March 30, 2015

Social Constructionism

What is social constructionism, and how is it important to the study of religion? In this interview, Titus Hjelm tells David Robertson about social constructionism – that is, a set of approaches which see social realities as built from language, rather than reflecting ontological realities. Hjelm outlines how these approaches emerged as part of the ‘linguistic turn’ in the social sciences more broadly, as well as pointing to some different interpretations of how these constructivist, discursive or critical approaches operate. Their importance, he suggests, is in challenging how we think about ontology, epistemology and power.

In the second half, attention turns to the study of religion specifically. Hjelm and Robertson note the potential for these approaches to resolve issues in the field, including the increasingly untenable attempt to define religion, and essentialism – that religion is a sui generis thing-in-itself, rather than a product of human culture. Despite – or because – of this, constructionism has not been broadly adopted as a theoretical approach in the field.

For much more on the subject, see Hjelm’s recent book Social Constructionisms, published by Palgrave MacMillan. Listeners might also be interested in our previous podcast with Titus, on Marxist Approaches to the Study of Religions. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost buying academic texts, Finnish metal CDs, fishing tackle, and more.

Discussion


1 reply to “Social Constructionism

  1. Mitsutoshi Horii

    My forthcoming article ‘Critical Reflections on the Category of Religion in Contemporary Sociological Discourse’ addresses many issues Dr Hjelm discusses in this interview. This will be published in the Nordic Journal of Religion and Society.

    Here is the abstract:

    For some decades, the academic concept of religion has been examined critically by a number of scholars. There have been some sociological responses to these criticisms against ‘religion’. This article argues that these sociological responses have missed important implications of these criticisms, which can be constructively incorporated into sociological discourse about religion. What can be meaningfully studied is the practice of classification carried out with the term ‘religion’ and norms and imperatives which govern and naturalise a specific discursive configuration of the religious-secular dichotomy. This approach indicates the vacuum in the sociological discourse of religion, which needs to be filled with empirical research, in order to map and theorize the ways in which people utilize the term ‘religion’ in a specific social context.

    Reply

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