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Yoruba and Consumerism Religion: William Young’s Phenomenological Approach


William Young defines religion as, “a human transformation in response to perceived ultimacy” (Young, 2).

According to Young, there is no standard definition of religion. He therefore uses seven questions to build a framework around his definition. This framework is helpful in the study of various religions around the world. Young’s framework is applicable to all religions. These include both spiritual and secular religions.

In his book, Young raises various questions that relate to religion. These questions include; “who are we? What does it mean to be human? What is the basic human problem? What is the underlying cause of this problem? What is the nature of the reality? What is the ideal state that transformation moves towards? What enables transformation to occur and finally; what would the ultimate be called in this religion?” (Young, 14).

Thesis Statement

This paper will study two religions. It will discuss the Yoruba religion and a religion based on sports. I will use them to illustrate Young’s phenomenological approach to religion. This paper will also define consumerism as a religion. It will discuss Young’s phenomenal framework in great length. The paper will examine Young’s research with regard to two different religions. The paper will also explore the human condition.

Main body

Consumerism can be defined as a religion. It is therefore important to distinguish a non-religious consumer from a religious consumer. According to the author, “there is a fairly broad consensus among scholars today that the critical factor in naming something religious is ultimacy. Religious phenomena are those associated with that which a person or group perceives as ultimate in individual or communal life. “That which is ultimate” means whatever is at the focus of life, that defines what “life” or “true reality” is for a person or community” (Young, 5). According to Young, the difference between a non-religious consumer and a religious consumer is the element of ultimacy. The everyday consumer lacks ultimacy while the religious consumer does not. Ultimacy can also be non-spiritual in nature. For instance, the main concern for an everyday consumer will be survival. A religious consumer is concerned with obtaining happiness and personal fulfillment. Strenski states, “…religious people themselves typically believe that without their response to perceived ultimacy, their lives would be much less fulfilling” (Strenski, 233).

Young attempts to answer these questions by exploring the concept of humanity. He does so by asking the following questions; “who are we? What does it mean to be human?” (Young, 14).

Consumerism associates humanity with what an individual may or may not possess. Humanity is therefore based on what an individual posses. For instance, the more a person owns, the greater they feel as human beings. In this religion the mind and soul are two different entities.

According to the Yoruba religion, human beings include the living, the dead and the unborn. According to the Yoruba religion, the essence of being human is to work and procreate. Humanity is also described as ‘having a sense of morality’. According to Yoruba beliefs, people who broke taboos were exiled from the community. As a result, outcasts were sent far away and left for dead. They were not considered to be humans anymore (Idowu, 10).

What is the human being’s problem?

According to consumerism, the human problem refers to seeking happiness. Consumerism therefore encourages people to seek personal contentment through the purchase of happiness. People who practice consumerism argue that purchasing a brand new car or getting cosmetic surgery can lead to happiness.

According to Yoruba beliefs, problems are caused by a person’s inability to acknowledge the spiritual equilibrium. Those who practiced Yoruba believed that problems were caused by people who had failed to live in harmony with the spirits. For example, people believed that angering the gods could lead to severe drought. People believed that bad things only happened when someone had done something to anger the gods. The Yoruba would therefore offer sacrifices to their ancestral spirits.

What are the causes of these human problems?

Consumerism has changed the traditional perspective of good and evil. Consumerism encourages people to focus on what they have and what they want. It encourages people to buy things that they may not need. As a result, greed has engulfed society. A person is driven by the need to accumulate as much wealth as he can possibly acquire.

According to Yoruba beliefs, the causes of human problems included: failure to perform spiritual rituals and neglecting marital and tribal responsibilities. The Yoruba believed that people who did not perform certain rituals were responsible for severe drought.

What is the scope of reality?

Young defines reality according to how the world is organized in relation to time and space (Young, 16).

According to consumerism, reality is a linear concept. Consumerism therefore groups reality into three stages: the past, the present and the future.

The Yoruba believed that reality had two different manifestations. They believed that it was grouped into the actual reality and the distant reality. According to the Yoruba, actual reality is evident during rites of passage while distant reality is evident through the process of reincarnation. The Yoruba believed that time was cyclical and rhythmic.

What is the end goal?

Consumerism defines happiness as a sense of self-fulfillment. Consumerism functions on the basis that wealth equates to happiness. Consumers are therefore driven by a sense of self-satisfaction.

According to the Yoruba, self-fulfillment is determined by a balance between the human world and the spiritual world. The Yoruba believed that happiness was determined by communication between the living and the dead. They believed that people could ensure their happiness through rituals and sacrifices.

What is the means of transformation?

According to consumerism, transformation is achieved through the acquisition of material wealth.

The Yoruba believed that a person could achieve transformation through performing certain rituals. They claimed that the spirits prescribed these rituals. The Yoruba also believed in taboos. Engaging in certain activities was not allowed among members of the Yoruba community. Members of their community were encouraged to create a sense of ‘purity’ and morality.

What would be sacred in this religion?

According to Young, “the pursuit of material wealth can become for some a pattern of ultimacy that drives out a meaningful sense of spirituality for individuals and societies.” In this case, anything can be sacred. Consumerism encourages people to purchase whatever they want.

The Yoruba consider every living thing to be sacred. The most sacred being is their god, whom they called Olorun. Olorun is the Supreme Being in Yoruba culture.


Young’s phenomenological approach makes it easy to compare and contrast the Yoruba religion and consumerism.

The two religions are very different. The Yoruba people lead a simple life. Their focus is to ensure that the humans and the spirits coexist in harmony. On the other hand, consumerism is based on the material things that the world can offer. The Yoruba seek personal contentment and happiness through spiritual improvement while consumerism encourages self-satisfaction.

Works Cited

Idowu, Bolaji (p.10). God in Yoruba Believes. Lagos: Longman Nigeria, 1982. Print.

Strenski, Ivan (p.233). Thinking About Religion: An Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion. Malden, MA : Blackwell, 2006.Print.

Young, William (p.2, p.5, p10, p14, p16). The World’s Religion: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues. New York: Prentice Hall, 2009. Print.


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