Have you heard of the Maker Movement? I recently picked up a book titled The Maker Movement Manifesto (McGraw Hill, 2014). In this book, Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop, argues that a Robin Hood-like revolution is underway in the world of manufacturing. He lays out a vision for a culture in which making is taken from powerful corporations and placed in the hands of individuals. Hatch writes:
The real power of this revolution is its democratizing effects. Now, almost anyone can innovate. Now, almost anyone can make. Now, with the tools available at a makerspace, anyone can change the world (10).
Much is already written about the social and economic motivations and goals of the Maker Movement. While these are very interesting, I am more interested in whether there is a significant religious and theological dimension. Is the Maker Movement simply about making things, or is it also about making souls?
To be honest, I’m still skeptical that it can be classified as a movement. The Maker Movement seems to cover a very diverse conglomeration of groups. There are those, like Hatch, who are primarily interested in the way that one can turn the spare time of hobbyists into a powerful engine that drives economic growth. One could also point to growing interests in DIY projects and new online platforms for production and marketing like Etsy and Kickstarter. If these are all symptoms of a changing workplace and workforce, one could also add a corresponding effort to reshape the domestic sphere along similar lines. Recent books such as Shannon Hayes’ Radical Homemakers (Left to Write Press, 2010) and Veronica Van Duin’s Homemaking as a Social Art (Sophia Books, 2000) present visions of homemaking for a post-industrial society that make Martha Stewart look like a slacker. One can also point to popular blogs such as SouleMama and The Pioneer Woman, which project an image of home life that prizes the home grown, home made and well crafted.
In the midst of all this variety, there are some interesting points of departure for religious and theological reflection. First, joy is found in the activity of making itself. In a society where so many of the products we use are consumed, the Maker Movement is made up of people who want to create. Some might see this as a determined effort to do things the hard way. I think, however, that the process of making can be deeply fulfilling. One of the reasons that people find fulfillment in making things is that making often engages the whole person. All of our attention and energy is given to a single task that demands body, mind, emotions and spirit to complete.
Second, the process of making is viewed as fostering and deepening community. Sharing and collaboration are essential components of the Maker Movement. Many of the products developed by people involved in the Maker Movement are open source, allowing others to access plans or design specifications free of charge. The internet, in particular, has proven to be an indispensable means for makers to share knowledge, collaborate, and market their products.
Finally, there is a strong sense among those involved in the Maker Movement that it is pushing society in a more human direction. In an article on the NEA website, Dale Dougherty, CEO of Maker Media, is quoted saying that the Maker Movment
at its essence calls us to see ourselves as makers — that we are producers, creators, builders of the world we live in. It is about a cultural transformation that asks us to participate in the creation of culture, not just its consumption. Making is what humans do, and we have old notions such as ‘homo faber’.
But this movement is not simply about ensuring that individuals have the time to explore their creative potential. There is a concerted effort to change the world for the better. Mark Hatch sounds a makers call to arms:
To use revolutionary language, my objective with this book is to radicalize you and get you to become a soldier in this army. Not so that we can destroy some nation, political party or social movement, but so that we can collectively use our creativity to attack the world’s greatest problems and meet people’s most urgent needs (10).
The Maker Movement is a fruitful opportunity for religious and theological reflection. I believe this not simply because it is making headlines, but because much of the rhetoric that frames the movement is already religious and theological. People are flocking to the Maker Movement because it provides them with fulfilling and meaningful work, a collaborative community, a renewed sense of what it means to be human and a vocation to change the world. This is something worth thinking about.
Jim Watkins is a regular contributor to Transpositions. In 2012, he completed PhD in theology through the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, and he currently teaches humanities and bible at Veritas School in Richmond, VA. His forthcoming book Creativity as Sacrifice: Toward a Theological Model for Human Creativity in the Arts will be published with Fortress Press.