The Business of Housing God: A Case of Singapore Megachurches

Monday, July 14, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Jeaney YIP , University of Sydney Business School, discipline of Marketing, University of Sydney, Darlington Sydney NSW, Australia
Religion and business are often seen as inhabiting separate social spheres but in this paper I explore how they are combined and reconciled in the activities of megachurches. Through two case studies of Singapore’s largest megachurches, I examine how they combine religion and business, focusing on how these churches strategically co-opt the discourse and techniques of marketing managerialism to manage growth and multiply financial rewards through church building projects. This explicit engagement in business practices not only raise the question of profits in ‘non-profit’ organisations but importantly, foreground the reconciliation of religion and business practices in the same discursive space. I demonstrate this reconciliation through the churches’ built environment-building projects which exemplify the dedifferentiation of space that characterises not only the religious, investment and consumption practices of these megachurches, but also of the language and practice of business. This not only extends understanding of neoliberal effects, but demonstrates the form and dynamics of marketing managerialism in a specific ‘non-business’ context. In doing so, they reflect the values of economic neo-liberalism which has been a driving force in global economies such as Singapore. Therefore this research is interested in questioning how neo-liberalism privileges business and the market to become the prime factor in shaping religious practices in contemporary churches such as the megachurch in the ‘intelligent island’ state of Singapore. Singapore is “famous for being run like a giant corporation”[1] and is an affluent country characterised as “neoliberal-developmental”[2]. This is reflected in the religious organisations operating within it, especially megachurches that have pressing space issues in containing its burgeoning congregation in a highly urbanised and compact city.  

[1] Aihwa Ong, Neoliberalism as exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 177.

[2] Eugene Dili Liow, “The neoliberal-developmental state: Singapore as case study”, Critical Sociology, September, (2011), pp.1-24.