Tag Archives: Sociology of Religion

Kinnard, “Places in Motion”

Later this month, Oxford University Press is releasing Places in Motion: The Fluid Identities of Temples, Images, and Pilgrims by Jacob N. Kinnard (Iliff School of Theology ). The publisher’s description follows:

Jacob Kinnard offers an in-depth examination of the complex dynamics places in motionof religiously charged places. Focusing on several important shared and contested pilgrimage places-Ground Zero and Devils Tower in the United States, Ayodhya and Bodhgaya in India, Karbala in Iraq-he poses a number of crucial questions. What and who has made these sites important, and why? How are they shared, and how and why are they contested? What is at stake in their contestation? How are the particular identities of place and space established? How are individual and collective identity intertwined with space and place?

Challenging long-accepted, clean divisions of the religious world, Kinnard explores specific instances of the vibrant messiness of religious practice, the multivocality of religious objects, the fluid and hybrid dynamics of religious places, and the shifting and tangled identities of religious actors. He contends that sacred space is a constructed idea: places are not sacred in and of themselves, but are sacred because we make them sacred. As such, they are in perpetual motion, transforming themselves from moment to moment and generation to generation.

Places in Motion moves comfortably across and between a variety of historical and cultural settings as well as academic disciplines, providing a deft and sensitive approach to the topic of sacred places, with awareness of political, economic, and social realities as these exist in relation to questions of identity. It is a lively and much needed critical advance in analytical reflections on sacred space and pilgrimage.


Joas, “Faith as an Option”

In August, Stanford University Press will release Faith as an Option by Hans Joas (Humboldt University, Berlin and University of Chicago).  The publisher’s description follows:

Faith as an OptionMany people these days regard religion as outdated and are unable to understand how believers can intellectually justify their faith. Nonbelievers have long assumed that progress in technology and the sciences renders religion irrelevant. Believers, in contrast, see religion as vital to society’s spiritual and moral well-being. But does modernization lead to secularization? Does secularization lead to moral decay? Sociologist Hans Joas argues that these two supposed certainties have kept scholars from serious contemporary debate and that people must put these old arguments aside in order for debate to move forward. The emergence of a “secular option” does not mean that religion must decline, but that even believers must now define their faith as one option among many.

In this book, Joas spells out some of the consequences of the abandonment of conventional assumptions for contemporary religion and develops an alternative to the cliché of an inevitable conflict between Christianity and modernity. Arguing that secularization comes in waves and stressing the increasing contingency of our worlds, he calls upon faith to articulate contemporary experiences. Churches and religious communities must take into account religious diversity, but the modern world is not a threat to Christianity or to faith in general. On the contrary, Joas says, modernity and faith can be mutually enriching.

“Religion and Inequality in America” (Keister & Sherkat eds.)

Next month, Cambridge University Press will release Religion and Inequality in America: Research and Theory on Religion’s Role in Stratification, edited by Lisa A. Keister (Duke University) and Darren E. Sherkat (Southern Illinois University). The publisher’s description follows:

Religion is one of the strongest and most persistent correlates of social and economic inequalities. Theoretical progress in the study of stratification and inequality has provided the foundation for asking relevant questions, and modern data and analytic methods enable researchers to test their ideas in ways that eluded their predecessors. A rapidly growing body of research provides strong evidence that religious affiliation and beliefs affect many components of well-being, such as education, income, and wealth. Despite the growing quantity and quality of research connecting religion to inequality, no single volume to date brings together key figures to discuss various components of this process. This volume aims to fill this gap with contributions from top scholars in the fields of religion and sociology. The essays in this volume provide important new details about how and why religion and inequality are related by focusing on new indicators of inequality and well-being, combining and studying mediating factors in new and informative ways, focusing on critical and often understudied groups, and exploring the changing relationship between religion and inequality over time.

Schull, “Prisons in the Late Ottoman Empire”

In May, Oxford University Press published a very interesting looking book at the Prisons in the Late Ottoman Empireintersection of religion and criminal law, Prisons in the Late Ottoman Empire: Microcosms of Modernity, by Kent F. Schull (Binghamton University). The publisher’s description follows.

Contrary to the stereotypical images of torture, narcotics and brutal sexual behaviour traditionally associated with Ottoman (or ‘Turkish’) prisons, Kent F. Schull argues that these places were sites of immense reform and contestation during the 19th century. He shows that they were key components for Ottoman nation-state construction and acted as ‘microcosms of modernity’ for broader imperial transformation. It was within the walls of these prisons that many of the pressing questions of Ottoman modernity were worked out, such as administrative centralisation, the rationalisation of Islamic criminal law and punishment, issues of gender and childhood, prisoner rehabilitation, bureaucratic professionalisation, identity and social engineering.

Juxtaposing state-mandated reform with the reality of prison life, the author investigates how these reforms affected the lives of local prison officials and inmates, and shows how these individuals actively conformed, contested and manipulated new penal policies and practices for their own benefit.

Sherkat, “Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of Americans’ Shifting Religious Identities”

This August, NYU Press will publish Changing Faith: The Dynamics and Consequences of Americans’ Shifting Religious Identities by Darren Sherkat (Southern Illinois University). The publisher’s description follows.

More than anywhere else in the Western world, religious attachments in America are quite flexible, with over 40 percent of U.S. citizens shifting their religious identification at least once in their lives. In Changing Faith, Darren E. Sherkat draws on empirical data from large-scale national studies to provide a comprehensive portrait of religious change and its consequences in the United States.
With analysis spanning across generations and ethnic groups, the volume traces the evolution of the experience of Protestantism and Catholicism in the United States, the dramatic growth of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, and the rise of non-identification, now the second most common religious affiliation in the country. Drawing on that wealth of data, it details the impact of religious commitments on broad arenas of American social life, including family and sexuality, economic well-being, political commitments, and social values.
Exploring religious change among those of European heritage as well as of Eastern and Western European immigrants, African Americans, Asians, Latin Americans, and Native Americans, Changing Faith not only provides a comprehensive and ethnically inclusive demographic overview of the juncture between religion and ethnicity within both the private and public sphere, but also brings empirical analysis back to the sociology of religion.

“The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia” (Wilfred, ed.)

Next month, Oxford releases The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia, edited by Felix Wilfred (State University of Madras). The publisher’s description follows:

Despite the ongoing global expansion of Christianity, there remains a lack of comprehensive scholarship on its development in Asia. This volume fills the gap by exploring the world of Asian Christianity and its manifold expressions, including worship, theology, spirituality, inter-religious relations, interventions in society, and mission. The contributors, from over twenty countries, deconstruct many of the widespread misconceptions and interpretations of Christianity in Asia. They analyze how the growth of Christian beliefs throughout the continent is linked with the socio-political and cultural processes of colonization, decolonization, modernization, democratization, identity construction of social groups, and various social movements. With a particular focus on inter-religious encounters and emerging theological and spiritual paradigms, the volume provides alternative frames for understanding the phenomenon of conversion and studies how the scriptures of other religious traditions are used in the practice of Christianity within Asia.

Lewis & Lewis (eds.), “Sacred Schisms: How Religions Divide”

New in June from Cambridge University Press is this interesting collection of Sacred Schismsessays, Sacred Schisms: How Religions Divide, edited by James R. Lewis (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) and Sarah M. Lewis (University of Wales-Lampeter). The publisher’s description follows.

Schism (from the Greek ‘to split’) refers to a group that breaks away from another, usually larger organisation and forms a new organisation. Though the term is typically confined to religious schisms, it can be extended to other kinds of breakaway groups. Because schisms emerge out of controversies, the term has negative connotations. Though they are an important component of many analyses, schisms in general have not been subjected to systematic analysis. This volume provides the first book-length study of religious schisms as a general phenomenon. Some chapters examine specific case studies while others provide surveys of the history of schisms within larger religious traditions, such as Islam and Buddhism. Other chapters are more theoretically focused. Examples are drawn from a wide variety of different traditions and geographical areas, from early Mediterranean Christianity to modern Japanese New Religions, and from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to Neo-Pagans.

More on Religion’s Social Goods

Yesterday, Professor Brian Leiter (Chicago) responded to my earlier post on religion’s social goods. I appreciate the response, actually, and I’ll leave it to readers to evaluate his post and mine. On one point, though, I think I should respond.

Leiter writes that I presented no evidence for my claim that religion encourages altruism outside the religious group itself. He writes:

As I argue in Why Tolerate Religion?, it is certainly true that in the Western capitalist societies, religion is one of the most common sources of resistance to the market pressure towards “self-centeredness,” but qua generalization, Movesian’s [sic] claim is obviously false: religion encourages the communal sentiments Movesesian [sic] describes, but mostly intra-religious group; there is no evidence, and Movesian [sic] cites none, that it encourages them generally outside the religious group. This, of course, is why religion remains, as it has been for millenia, one of the great catalysts of inter-group violence and hatred.

Actually, there is evidence, and I did cite it. Sociologist Robert Putnam has written that religion encourages communal sentiments generally outside the religious group, and that religion is better at this sort of thing than other types of associations are. I cited Putnam in my post.

Here, in full, is the passage I alluded to, from Putnam’s Bowling Alone (2000) (footnotes omitted):

Regular worshipers and people who say that religion is very important to them are much more likely than other people to visit friends, to entertain at home, to attend club meetings, and to belong to sports groups; professional and academic societies; school service groups; youth groups; service clubs; hobby or garden clubs; literary, art, discussion, and study groups; school fraternities and sororities; farm organizations; political clubs; nationality groups; and other miscellaneous groups. In one survey of twenty-two different types of voluntary associations, from hobby groups to professional associations to veterans groups to self-help groups to sports clubs to service clubs, it was membership in religious groups that was most closely associated with other forms of civic involvement, like voting, jury service, community projects, talking with neighbors, and giving to charity.

Putnam makes a similar point, with David E. Campbell, in American Grace (2010) (footnote omitted):

In particular, religiously observant Americans are more generous with time and treasure than demographically similar secular Americans. This is true for secular causes (especially help to the needy, the elderly, and young people) as well as for purely religious causes. It is even true for most random acts of kindness. The link is essentially the same regardless of the particular religion or denomination within which one worships, so that the relevant factor is how much one is engaged with religion, not which religion. And the pattern is so robust that evidence of it can be found in virtually every major national survey of American religious and social behavior. Any way you slice it, religious people are simply more generous.

Of course, one can discount this evidence or argue that it should be interpreted differently. Maybe Putnam and Campbell are wrong. But it’s incorrect to say there is no evidence, or that I didn’t cite any.

Why Protect Religion?

Tocqueville understood

A growing number of legal scholars question whether a justification exists for protecting religion as its own category. Yes, the text of the First Amendment refers specifically to religion, they concede, but that’s an anachronism. As a matter of principle, religion as such doesn’t merit legal protection. Instead, the law should protect individual conscience, or private associations generally. In fact, it’s not just scholars. In the ministerial exception case a couple of years ago, the Obama Administration argued that the Religion Clauses did not even apply and that the Court should decide the case under more general associational freedom principles.

The Justices unanimously dismissed the Obama Administration’s argument in Hosanna-Tabor, and there seems little chance the Roberts Court will read the Religion Clauses out of the Constitution. But history shows that constitutional text is not an insurmountable barrier, and those of us who think religion as such does merit special protection will need to find arguments beyond the bare language of the First Amendment. In fact, in an increasingly non-religious society, we’ll have to find arguments that appeal to people without traditional religious commitments.

Here’s one such argument. Religion, especially communal religion, provides important benefits for everyone in the liberal state–even the non-religious. Religion encourages people to associate with and feel responsible for others, to engage with them in common endeavors. Religion promotes altruism and neighborliness and mitigates social isolation. Religion counteracts the tendencies to apathy and self-centeredness that liberalism seems inevitably to create.

Tocqueville saw this in the 19th century. Egalitarian democracy, he wrote, encourages a kind of “individualism.” It trains each citizen to look out for himself according to his own best judgment and discount the needs of the wider society. Self-reliance is a good thing; at least Americans have long though so. But the attitude poses two great dangers for liberal society. First, it makes it difficult to motivate people to contribute to the common projects on which society depends: public safety, schools, hospitals, and the like. Second, it makes it easier for despotism to arise. The despotic state desires nothing more than for individual citizens to feel isolated from and indifferent to the concerns of others, so that the state can easily divide and dominate them all.

Tocqueville saw that voluntary associations could lessen these dangers. Religious associations are particularly useful in this regard. They are uniquely good at promoting social engagement–secular as well as religious. According to sociologist Robert Putnam, for example, regular churchgoers are more likely to vote, serve on juries, participate in community activities, talk to neighbors, and give to charities, including non-religious charities. And when it comes to defying state oppression, no groups are more effective than religious associations, which can inspire members to truly heroic acts of resistance, as dictators down the centuries have learned.

To be sure, religions don’t always encourage civic fellowship; to the extent a religion promotes sedition or violence against other citizens, society does not benefit. And perhaps, as Gerald Russello suggests, the non-religious have come so to distrust religion that they will view its contributions as tainted and objectionable from the start. But in encouraging greater social involvement, religion offers benefits to everyone, believers and non-believers, too. It’s worth reminding skeptics of this when they argue that religion, as such, doesn’t merit legal protection.

Sandberg, “Religion, Law and Society”

9781107027435This June, Cambridge University Press will publish Religion, Law and Society by Russell Sandberg (Cardiff University). The publisher’s description follows.

Issues concerning religion in the public sphere are rarely far from the headlines. As a result, scholars have paid increasing attention to religion. These scholars, however, have generally stayed within the confines of their own respective disciplines. To date there has been little contact between lawyers and sociologists. Religion, Law and Society explores whether, how and why law and religion should interact with the sociology of religion. It examines sociological and legal materials concerning religion in order to find out what lawyers and sociologists can learn from each other. A groundbreaking, provocative and thought-provoking book, it is essential reading for lawyers, sociologists and all who are interested in the relationship between religion, law and society in the twenty-first century.