Religions (Jan 2023)

Defeat and Glory: Social Media, Neoliberalism and the Transnational Tragedy of a Divinized <i>Baba</i>

  • Ronie Parciack

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14, no. 1
p. 123


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This essay addresses the intersection between the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik-Tok and Pinterest social media platforms and a contemporary religious leader/teacher who exploited them to rise from subalternity to the status of a deified celebrity. It examines his underprivileged disciples and followers and rival formal and informal levels, within Indian Sufi circles. Employing a combined perspective of ethnography, media studies and textual analysis, I discuss the transformations engendered by this social media celebrity and the impact of neo-liberalism on religious teacher–disciple (peeri–mureedi) relations. I show that this transformation involved a commodification of peeri–mureedi relations, leading to a neoliberal morphing of religious practices into marketable products. In so doing, I provide a critical reading of Mazzarella’s social media as “re-enlightened” or “inclusive capitalism” that gives voice, agency and new economic possibilities to capitalism’s most marginal subjects, who aspire to break the grip of what I term the “economies of despair”.