The secularisation thesis – the idea that traditional religions are in terminal decline in the industrialised world – was perhaps the central debate in the sociology of religion in the second half of the 20th century. Scholars such as Steve Bruce, Rodney Stark and Charles Taylor argued whether religion was becoming less important to individuals, or that only the authority of religions in the public sphere was declining. Data from the US and South America, however, began to challenge many of their basic assumptions. Professor Linda Woodhead joins us to discuss the background and legacy of the secularisation thesis.
Religion’s common denominators, and a plea for data
By Stuart Ritchie, University of Edinburgh
Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 11 April 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi on Psychological Approaches to the Study of Religion (9 April 2012).
Beit-Hallahmi rightly notes that psychologists of religion
“In practice, experimentation requires much effort, imagination, and resources. The subject of religion seems too complex and too ‘soft’ for the laboratory. It is filled with much fantasy and feelings, two topics which academic psychology finds hard to approach.”
When encountered for the first time, the idea of a fiction-based religion might seem quite ’far out’ and counter-intuitive. How is it possible to mix together religion (that, supposedly, deals with faith and so with a truth of some sort) and works of popular culture, which are clearly created by
The majority of those who identified as a Jedi on the 2001 UK census were mounting a more-or-less satirical or playful act of non-compliance; nevertheless, a certain proportion of those were telling the truth. How does a religion constructed from the fictional Star Wars universe problematise how we conceptualise other religions, and the stories they involve? And what makes certain stories able to transcend their fictional origins and become myths?
Ethnographic Fieldwork: Falling in Love or Keeping your Distance?
By Dr Joseph Webster (Downing College, University of Cambridge)
Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 28 March 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Bettina Schmidt on Athropological Approaches to the Study of Religion (26 March 2012).
Of all the
“If we want to discover what [wo]man amounts to, we can only find it in what [wo]men are: and what [wo]men are, above all other things, is various. It is in understanding that variousness – its range, its nature, its basis, and its implications – that we shall come to construct a concept of human nature that, more than a statistical shadow, and less than a primitivists dream, has both substance and truth.” (Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973:52)
After this week’s podcast, which involved eight scholars giving their views on the future of Religious Studies, there was really only one way we could create a suitably collective and varied response – six postgrads sitting around a table, accompanied by pink gin and our trusty dictaphone. Conversation ranges from the public perception of what Religious Studies does, what to do with a RS degree, to the financial practicalities of doing postgraduate research in the UK and US today. Mostly, though, it’s a collective rant about the cognitive study of religion
This week we decided to do something a bit different. Every time David and Chris have conducted an interview, they have been asking the interviewees an additional question: “What is the Future of Religious Studies?”
The result is this highly stimulating compilation of differing perspectives and levels of optimism on what has become one of the most hotly debated topics in the academic study of religion at the start of the second decade of the twenty-first century.
” In our contemporary world we tend to find ourselves more absent-mindedly sailing toward the yawning mouth of that swirling vortex known as “a definition of religion.” We need to be cautious with the application of new terms. We seem too often prone to kneejerk patchwork, slathering layer upon layer of temporary fixes, either impudent in our knowledge of foundational issues, or victims of deep denial. We long to resolve ambiguity by applying more ambiguity, when we should just dig up the foundation and rebuild.”
“This post offers tips and advice for disseminating your research to a wider audience, beyond traditional academic mediums such as journals. This is based entirely on my own recent experience; as a Dickens scholar, the bicentenary celebrations brought about a number of opportunities and activities to talk about my research.”
Could the difficulties associated with the academic conceptualisation of “religion” be overcome by changing our focus instead to “the sacred”? Jay Demerath tells Chris why we should define religion substantively – that is, in terms of specific attributes like rituals, deities or dogmas – but the sacred in terms of the function it serves in the lives of individuals and cultures. From this perspective, religion can be considered one of a number of potential sources of the sacred.
Like with many of Grace Davie’s conceptualizations, the notion of “vicarious religion” is destined to garner much attention and debate. I must admit that when I first read about it, I rolled my eyes without really knowing why. Perhaps I predicted that the same puddle of ink would be spilt
“My intentions rather are to assist applicants to understand a little better what all is involved in evaluating applicants for a position, and perhaps to help applicants prepare themselves better to participate in the application and interview processes.”
In the 1960s, most sociologists consciously or unconsciously bought into idea of the ‘death of god’ – religion became effectively invisible to academia. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, a number of events – most notably the ‘Satanic Verses’ controversy – dramatically increased the ‘visibility’ of religion: it became a political problem. Now, in the 21st century, religion is increasingly being construed by politicians, educators, the media etc, as a useful resource to be exploited. In this interview, Professor Davie discusses the place of religion in modern Europe, paying particular attention to the place of the United Kingdom within the European context.