'Belief' lies at the core of E.B. Tylor's canonical definition of religion as belief in 'spiritual beings'. However, in the last decades of the twentieth century the concept became unfashionable in the social sciences, with scholars from all parts of the world denouncing its centrality as a Western, Protestant bias which has limited application to other religions. Ariela Keysar disagrees...
‘Belief’ lies at the core of E.B. Tylor’s canonical definition of religion as belief in ‘spiritual beings’. However, in the last decades of the twentieth century the concept became unfashionable in the social sciences, with scholars from all parts of the world denouncing its centrality as a Western, Protestant bias which has limited application to other religions. In recent years, however, there has been something of a resurgence of interest in ‘belief’ and Chris recently attended an international symposium entitled “What does it mean to believe?” at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK, organised by Dr Abby Day, and the British Council. At this symposium, Professor Ariela Keysar presented a paper entitled “What does ‘belief’ mean to Americans?”, and later on discussed the content of this paper with Chris for this podcast.
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In his keynote address, right at the very start of the symposium, Gordon Lynch raised what he dubbed the erroneous assumption prevalent throughout much of social science that belief is universal, consistent and articulate-able. As Keysar’s data from a number of large-scale, quantitative studies shows, belief changes over time; it is situational, practical, functional, generational; it varies geographically; it varies across and within religious traditions; it has meaning outwith religion, and may be meaningless within; beliefs about the meaning of life may play very little role in daily life.
Listeners may be interested in the following excellent resources mentioned in the podcast which are freely available online:
Dr. Ariela Keysar, a demographer, is Associate Research Professor of Public Policy and Law and the Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She was a principal investigator of the American Religious Identification Survey 2008, the largest survey of religion in the U.S., covering over 50,000 respondents. She was also a principal investigator of the ISSSC web survey of Indian scientists, which is the first in a series of studies of worldviews and opinions of scientists around the world. Ariela Keysar was the study director of the American Jewish Identity Survey 2001 and the associate director of the Longitudinal Study of Young Adults Raised in Conservative Synagogues 1995-2003.
Dr. Keysar is the co-editor of most recently: Secularism, Women & The State: The Mediterranean World in the 21st Century; also Secularism and Science in the 21st Centuryand Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives as well as co-author of Religion in a Free Market and The Next Generation: Jewish Children and Adolescents.
Listeners may also be interested in our interview with Callum Brown, who is also looking at large-scale surveys, and our roundtable discussion on the issue of using such surveys for research purposes.
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Although "cult" and "sect" are used as technical terms in religious studies, in their popular usage, "cult" tends to refer to a New Religious Movement [NRM] or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered reprehensible. Since such pejorative attitudes are generally considered inappropriate for the academic study of religion, ...
Tim Hutchings: "My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change."
As the RSP continues to grow, we're going to be returning more frequently to topics and themes which have already been touched upon in previous podcasts and features.
In contemplating a response to Prof Ariela Keysar’s interview with the Religious Studies Project over her work as Associate Director of ISSSC and its most famous endeavour, ARIS, I was struck by the dilemma faced when introducing myself to people here in the UK and telling them where I am from. The replies range from everywhere and between,
“We had so many studies focusing on institutions and on official discourse, and so few studies on the silent majority, which never shows up in these institutions... So we over-emphasize the religious belongings. All the muslims are supposed to know the Quran, although they don't. Some of them have never opened it.
Discussion starts with the entanglement of the concepts 'religion' and 'secularism', a brief discussion of the problems associated with the World Religions Paradigm, and then moves to the pedagogical merits and challenges of teaching 'secularism/s' within a World Religions model. We hope you enjoy this experiment!
In partnership with the NSRN (Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network), it is our pleasure to bring you the audio recordings of five very important lectures from Grace Davie, Humeira Iqtidar, Callum Brown, Monika Wohlrab-Sahr, and Jonathan Lanman.
Dr. Meredith McGuire talks about the multiple issues of power, normativity and embodiment of religious life that can be observed through her concept of Lived Religion. Part 2 on Wednesday! Meredith McGuire shows how Lived Religion, a concept she has coined, is at the core of this distinction and offers a way of understanding religious experiences as creative,
Communicating with your favorite God or gods, forest spirit, or Jinn - easy. Postulating that the entire universe is held together by theorizing the process of quantum entanglement, informed from a personal commitment to philosophical a priories, which are based on measurements of the physical properties of said universe – harder.
Sociological research has followed two broad paradigms – qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative studies seek depth, typically based on interviews and observation with a relatively small pool of subjects. Quantitative studies, on the other hand, survey a larger pool – in some cases, such as the UK National Census, practically the entire population of a country – relying on mass methods such as questionnaires with a limited set of questions and responses.
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