, City University of New York, New York, New York, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 12 August 2019




This paper aims to offer a marketing perspective to the multidisciplinary debate on whether religion is expanding, declining or resurging in contemporary and allegedly secular society. Specifically, it examines the “secularization hypothesis”, which predicts that religion tends to lose its central role in people’s lives as secular reasoning spreads and scientific knowledge accumulates.


Borrowing from psychology literature, the authors identify the psychological and social needs satisfied by religion and in doing so uncover its functions. They then discussed whether religion can be claimed to be functionally obsolete.


The authors identified four functions of religion: explanatory, relieving, membership and moral. The content of religious doctrines offers consumers of religion unambiguous knowledge, absolute morality and promises of immortality, immanent justice and centrality in the universe. Religion also provides a social identity, through which people can build meaningful connections with others in the community and with their own history.


A change in the role of religion would be highly relevant for consumer research because religious ideologies shape consumption practices, social relations, products and brands. The authors observe that the content of religious answers is so well-crafted around human psychology that the explaining, relieving and moral functions of religion have not lost reliability. However, cultural change has weakened religion’s ability to gratify human psychology through social identity and meaningful socialization, which led to the marketization of religion, the rise of spirituality and the intensification of socialization around consumption.



Pinelli, M. and Einstein, M. (2019), "Religion, science and secularization: a consumer-centric analysis of religion’s functional obsolescence", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 582-591.



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