A World-Conscious Sociology of Religion?

A Response to James Spickard on “Alternative Sociologies of Religion: Through Non-Western Eyes”

by Jonathan Tuckett

This week we’re doing something a little bit different. Instead of a written response to the podcast we have a video response instead:

For my take on James Spickard’s phenomenology see: “Prolegomena to a Philosophical Phenomenology of Religion: a critique of sociological phenomenology”. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion (forthcoming).

And of course, do check out his new book: Alternative Sociologies of Religion: Through non-Western Eyes (2017).

If you’re interested in the topic of public sociology you can find Burawoy’s announcement of “public sociology” at the American Sociological Association conference, along with various responses, in special editions of The American Sociological Review 70, Soziale Welte 56 and The British Journal of Sociology 56 (all 2005).

This is all proof of format. So ignore the fact that I very quickly forget to look directly at the camera and the editing is a little bit choppy! If you enjoyed this – or think it’s a horrible idea – we want to hear from you, tell us what you think in the comments below!



1 reply
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    Jim Spickard says:

    This is an very interesting comment, though the first 8 minutes (of 10-1/2) are really a critique of Michael Burawoy’s call for a “public sociology”. I concur with most of his criticism, and am pleased that Tuckett sees that this is not what I’m doing in “Alternative Sociologies of Religion”.

    I also appreciate his substantive suggestions in the last 2-1/2 minutes, including his concern that I do not analyze concepts such as “experience” and “sacred” deeply enough. I agree. That would, however, have overburdened a book that is deliberately designed to get sociologists thinking along new lines.

    Thus the word “towards” in my original title for the book (killed by the marketing folks): “Through Non-Western Eyes: Towards a World-Conscious Sociology of Religion”. The “towards” was important and I am gratified that Tuckett finds “world-conscious” to be important too.

    Without reading the book, Marketing suggested that the title be “A Global Sociology of Religion”. My response was that such a (singular) sociology would amount to a modernist, white, male, Euro-American sociology, which is exactly what I’m seeking to transcend. I’m arguing that historical-cultural context always shapes intellectual life, and that we no longer live in a world where we can ignore the complex interplays of history, culture, class, race, nation, gender, sexuality, and so on that shape our ways of understanding.

    We now, however, live in a world where we can explore views arising from historical-cultural locations other than our own. We can use those views to gain insights into our own social condition. Thus my application of Confucian, Khaldunian, and Navajo ideas to understand three more-or-less specific American and European religious cases. Two chapters on each, theory and application, form the book’s heart. (I suggest some other traditions for other scholars to explore.)

    The title “Alternative Sociologies of Relilgion” was a useful compromise, suggested by my editor. At least it kept the plural, though it lost the term “world-conscious”. The new title was unfortunately undercut by the fact that the book came out shortly after “alternative facts” became a meme in American politics. (Instant karma.)

    Tuckett and I agree in thinking that the call for “indigenous sociologies” is not very helpful. What is missing from his remarks — and also needs more work than I was able to present in my final chapter — is what I am now calling “reflexive theorizing”. This is the notion, common among ethnographers, that we must take our own historical-cultural locations into account as we investigate social worlds. Our concepts do not arise ex cathedra. We cannot see the world rightly without examining our own intellectual lenses. Tracing the implications of this is an ongoing project to which I invite others’ attention.

    I’ll look forward to reading Tuckett’s forthcoming critique of sociological phenomenology, mentioned in the paragraph just below his video.

    — Jim Spickard (October 31, 2017)


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