Living in a Secular Age: Work, Lifestyle, and Religion in Bangalore and Dubai

Doctoral Dissertation


One of the most vibrant debates of our time is around the cultural consequences of global capitalism. Overlooked in these debates by proponents and critics alike is the role of religion, which is often assumed to be rendered passive or irrelevant by economic development. In this dissertation I challenge such prevailing assumptions by drawing on data from 12 months of participant observation and 200 interviews in two nonwestern cities, and seek to contribute in three ways to a more adequate sociological understanding of the relationship between religion and global capitalism.

First, building on the notion of differentiation as the central valid core of secularization theory, I advance an alternative phenomenological approach to studying secularization through the cultural processes of living in differentiated “experiential realms” of secularity. Specifically, I examine the relationship between “mercenary professionalism” in the transnational corporate workplace, “neoliberal consumerism” in the lifestyles of transnational professionals, and the “Devoted” Christianity of religiously committed professionals. By examining the conditions for and processes of overlap and separation of these realms, I demonstrate that differentiation does not necessitate privatization or decline, but can generate complex combinations of relationships between religious and secular realms. This provides a new, empirically informed picture of what it means to live in a “secular age” in particular rapidly globalizing nonwestern contexts.

Second, focusing on particular empirical cases of transnational capitalism and Roman Catholicism in Bangalore and Dubai, I argue that the overall relationship between religion and capitalism here is one of “muted symbiosis”: they predominantly enable one another, often inadvertently, despite providing mutual constraints. By demonstrating multiple mechanisms of support and constraint in both directions, I contest the idea that there is any universal relationship between religion and capitalism.

Third, I resolve important challenges to the “Multiple Modernities” approach to the study of religion and globalization, by empirically examining forms of convergence generated by global capitalism. I demonstrate that culturally and structurally isomorphic forms are instantiated as hybrids–of global and local as well as of religious and secular. I thus provide a novel approach to studying the religion-capitalism relationship by examining hybrid configurations and interrelationships between experiential realms.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-08272013-112416

Author Brandon Vaidyanathan
Advisor Christian Smith
Contributor Christian Smith, Committee Chair
Contributor Omar Lizardo, Committee Member
Contributor Lyn Spillman, Committee Member
Contributor David Sikkink, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2013-08-02

Submission Date 2013-08-27
  • United States of America

  • Consumerism

  • Secularization

  • Professionalism

  • Capitalism

  • Catholicism

  • Neoliberalism

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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