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Religion, Secularism and the Chaplaincy

As Sullivan and other religious studies scholars complicate terms like religion and secularism, reducing these terms to near incoherence, and insist on the constant intermingling of the sacred and the secular, they leave jurists and legislators in a predicament with important practical consequences.

Religion, Secularism, and the Chaplaincy

By Dusty Hoesly, University of California, Santa Barbara

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 24 April 2013 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Winnifred F. Sullivan on Religion and the Law (22 April 2013)

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Professor and Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Indiana University, Bloomington, may be the supreme interpreter of the intersection of law and religion in American society today.  Each of her three books—Paying the Words Extra, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom, and Prison Religion—treats individual legal cases both textually and anthropologically, examining their particular cultural and legal contexts as well as their wider import for discourse in American law and society generally.  Her work is attuned equally to debates within the field of religious studies, especially to how scholars of religion constitute the object of their study.

In this interview for The Religious Studies Project, Sullivan focuses on her latest project, which examines chaplaincy in secular settings, as well as on her larger body of work.  Her recent presentation, “Ministries of Presence: Chaplains as Priests of the Secular,” uses chaplaincy as a lens for thinking beyond her previous work in critiquing constitutional and legal protections for religious freedom, and arguing for the instability and incoherence of the category of religion as a basis for legal regulation.  Putting aside her study of the management of religion in constitutional settings, in this project Sullivan examines how religion and law shape each other on the ground.  She concludes that chaplains have come to serve a role of ministering to what is increasingly understood as a universal spiritual need, which she labels a “naturalization of religion.”

For Sullivan, the figure of the chaplain in Western Christendom has always been an ambiguous figure, a minister whose duties lie away from church authority or congregational demands.  In modern secular institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and the military, the chaplain’s role remains ambiguous since, unlike doctors, guards, or soldiers, the chaplain is an explicit broker between the sacred and the secular.  The chaplain is paid by secular institutions and beholden to secular authorities, despite the religious character of the chaplain’s work or the chaplain’s religious allegiance.  Chaplains may find themselves obliged to endorse secular missions, such as nationalism or militarism, that run contrary to the chaplain’s religious mission.

The role of the chaplain and the social perception of chaplaincy in America have both changed significantly since World War II, Sullivan argues.  In the mid-twentieth century, patients, inmates, and soldiers imagined that chaplains had specific ministerial resources that were particular to each denomination, such that Catholic priests, for example, could offer services that no other denomination’s chaplains could.  Today, however, chaplaincy is far more generalized and less identified with any particular tradition.  Contemporary chaplains practice a “ministry of presence,” a stripped-down form of witness (to use a Christian word) that is a “suffering with” those seeking spiritual guidance.  Chaplains are trained to de-emphasize their individual religious identities so that they can provide a non-imposing, non-coercive presence, letting clients instead take the lead in terms of any religious specificity.

In her presentation, Sullivan observes the rise of credentialing as a major shift in chaplaincies during the 20th century.   Credentialing, rather than mere religious training, is now required in order to serve as a chaplain.  Would-be chaplains must earn a Master of Divinity degree, intern with a clinical pastoral education program, and obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement, all of which must be accredited or recognized by the government.  These cooperative efforts between state and religion have resulted in the standardization and professionalization of the chaplaincy.  Anyone can be a chaplain today, Sullivan argues.  It becomes a white collar job, one requiring expensive educational training and a lengthy apprenticeship.  As Randall Collins has argued, the credential becomes symbolic of one’s ability to do the actual work.

For chaplains who must serve a diverse clientele, including Roman Catholics, Wiccans, Southern Baptists, and atheists, specific denominational beliefs and practices, as well as religion itself, become “cultural resources” (to use James Beckford’s term).  Religion loses its claim to be sui generis, instead revealing itself to be socially constructed according to the practical needs of the moment when a client requests the services of a chaplain.  This offering of non-denominational spiritual advice to any and all seekers is illustrative of the secularization and commoditization of the chaplaincy.

But the process is not complete and, therefore, neither is Sullivan’s analysis.  Atheists and secular humanists may be consumers of chaplaincy services, but they are not yet permitted by the government to serve as chaplains in hospitals, prisons, or the military.  Even if the credentialing process in theory is open to any person, from whatever background, as Sullivan claims, this does not mean that anyone can become a chaplain in actual practice.  Groups such as the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers are seeking recognition by the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, but they have been unsuccessful so far.  That said, many prisons now include yoga and meditation groups, blurring the boundary between secular and religious practices and challenging the role of prison chaplains as exclusive brokers between the sacred and the secular.  And some higher education institutions, including Harvard, Rutgers, Stanford, Columbia, and American University, now incorporate humanist chaplaincies, responding to a growing call for guidance that is explicitly secular.

How might these humanist movements complicate Sullivan’s analysis?  Sullivan argues that in contemporary American jurisprudence religion has become a universal human phenomenon, albeit one that takes many forms.  But in the instances noted above, we see people who reject religion and yet who desire counseling and meaningful ritual during difficult times in their lives.  These people feel that they are not being best served by the supposedly secularized chaplains which Sullivan describes.  They want a chaplain with a particularly secular worldview rather than a naturalized non-denominational Protestantism which they perceive as coercive and not representative of their beliefs.  While Sullivan maintains that today’s chaplains are priests of the secular, actual secular people are excluded from the chaplaincy.

As Sullivan and other religious studies scholars complicate terms like religion and secularism, reducing these terms to near incoherence, and insist on the constant intermingling of the sacred and the secular, they leave jurists and legislators in a predicament with important practical consequences.  If religion and secularism are unstable and interpenetrating categories in American law, as Sullivan has argued, how can bureaucratic functionaries or judges justify excluding secular humanists from the chaplaincy?  Despite Sullivan’s claims about the naturalization of religion and the homogenization of the chaplaincy, American law still recognizes distinctions between what is religious and what is secular, and so do the people who consume and seek to provide chaplaincy services.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Dusty Hoesly is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in Religions of North America.  His research focuses on religion and irreligion in the American West, specifically the values held by people who self-describe as not religious, how those values developed, how they translate into social or political action, and how irreligious people interpret experiences that stand apart from ordinary life.  Incorporating fieldwork, surveys, and historical and material culture research, this project will help explain the growth of religious “nones” in the U.S. and reexamine the categories of sacred and secular in contemporary society.  Other research interests include religion in the American West, comparative secularisms, liberal evangelicalism, and religion and politics. He has previously published The Last Best Hope of Earth? Bron Taylor and the Limits of Dark Green Religion for the Religious Studies Project.

Bibliography

  • Collins, Randall. The Credential Society: A Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York: Academic Press, 1979.
  • Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.
  • Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. Princeton, NJ: Princeton             University Press, 2009.
  • Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. “We Are All Religious Now. Again.” Social Research 76.4 (2009): 1181-1198.
  • Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Religion and the Law

Within modern American society the meme of a separation of Church and State exists without a doubt; however, there is very little evidence to actually prove that this separation exists, functions as such, or indeed that it ever existed. In the textbooks, popular news outlets and in the political arena religion is supposed to be wholly withheld-expelled in favor of majority rule. However, when we turn our attention to state-managed organizations such as the federal prisons or state forest services or support for military veterans, we find that the lines are blurred.

With an eye to this seemingly ironic phenomenon Winnifred F. Sullivan presented a lecture entitled “Ministries of Presence: Chaplains as Priests of the Secular” at Arizona State University as part of the ASU Center for Religion and Conflict’s lecture series. Excerpted from her upcoming book of the same title, Sullivan considers the oversight, regulation and licensure of religious chaplains within the American Veterans’ Administration, as well several other governmental and on-governmental institutions. In this interview with Chris Duncan (Arizona State University), the discussion centers predominantly on the world in which many chaplains come to find themselves due to a “new kind of religious universalism”; from having to be prepared to minister across the borders of their own religious traditions, as in the case of a Catholic chaplain being required to assist Jewish or otherwise non-Catholic practitioners in a federal prison or a chaplain working with the state of Maine Warden Service. Sullivan asks whether we really have a separation of the Church and the State, how do we insure that everyone’s religious needs are being met within secular institutions like the Veterans’ Administration, and how does the State license and approve of applicants to the chaplaincy- how does, should, could an ostensibly secular federal organization approve or disapprove of religious ministers within its ranks.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

Sullivan is the Department Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington as well as Affiliate Professor of Law in the Maurer School of Law at the same institution. She holds both a J.D. and a PhD. from the University of Chicago and is the author of  Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States (Harvard 1994), The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton 2005), and Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton 2009).

Prophecy and American Millennialism

RastafarI is itself a millennial movement with the belief that Haile Selassie I is the God Liberator, an avatar returned to restore True Salvation for the subaltern people of African lineage. It is also a revolutionary movement which wants to change the lot of Africans…

J. Gordon Melton: Prophecy and American Millennialism

By Marzia A. Coltri, University of Birmingham, UK

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 10 October 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with J. Gordon Melton on American Millennialism (15 October 2012).

J. Gorton Melton is a leading academic specialist on new religious movements, a scholar of occultists, Scientologists, Rosicrucianists, Neopagans, Branch Davidians, Theosophists, Reiki groups, UFO, Hare Krishnas, New Age  and vampires, who has spent his academic career investigating and classifying new religious groups throughout the world. He is founder of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, and in an interview at the 2012 annual meeting of INFORM in London he discussed Millennial movements in America, with particular stress on three typologies of movements that await the divine intervention of the Son of God on Earth. This eschatological conjecture in Christianity teaches and disseminates the ‘double resurrection’ of Jesus Christ (“the Messiah is coming again’) and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth as the supreme signs of salvation and liberation from oppression and tribulation. As Melton observes, many new religious groups in the second half of the 20th century were small in size and had a lack of organizational structure. These movements are, he says, increasing rapidly, changing denominations and metaphysical features, and are waiting a New Era.

The impact of the prophet, with her/his charisma, which is for Weber ‘a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which she/he is set apart from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities’[1], is felt when s/he founds her/his own ‘new religious movement’, and her/his ideas and programme lead the members of the group. In the case of the RastafarI movement, for example, Marcus Garvey is one proponent of Pan-African nationalism and a particularly charismatic voice in the development of the movement.  Through the prophetic teachings of Garvey concerning the coronation of the God-King from Ethiopia (Haile Selassie I), RastafarI develops its belief in the Coming of the Second Messiah to the Earth to save the subaltern people of the African Diaspora and create a new kingdom (the Promised Land, Ethiopia). RastafarI is itself a millennial movement with the belief that Haile Selassie I is the God Liberator, an avatar returned to restore True Salvation for the subaltern people of African lineage. It is also a revolutionary movement which wants to change the lot of Africans and liberate them from the chains of corrupt, evil and sinful Babylon in order to create a new golden age in ‘the millennium kingdom’ of Ethiopia.

Millenarian thought is the belief that after the end of this world a new, fertile and harmonious world will appear. Such a conviction is referred to the term Millennium which is taken from the Apocalypse of John and the Book of Revelation. Millennialisms are expecting either a collective earthly salvation by supernatural agencies or a heavenly salvation. However, as we know, millenarian movements often appear in periods of crisis and act as expressions of frustration, vulnerability and the desire to escape. With their charismatic personalities, millenarianists believe in an earthly Golden Age but have a pessimistic view of the future.  They can be classified as catastrophic (the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) and progressive millennial movements (the New Agers and the Theosophical movement). The progressive millennial thought has a positive view of the collective growth of society in harmony with the divine (Gods or Angels). Both the progressive and catastrophic millennial movements reflect dramatic episodes of failure and violence, awaiting a radical transit to salvation. They may be violent revolutionaries whose aim is to eradicate the ‘old’ to create the ‘new’. What is common in Millenarian movements is that they are exultant about the predictions of a New Era.

By way of conclusion, what happens in various millenarian movements is directly connected to the economic, religious, sexual and racial power which puts their adherents in a marginal position in relation to the dominant society. Therefore it is not clear how these forces operate within society due to extreme variations in the movements themselves, especially when the prophets die, which  may cause trauma (see the recent death of the Korean Revd. Sun Myung Moon, founder and charismatic leader of the Unification Church). Many of them are expecting that world will be transformed by divine interventions through prophecies in order to eliminate suffering and to offer collective salvation.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Marzia Coltri was born in Verona, Italy and completed a BA in Philosophy with a thesis on the liberal and scientific thought of Karl Popper. After finishing her MA in Philosophical Counselling, she came to England in 2007 to embark on research on minority ethnic religious groups. She recently received her PhD in African and Caribbean religions (the RastafarI movement and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) in the School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham (UK). She is currently part-time visiting lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. Her research focuses on gender studies, post-colonialism and NRMs. She has presented several papers in the UK and abroad, three of which are published in the proceedings of the CESNUR conference. One of her recent articles ‘The Challenge of the Queen of Sheba: The Hidden Matriarchy in the Ancient East’ has also been published in the History of the Ancient World website.

Bibliography:

Melton, J. Gordon. ‘The counter-cult monitoring movement in historical perspective’ in Challenging Religion: Essays in Honour of Eileen Barker, James A. Beckford and James T. Richardson, eds. (London: Routledge, 2003)

Bromley, David and Melton, J. Gordon, eds., Cults, Religion and Violence, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge: 2003)

Melton, J. Gordon. Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, ABC-Clio (2002)

Melton, J. Gordon. Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions, Thomson Gale; 8th edition (2009),

Miller, Timothy. When Prophets Die: The Postcharismatic Fate of New Religious Movements. ed., Intr. by J. Gordon Melton.  State University of New York Press (Albany, USA: 1991)

Useful links:

http://www.cesnur.org/testi/melton_speak.htmp

http://www.cesnur.org/2010/to-coltri.htm

 


[1] Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, tr. by Ephraim Fischoff (Boston: Beacon Press, 1953), 52.

The Faith-Spangled Banner: Changes in American attitudes and belief in all directions

The Faith-Spangled Banner: Changes in American attitudes and belief in all directions

By Lindsey Arielle Askin, Durham University

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 13 June 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Ariela Keysar on “What does ‘belief’ mean to Americans?” (11 June 2012).

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, ‘Connecticut, that’s near Minnesota,’ to the occasional, ‘I know exactly where that is! I’ve driven through your state! It’s very pretty in autumn.’ UK knowledge of the United States is a tricky one to evaluate, as it varies widely from an extensive familiarity since childhood of everything American, especially television and films, to nearly nothing at all with the basic ability to place New York City on a map and knowledge of the Simpsons and Glee.

Therefore I will try to carefully tread both lakes of knowledge (or ponds, respectively), and I sincerely hope that I can be informative and insightful for those in the latter group, without condescending to those who are frequently much more informed about what’s going on in America than many Americans themselves. Some of the data found by ARIS might be news to many, and yet other more subtle trends seem to defy all prediction.

At the end of the interview, Keysar promoted the ARIS 2008 Summary Report, available for free on the ARIS website. The report summarizes trends and findings since 1990 (NRSI) and 2001, the two previous years when ARIS was conducted. It contains many informative tables, and is divided into three parts: (1) national statistics on belief according to the questions posed by the survey, and how these responses were grouped together as quantitative data; (2) the data according to age, gender and marital status; and finally, (3) the data according to race, educational level, and geography—the last of which gives the term ‘Bible Belt’ a run for its money.

The first question to ask about quantitative demographic data that is arranged into percentages (e.g. 75% of Americans today are …), is how population and immigration affects our understanding of the numbers. ARIS shows us most of all, then, the changing composition of American society, not just the changing religious membership rates, since the population of the US increased by 30% from 175,440,000 in 1990 to 228,182,000 in 2008 (all numbers are drawn from Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar’s ARIS 2008 Summary Report).

So, delving more deeply into the data, ARIS discovered that the reason Islam in the US is slightly more male than female, and slightly younger than other faiths, is because of immigration. For another example, despite national losses in Catholicism, Texas and Californa’s Catholic composition increased due to America’s largest minority, Hispanic or Latino, who have immigrated to these states.

Other trends mark shifts in between movements in Christianity; the main trend is from mainline Churches to more Evangelical or non-denominational Churches. And while the number of Christians in America has risen, paradoxically America is now less Christian, because there are simply more non-Christian American citizens in 2008 than were in 1990 or even 2001. Yet one section persistently seemed to defy movement, immigration and other trends of changing social composition in America: the Nones.

The Nones are an interesting category. Despite age, education level, and geography especially (that is, even in the South), the Nones managed to rise in all demographic categories, from 8% in 2001 to 15% in 2008. While such a large percentage now professes non-belief, this is a group distinct from those who would self-identify as atheists, who stand at 0.7% of the American public (agnostics at 0.9%). The disparity between the Nones/No Religion and the Atheist and Agnostic categories is stark. Keysar muses that while many Americans today may feel a lack of belief, there is still very much a taboo surrounding explicit self-identification as an atheist or agnostic (see Edgell et al. 2006). Finally, while there is a remarkable variation of over 100 unique responses to the question, ‘What is your religion, if any?’ – the reply of ‘None’ was the most common of all answers. Yet still, the number of Americans today who identify as Atheist or Agnostic has still risen. Slowly but surely, the taboo is becoming less strong.

Other interesting facts from ARIS 2008 include the responses to questions about God and belief. The gaps between belief and religious category offer proof today that in America, association with religion no longer automatically equates to belief in God—or, just as much, that non-association with any religion equates to a lack of belief. Listening to Keysar’s podcast creates a sudden dawning realization that many religious people in America often have less belief than people who profess to be non-religious. It seems, in fact, that religious association often has little to do with what one believes (or how one votes). It is a shame that ARIS cannot ask about political leanings, but I think the results would challenge more than confirm many European (and North-East American) stereotypes about the religious composition of Republican and Democrat party voters.

Yet despite this trend – most confusing of all, when asked about human evolution, only 33% of Nones actually ‘professed belief’ in the concept. However, positive belief in evolution was not the only committal answer, as those who outright rejected evolution was then 36% of the whole survey, and only 17% of Nones – leaving the largest chunk of Americans with no professed religion or faith mostly unsure of how they felt about evolution.

Keysar labels evolution, as much as religious identification, still a ‘cultural wedge’ in society, in her words. And yet, paradoxically, very few of the Nones, 17% to be exact, believed that there was anything to horoscopes. Nones are now very sceptical of New Age practice, but also, strangely, of human evolution. This makes up a very interesting profile for many Nones: no organised religion, no New Age, perhaps God, perhaps not, or perhaps God acting in the world and in one’s personal life, but no evolution. The ghost of the Scopes trial still haunts American society.

Finally, the Summary Report notes religious belief according to gender and religion. In America, there are 49 males for every 52 females (ARIS Summary Report, p.11). All Christian groups matched this national average, whereas in non-Christian religions where there were a higher percentage of immigrants, there were more males. Yet the Nones numbered 60% male, matching the suspected theory that women remain more religious than men. As far as marriage goes, rates are high regardless of religion or lack thereof. Catholics and Nones match at 11%, while, shockingly, Pentecostals have a rate of 16% divorced.

The final table of the Summary Report tells us much more about the composition of American states and regions today than is widely assumed. Familiarizing yourself with this type of information proves particularly interesting in an election year. New England is becoming less Catholic, Nones have increased everywhere but especially in New England more than anywhere else (more ways in which New England is like the Old England – in addition to being green and pleasant), and the South is becoming more Catholic in many states, less Protestant almost everywhere, and non-Christian religions are on the rise!

I have attempted to include some of the most interesting trends that were not all found in the podcast. The most important thing I have learned from this podcast and the work of ARIS is that religion no longer automatically means belief in God or providence, and that the non-religious in America are often just as religious as those professing faith. Most surprisingly, the former category is also simultaneously suspicious of both New Age trends and science. Anyone who has switched on a TV in both the USA and the UK will notice that American channels tend be more receptive to showing things about aliens, conspiracies, ghosts, and alternative medicine. Which makes me think, would the disbelieving response of the Nones have been different if the question had been about ghosts or aliens, instead of star signs?

The trends which have occurred over the seven year period between 2001, the year everything changed, and 2008, have all been surprising. We have certainly grown in many ways since 2001, but our self-perception as a ‘Christian nation’ may need to shift. The most delightful changes are the ones that show a shifting composition in regions typically viewed by others and ourselves to be traditionally one way or another, such as the Bible Belt – because for today and in future years, those stereotypes might need to radically shift to reflect reality.

The two things which my friends in Britain seem to pay more attention to in America than anything else are politics and religion, which our media likewise seems to use as a lens for making sense of the world. So, it is truly fascinating to discover that all is not as it seems. One thing I have noticed personally from trips back home is, as ARIS has found, that more Americans want to reject self-identification with any ‘organized religion’ at all. Could this be partly due to the polarity of our media, about which Americans constantly speak and attribute so much in our society? Are we becoming switched off by the lambasting, while others still seem inspired by it?

Could it be we are becoming more sceptical? I have always understood that we Americans have a strange relationship with scepticism; we both love it and hate it, don’t allow our politicians to have it, and mistrust it in our enemies. And yet, we seem to be slowly becoming more sceptical as a nation, albeit sometimes in strange ways. But what an unexpected change, and who knows where it will lead in the next ARIS years? Keysar’s project has, at least, made me increasingly sceptical of my own traditional understanding of this increasingly complex and colourful nation.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Lindsey Arielle Askin is currently a postgraduate taught MA student in Biblical Studies at Durham University, is taking lots of dead languages, and is writing a dissertation on Second Temple attitudes to Hebrew in the Book of Jubilees. She is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, has done a PG Cert in education, and is from Connecticut, USA. Lindsey is involved in various reading groups, web committee, Café des Femmes reseach group, founded her own Apocrypha/Pseudepigrapha reading group, and runs its updates blog “Interesting Texts“. Her research interests are in dead languages, Second Temple Judaism, biblical criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, scribal practices, and the Old Testament. She is also interested in computers, book-repair/binding, and TeX. She aims to commence her PhD studies in October 2012.

References:

Edgell, Penny, Joseph Gerteis, and Douglas Hartmann. 2006. ‘Atheists as “Other”: Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society’. American Sociological Review 71 (2) (April): 211–234.

Ariela Keysar on “What does ‘belief’ mean to Americans?”

‘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.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

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 Century and 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.

Secularization: A Look at Individual Level Theories of Religious Change

The Demise of Established Religiosity

While it is often argued that the secularization thesis only referred to macro-level secularization – the separation of religion from other societal spheres in the process of functional differentiation (cf. e.g. Wilson 1998) – there is no way of denying that most specific secularization theories also refer to a loss of significance of religion on the individual level, explicitly or implicitly, which may be prompted by macro-level differentiation and individualization, and which itself may affect the meso-level in the form of a steady decrease in church membership or attendance (cf. Dobbelaere 2000). As an explanation for this observed or expected micro-level secularization either one or both of two reasons are commonly given. It is either assumed that there was or will be no further need for religion – as, in Weber’s case, rationality and science have taken over its explanatory function or as, in Marx’s case, its solace function will not be required any longer in a perfect socialist society. Or it is postulated that the individual will eventually lose confidence in the established religion’s supernatural truth claims, will literally fall from or at least be shaken in his or her faith. This was the central argument of Peter L. Berger’s early approach (before his conversion to being critical of secularization theory), which was built on the idea that any belief or belief system relied on an intact “plausibility structure”, provided through social affirmation. But Christianity’s plausibility structure – the taken-for-grantedness particularly of its metaphysical claims – had suffered from the accessibility of a plurality of competing religious faiths and other worldviews, made commonplace by modern media, travel, education, and cultural exchange, and thereby from decreasing affirmation or even widespread refutation. The result of this, in any modernized society, would be a doubting, secularized populace as well as secularized churches, which would refrain from overly demanding metaphysics and, instead, turn to the individuals’ this-worldly needs in order to avoid their complete demise (cf. Berger 1980).

This concentration on the decline of institutionalized, established, church religiosity by early secularization theorists prompted some criticism. Berger’s companion in other projects, Thomas Luckmann (who defined as religion anything that helps people to overcome different sorts of “transcendences”), claimed that religion had not disappeared but only changed its location – e.g. to psychotherapy, esotericism, and other hedonistic projects of self-fulfillment. To him, religion had become privatized and thereby “invisible” for the social scientific study of religion (cf. Luckmann 1967). Similar to this is Grace Davie’s (1994) concept of “believing without belonging”, and other theories of individualized religiosity, which claim that spirituality persists outside institutionalized churches. Relying on Durkheim’s integration model of religion, Robert N. Bellah, too, denied that religion had disappeared but claimed that, in a multidenominational nation such as the United States, it had to manifest itself differently – not in an all-encompassing, European style nation church, but in what he called “civil religion”, composed of reference to a generalized “God” as well as of “sacralized” national institutions, documents, figures, holidays, and symbols, whose role it was to achieve national integration (cf. Bellah 1967). Nevertheless, both Luckmann and Bellah agreed that the significance of conventional churches and denominations, as well as of personal (substantively defined) religious belief and activity, had diminished over the past decades.

The American Challenge

An early critic of the view that modernity necessarily meant secularization, as pointed out by Linda Woodhead, was David Martin. Besides rejecting an ahistorical, undifferentiated theory of secularization as a universal, linear, and irreversible process, Martin warned against secularists (and for him this might just as well apply to proponents of secularization theory) taking “Catholic laments about the period when men were truly religious” too seriously (Martin 1969: 30). In order to diagnose secularization in the present one would have to believe in the existence of a former “Golden Age of Faith”, a highly sacralized past. But for critics of the secularization thesis this constituted largely a fiction. They argued that there had never been a time of universal and widespread religious belief and presented examples of medieval impiety as proof (cf. Bruce 2011).

Yet attacks on secularization theory were not only directed against its depictions of the past, but also of the present, with the most prominent (twofold) challenge coming from the United States of America. Firstly, the empirical situation in the U.S. had always given reason for doubt. American rates of church affiliation had constantly been high, as had rates of individuals’ belief in a personal god and other religious indicators. Particularly surprising was that this situation was to be found in a highly modernized as well as religiously pluralized country. Secondly, starting in the U.S. during the 1980s, these doubts were translated into a forceful theoretical onslaught on secularization theory, brought forward by the so-called “rational choice” or “market” theorists of religion. Rodney Stark, Laurence R. Iannaccone, William S. Bainbridge, and Roger Finke wholeheartedly dismissed the idea of micro-level secularization. Instead they claimed that demand for religious products, for other-worldly “compensators”, was always stable and about the same in any society – with a range of societal “niches” with differing degrees of such demand. What really differed when comparing different societies – and the historically specific characteristics of which had produced the, in their view, exceptional case of European “secularization” – was the makeup of the “religious marketplace”, the degree to which religious entrepreneurs were free or hindered to do their business. In contrast to Berger’s original view, religious pluralism was not seen as undermining religious faith and vitality, but on the contrary as a prerequisite for sufficient supply to meet the diverse kinds of religious demand (cf. Stark, Bainbridge 1987, Stark 2000, Stark, Finke 2000).

According to this theory, citizens in the United States, with its free and rich religious market, were able to make a “rational choice” about their religious affiliation and pick one according to their specific preferences. Those segments of society, for example, who took a specific interest in the supernatural promises of a religious brand – such as compensation in the afterlife for earthly suffering – would favor fundamentalist churches, because these, with their high costs for membership (e.g. abstinence from some earthly pleasures, stigmatizing appearance, denial of contact to wider society), were able to generate a dependent and committed congregation. For these religious searchers, a vibrant community of believers is seen as crucial, since, other than a congregation of lazy and sullen churchgoers, only this would be able to provide at least some testimony to a highly insecure and untestable expected reward, such as other-worldly promises. This would explain the success particularly of “strict churches” in the U.S. (cf. Iannaccone 1994). Religious vitality in Europe, on the other hand, was thwarted by a lack of religious choice and, in addition, a lack of incentives for pampered state church officials to make their regulated religious brand somewhat more appealing. To the rational choice authors, the dearth of religious vitality in most of Europe has nothing to do with diminished demand, or individual secularization, but everything with insufficient supply. Accordingly, they expect that with further separation of church and state and further cutbacks of church privileges in Europe, these countries will, after some generations, eventually be de-secularized and become as religiously vital as the United States, leaving proclaimed individual-level secularization a mere fiction, or even an ideology, and Europe’s meso-level secularization nothing but a historical oddity (cf. Stark, Iannaccone 1994, Stark, Finke 2000).

Refined Theories of Secularization

This economic approach has, from its conception, drawn a lot of criticism – in particular from Steve Bruce, whom Linda Woodhead called “probably the most important defender of secularization theory now”, and who has published a book length refutation of the economic theory of religion, hoping that this might be “the stake through the vampire’s chest”, as which he sees his opponents (Bruce 1999, 2). Somewhat more moderate is the criticism by Christopher G. Ellison (1995) and Darren E. Sherkat (1997). They agree with Stark and his colleagues that people make their religious choices rationally, but doubt that they necessarily do so for inherently religious reasons. Instead, on many occasions, people would enter, remain in, or actively participate in specific churches with the reactions of others in mind – e.g. in order to set an example or not to suffer social sanctions. This would make individual-level secularization compatible with high levels of religiosity on the organizational level – people may remain active in churches for social reasons, without actually believing.

Steve Bruce agrees and concludes that the supposed “free choice”, central to the rational choice approach of religion, was actually a fiction. While overall in the United States there really existed a plurality of religions and denominations, at the local level, where people actually made their religious choices, this was not so. Even if there were a plurality of churches in one town or county, membership was not open to everyone, but bound up with ethnicity, class, or other forms of social identity and related sanctions: “Racial segregation is still such that adding a black Pentecoastal church to a town does not in the least increase the choice for white Americans. Adding a German language Lutheran church makes no difference to a Swedish American.” (Bruce 1996, 135). Yet, Bruce does not doubt that many Americans actually are highly religious and practice their faith fervently and wholeheartedly. But, in his view – and in contrast to the rational choice theorists’ – this does not falsify secularization theory as such. Bruce’s explanation is that, in many places in the United States, modernization did not and could not have its secularizing effects. Due to the deregulation of the informational and educational sectors, the United States enabled fundamentalist Christianity to build its own universe, shielding its members from different views in the privatized media, schools, and even universities, and thereby leaving the religion’s “plausibility structure” intact (cf. Bruce 2002, 2011).

Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart offer a different explanation for why Americans seem to cling to religion in large numbers. Analyzing a range of international surveys and indices, they show that subjective religiosity is positively correlated with existential insecurity. In line with the classical view of Marx and Freud, but also with the rational choice theorists, they conclude that religion may serve as consolation or compensation. But they differ from the rational choice theorists in that they do not assume such need to be universal, but rather dependent on the specific economic situation and other alterable factors under which individuals live and grow up – and that in this respect the United States is, at least for now, an exceptional case in the western world: “Relatively high levels of economic insecurity are experienced by many sectors of U.S. society, despite American affluence, due to the cultural emphasis on the values of personal responsibility, individual achievement, and mistrust of big government, limiting the role of public services and the welfare state for basic matters such as healthcare covering all the working population” (Norris, Inglehart 2004, 108). Being and feeling more vulnerable to existential risks, Americans were more likely to turn to religion for solace and comfort than were citizens of other western nations.

Conclusion

Over the past decades, the secularization thesis has been discarded – but only insofar as it postulated an inevitable, universal, and uniform process. It would be going too far, though, to assume that “there was nothing really ever there”. Theories of secularization have, instead, been refined. Karel Dobbelaere (2002) and José Casanova (1994) have shown that secularization may work differently on different levels – for example affecting the institutional organization of society, but not individual religiosity. Concerning the latter, Bruce and Norris/Inglehart maintain that modernization is very likely to have a secularizing effect – yet only insofar as it is accompanied by 1) access to a plurality of worldviews as well as 2) feelings of existential security for wide sectors of society. Both conditions depend on political and economic arrangements and are prone to change. Consequently, secularization is no longer seen as a natural development – even by its theoretical proponents –  but, rather, as a contingent phenomenon.

References

Bellah, Robert N. (1967): Civil Religion in America. Daedalus 96, 1-21.

Berger, Peter L. (1980): The Heretical Imperative. Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation. London: Collins.

Bruce, Steve (1996): Religion in the Modern World. From Cathedrals to Cults. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Bruce, Steve (1999): Choice and Religion. A Critique of Rational Choice Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Bruce, Steve (2002): God is Dead. Secularization in the West. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Bruce, Steve (2011): Secularization. In Defence of an Unfashionable Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Casanova, José (1994): Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Davie, Grace (1994): Religion in Britain Since 1945: Believing Without Belonging. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Dobbelaere, Karel (2000): Toward an Integrated Perspective of the Processes Related to the Descriptive Concept of Secularization. In: Swatos Jr. et al. (eds.): The Secularization Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 21-39.

Dobbelaere, Karel (2002): Secularization: An Analysis at Three Levels. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Ellison, Christopher G. (1995): Rational Choice Explanations of Individual Religious Behavior: Notes on the Problem of Social Embeddedness. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34, 89-97.

Iannaccone, Laurence R. (1994): Why Strict Churches Are Strong. In: American Journal of Sociology 99, 1180-1211.

Luckmann, Thomas (1967): The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society. New York: Macmillan.

Martin, David (1969): The Religious and the Secular. Studies in Secularization. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Norris, Pippa and Ronald Inglehart (2004): Sacred and Secular. Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sherkat, Darren E. (1997): Embedding Religious Choices. Preferences and Social Constraints into Rational Choice Theories of Religious Behavior. In: Young (ed.): Rational Choice Theory and Religion. Summary and Assessment. London, New York: Routledge, 66-86.

Stark, Rodney (2000): Secularization R.I.P.. In: Swatos Jr. et al. (eds.): The Secularization Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 41-66.

Stark, Rodney and William S. Bainbridge (1987): A Theory of Religion. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Stark, Rodney and Roger Finke (2000): Acts of Faith. Explaining the Human Side of Religion. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stark, Rodney and Laurence R. Iannaccone (1994): A Supply-Side Reinterpretation of the “Secularization” of Europe. In: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33, 230-252.

Wilson, Bryan (1998): The Secularization Thesis: Criticisms and Rebuttals. In: Laersmans et al. (eds.): Secularization and Social Integration: Papers in Honour of Karel Dobbelaere. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 45-66.

Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment

The South Fork Dam once stood high above the city of Johnstown Pennsylvania, erected to supply water to one of the many canal systems that made up the early American interstate trade route.  Purchased by the South Fork Hunting and Fishing club in 1881, the massive body of water behind the dam, Lake Conemaugh, was made part of an exclusive mountain resort for the wealthy from nearby Pittsburgh.  Over the next eight years frequent inspections found the South Fork Dam to have many foundational flaws, as well as a number of recurring surface cracks.  With gilded aesthetics in mind these cracks were mended by rudimentary patchwork, a temporary slathering of mud and straw.  On the rainy afternoon of May 31st, 1889 the dam melted under the pressure of the swelling lake, releasing a surging wall of water onto the city below.  By the time the water receded 2,209 people had perished in one of the worst “natural” disasters in US history.

As anecdotes go, this is a pretty good one.  The impudence of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club contributed to the idea that by solving surface issues with a little patchwork the real problem at the foundation would equally be resolved.  In the field of academia we come across this sort of logic quite regularly; more so, it seems, in the category of religious studies.

Sean Bean as Odysseus in the movie ‘Troy’

It seems fair to say that ours is a rather dangerous vocation, not dangerous in the way a dam keeper’s job might be dangerous on an afternoon of heavy rain, but dangerous in that we bravely tread the waters of humanity’s inner-most sacred beliefs and practices.  This is not a gentle sea by any means.  Tempests rise up unexpectedly, detouring our crossing with tangential distractions—much like those which plagued that long adrift Greek hero, Odysseus.  Like him, we too seem impassioned to return to something genuine and practical, longing to once again stand on familiar soil; and we are ever creative in our ways of doing so.

Recently, Professor Jay Demerath took up such a challenge, which formed the basis for his interview with Chris Cotter.  Promoting the replacement of the ambiguous term “religion” with the functional term “sacred,” Demerath’s novel approach at interpreting that which stands out against the profane or secular comes with two critical issues: definition and application.

Definition

Demerath originally proposed this turn from “religion” to “sacred” in his deliberately misquoted “Varieties of Sacred Experience,” nominally linking his amended term with the foundations of religious studies in William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience.”  This calculated revision brings Demerath’s proposition into the context of debate between experience and belief as designated by the modern ambiguity of “religion” and his novelized sobriquet, “sacred.”  As he states, “religion is just one among many possible sources of the sacred,” (Demerath 2000) and that the ambiguity which anchors itself to the definition of religion can easily be weighed by defining it substantively, while interpreting its consequences, “the sacred,” functionally.  This is a methodological proposition which focuses not on the encompassing importance of “religion” but rather on what it is that individuals—or groups—take to be “sacred.”  By divesting religion and sacred between substantive and functionalist, assigning “religion” to the “category of activity” and seeing the “sacred” as a “statement of function” both terms seem to work in their application

This is further demonstrated in his polythetic method of deciphering that which individuals and social groups set apart as being “sacred.”  In the interview, when asked how sociologists navigate the ambiguity of what is sacred or not, he suggests a sort of polythetic taxonomy when it comes to deciphering what is sacred to the people under examination.  By developing a “kind of a checklist of behaviors that are associated with what might be a sacred commitment,” such as is found in certain categorical methodologies (Saler 1993, Smith 1996, Smart 1997), he believes we can properly decipher what “people do, what they don’t do, what they believe, what they don’t believe, what they observe and don’t observe.”  Furthermore, this alludes to a stipulation of terms, rather than a dependence on real definitions (Baird 1971).  Both techniques reveal a method which assists us in accessing the “priority” of the religious person’s “commitments, the commitments in their life, and the convictions in their life.” (Demerath 2012).

However, Demerath is also navigating very dangerous waters here, steering between narrow straights where on one side awaits the swirling temptress of a definition of religion, and on the other the horrifically multifaceted monster of misapplication.  For example, if removed from his sociological context, how does his term “sacred” differ from that of “religious?”  One of the advantages with stipulative definitions is that they must be anchored to a particular study, the borders of which Demerath’s proposition seems to push against.  Consider if we categorically formed a stipulative interpretation of the traditional term “religious” as pertaining to the consequences of the practitioner’s “religion,” would we not be able to equally balance out the ambiguity found in “religion?”  Would using a stipulated interpretation of “religious” as the function of a person acting under the substantive form of “religion” not be the same?  While Demerath responds to a similar question in the interview by legitimating his use of the “sacred” as something that does not need to transcend our world to some other-worldly deity, he is limiting himself to a “definition” of religion devoted to a transcendental relationship between man and deity.  This seems, again, a difference between “religion” and “religious” as equally as it pertains to the difference between “religion” and the “sacred.”  This is an issue of definition and application.  Where his turn from the sociology of religion to the sociology of the sacred succeeds and fails is within this issue.  By pushing against these borders his stipulation begins to sink into the periphery of real definition.  Fortunately he saves himself with the life-raft of an applicative example.

Application

Ethan

Ethan Quillen

The decision of United States vs. Seeger is about as close to a “definition” of religion the United States Supreme Court is legally allowed to make.  The disestablishment clause of the 1st Amendment—Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion—is a collection of ten words which make the United States exceptional to religiously established nations such as England and Scotland.  It also creates quite the conundrum when cases like these come to the Court’s attention.  The Seeger case did not occur ex nihilo, but was rather the result of the decisions in Everson vs. Board and Torcaso vs. Watkins, steps made by the court over twenty years of social and political change in a country seeking an umbrellic identity between the end of World War II and the turbulent second half of a decade that saw the assassination of John F. Kennedy at one end, and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon at the other.

This brief circumnavigation speaks directly to Demerath’s application of the term sacred.  When seen through the lens of American legal amendments, wherein the “belief in and devotion to goodness and virtue for their own sakes,” and a religious “faith in a purely ethical creed” amounts to a “a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by God,” what is construed as “sacred,” the “ultimate concern” may seem counter to even the most liberal applications of “religion.” (U.S. vs. Seeger)  By amending the qualifications of article 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act to accommodate Daniel Seeger’s philosophical views, the function of Tillich’s substantive definition, as accepted by the Court as a standard by which to measure the religiousness of the individual, “religious” and “sacred” become stipulative suggestions, pliable by what might justify a sacred belief.  Thus, in a nation devoted to a sense of individual sacralization, the nation of Sheilaism (Bellah et al.), Demerath’s reassignment of transcendental “religion” with “sacred” seems justified.

Conclusion

While the legitimation of his using “sacred” rather than “religion” seems justified in the above sample, it still seems a patchwork fix rather than a foundational repair.  It should be said, though, that this is not so much a critique of Demerath’s thesis, but of the idea in promoting a new term as the replacement of an old one.  Perhaps this is due to the definitive style it seems to imply at the suggestion of “sacred studies” rather than “religious studies.”  New terms are not always the best way to fix a foundational issue such as the ambiguity of “religion” in a global context.  Instead, we would benefit far greater by digging up and unpacking what we mean by terms when studying the practitioners who make them sacred in specific contexts.  The stipulation of an established, utilitarian term like “religious” to mean the actions of individuals seeking what they deem foundationally sacred relieves the pressures of ambiguity just as equally as “sacred,” especially because of its relationship and differentiation from “religion.”  Perhaps a good argument against Demerath’s contextual use of “sacred” might be a change from the “sociology of religion” to the “sociology of the religious.”

Definitions of religion seem the ever-widening Charybdis in the field of religious studies—in all its forms.  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.  These waters are dangerous, and without precaution we appear more and more drawn into the riptide of circular academia where, once swallowed up, we run the risk of drowning in a sea of uncertainty.

References and Suggested Reading

  • Robert D. Baird.  Category Formations and the History of Religions.  Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1991.
  • Robert N. Bellah.  Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  • Robert N. Bellah, et al.  Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • James L. Cox.  “Afterword: Separating Religion from the ‘Sacred:’ Methodological Agnosticism and the Future of Religious Studies” in Steven J. Sutcliffe.  Religion: Empirical Studies.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Jay Demerath.  “The Varieties of Sacred Experience: Finding the Sacred in a Secular Grove” in the Journal for theScientific Study of Religion, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2000.
  • ———.   “Defining Religion and Modifying Religious “Bodies:” Secularizing the Sacred and Sacralizing the Secular” in Phil Zuckerman, ed.  Atheism and Secularity: Volume 1: Issues, Concepts, and Definitions. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010.
  • ———. Religious Studies Project Interview with Jay Demerath on Substantive Religion and the Functionalist Sacred (12 March 2012).
  • David McCullough. The Johnstown Flood: The Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating “Natural” Disasters America has Ever Known. NewYork: Touchstone, 1987.
  • Ethan Gjerset Quillen, 2011. Rejecting the Definitive: A Contextual Examination of Three Historical Stages of Atheism and the Legality of an American Freedom from Religion.  MA Thesis, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
  • Bensor Saler.  Conceptualizing Religion: Immanent Anthropologists, Transcendent Natives, and Unbounded Categories.  New York: E.J. Brill, 1993.
  • Ninian Smart.  Dimensions of the Sacred: Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs.  New York: Fontana Press, 1997.
  • Jonathan Z. Smith  “A Matter of Class: Taxonomies of Religion” in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 89, No. 4, 1996.
  • Terence Thomas.  “‘The Sacred’ as a Viable Concept in the Contemporary Study of Religions” in Steven J. Sutcliffe.  Religion: Empirical Studies.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)
  • Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)
  • United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965)
  • Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970)

Podcasts

Religion, Secularism and the Chaplaincy

As Sullivan and other religious studies scholars complicate terms like religion and secularism, reducing these terms to near incoherence, and insist on the constant intermingling of the sacred and the secular, they leave jurists and legislators in a predicament with important practical consequences.

Religion, Secularism, and the Chaplaincy

By Dusty Hoesly, University of California, Santa Barbara

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 24 April 2013 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Winnifred F. Sullivan on Religion and the Law (22 April 2013)

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Professor and Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Indiana University, Bloomington, may be the supreme interpreter of the intersection of law and religion in American society today.  Each of her three books—Paying the Words Extra, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom, and Prison Religion—treats individual legal cases both textually and anthropologically, examining their particular cultural and legal contexts as well as their wider import for discourse in American law and society generally.  Her work is attuned equally to debates within the field of religious studies, especially to how scholars of religion constitute the object of their study.

In this interview for The Religious Studies Project, Sullivan focuses on her latest project, which examines chaplaincy in secular settings, as well as on her larger body of work.  Her recent presentation, “Ministries of Presence: Chaplains as Priests of the Secular,” uses chaplaincy as a lens for thinking beyond her previous work in critiquing constitutional and legal protections for religious freedom, and arguing for the instability and incoherence of the category of religion as a basis for legal regulation.  Putting aside her study of the management of religion in constitutional settings, in this project Sullivan examines how religion and law shape each other on the ground.  She concludes that chaplains have come to serve a role of ministering to what is increasingly understood as a universal spiritual need, which she labels a “naturalization of religion.”

For Sullivan, the figure of the chaplain in Western Christendom has always been an ambiguous figure, a minister whose duties lie away from church authority or congregational demands.  In modern secular institutions such as hospitals, prisons, and the military, the chaplain’s role remains ambiguous since, unlike doctors, guards, or soldiers, the chaplain is an explicit broker between the sacred and the secular.  The chaplain is paid by secular institutions and beholden to secular authorities, despite the religious character of the chaplain’s work or the chaplain’s religious allegiance.  Chaplains may find themselves obliged to endorse secular missions, such as nationalism or militarism, that run contrary to the chaplain’s religious mission.

The role of the chaplain and the social perception of chaplaincy in America have both changed significantly since World War II, Sullivan argues.  In the mid-twentieth century, patients, inmates, and soldiers imagined that chaplains had specific ministerial resources that were particular to each denomination, such that Catholic priests, for example, could offer services that no other denomination’s chaplains could.  Today, however, chaplaincy is far more generalized and less identified with any particular tradition.  Contemporary chaplains practice a “ministry of presence,” a stripped-down form of witness (to use a Christian word) that is a “suffering with” those seeking spiritual guidance.  Chaplains are trained to de-emphasize their individual religious identities so that they can provide a non-imposing, non-coercive presence, letting clients instead take the lead in terms of any religious specificity.

In her presentation, Sullivan observes the rise of credentialing as a major shift in chaplaincies during the 20th century.   Credentialing, rather than mere religious training, is now required in order to serve as a chaplain.  Would-be chaplains must earn a Master of Divinity degree, intern with a clinical pastoral education program, and obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement, all of which must be accredited or recognized by the government.  These cooperative efforts between state and religion have resulted in the standardization and professionalization of the chaplaincy.  Anyone can be a chaplain today, Sullivan argues.  It becomes a white collar job, one requiring expensive educational training and a lengthy apprenticeship.  As Randall Collins has argued, the credential becomes symbolic of one’s ability to do the actual work.

For chaplains who must serve a diverse clientele, including Roman Catholics, Wiccans, Southern Baptists, and atheists, specific denominational beliefs and practices, as well as religion itself, become “cultural resources” (to use James Beckford’s term).  Religion loses its claim to be sui generis, instead revealing itself to be socially constructed according to the practical needs of the moment when a client requests the services of a chaplain.  This offering of non-denominational spiritual advice to any and all seekers is illustrative of the secularization and commoditization of the chaplaincy.

But the process is not complete and, therefore, neither is Sullivan’s analysis.  Atheists and secular humanists may be consumers of chaplaincy services, but they are not yet permitted by the government to serve as chaplains in hospitals, prisons, or the military.  Even if the credentialing process in theory is open to any person, from whatever background, as Sullivan claims, this does not mean that anyone can become a chaplain in actual practice.  Groups such as the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers are seeking recognition by the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, but they have been unsuccessful so far.  That said, many prisons now include yoga and meditation groups, blurring the boundary between secular and religious practices and challenging the role of prison chaplains as exclusive brokers between the sacred and the secular.  And some higher education institutions, including Harvard, Rutgers, Stanford, Columbia, and American University, now incorporate humanist chaplaincies, responding to a growing call for guidance that is explicitly secular.

How might these humanist movements complicate Sullivan’s analysis?  Sullivan argues that in contemporary American jurisprudence religion has become a universal human phenomenon, albeit one that takes many forms.  But in the instances noted above, we see people who reject religion and yet who desire counseling and meaningful ritual during difficult times in their lives.  These people feel that they are not being best served by the supposedly secularized chaplains which Sullivan describes.  They want a chaplain with a particularly secular worldview rather than a naturalized non-denominational Protestantism which they perceive as coercive and not representative of their beliefs.  While Sullivan maintains that today’s chaplains are priests of the secular, actual secular people are excluded from the chaplaincy.

As Sullivan and other religious studies scholars complicate terms like religion and secularism, reducing these terms to near incoherence, and insist on the constant intermingling of the sacred and the secular, they leave jurists and legislators in a predicament with important practical consequences.  If religion and secularism are unstable and interpenetrating categories in American law, as Sullivan has argued, how can bureaucratic functionaries or judges justify excluding secular humanists from the chaplaincy?  Despite Sullivan’s claims about the naturalization of religion and the homogenization of the chaplaincy, American law still recognizes distinctions between what is religious and what is secular, and so do the people who consume and seek to provide chaplaincy services.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Dusty Hoesly is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, specializing in Religions of North America.  His research focuses on religion and irreligion in the American West, specifically the values held by people who self-describe as not religious, how those values developed, how they translate into social or political action, and how irreligious people interpret experiences that stand apart from ordinary life.  Incorporating fieldwork, surveys, and historical and material culture research, this project will help explain the growth of religious “nones” in the U.S. and reexamine the categories of sacred and secular in contemporary society.  Other research interests include religion in the American West, comparative secularisms, liberal evangelicalism, and religion and politics. He has previously published The Last Best Hope of Earth? Bron Taylor and the Limits of Dark Green Religion for the Religious Studies Project.

Bibliography

  • Collins, Randall. The Credential Society: A Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York: Academic Press, 1979.
  • Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.
  • Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. Princeton, NJ: Princeton             University Press, 2009.
  • Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. “We Are All Religious Now. Again.” Social Research 76.4 (2009): 1181-1198.
  • Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Religion and the Law

Within modern American society the meme of a separation of Church and State exists without a doubt; however, there is very little evidence to actually prove that this separation exists, functions as such, or indeed that it ever existed. In the textbooks, popular news outlets and in the political arena religion is supposed to be wholly withheld-expelled in favor of majority rule. However, when we turn our attention to state-managed organizations such as the federal prisons or state forest services or support for military veterans, we find that the lines are blurred.

With an eye to this seemingly ironic phenomenon Winnifred F. Sullivan presented a lecture entitled “Ministries of Presence: Chaplains as Priests of the Secular” at Arizona State University as part of the ASU Center for Religion and Conflict’s lecture series. Excerpted from her upcoming book of the same title, Sullivan considers the oversight, regulation and licensure of religious chaplains within the American Veterans’ Administration, as well several other governmental and on-governmental institutions. In this interview with Chris Duncan (Arizona State University), the discussion centers predominantly on the world in which many chaplains come to find themselves due to a “new kind of religious universalism”; from having to be prepared to minister across the borders of their own religious traditions, as in the case of a Catholic chaplain being required to assist Jewish or otherwise non-Catholic practitioners in a federal prison or a chaplain working with the state of Maine Warden Service. Sullivan asks whether we really have a separation of the Church and the State, how do we insure that everyone’s religious needs are being met within secular institutions like the Veterans’ Administration, and how does the State license and approve of applicants to the chaplaincy- how does, should, could an ostensibly secular federal organization approve or disapprove of religious ministers within its ranks.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

Sullivan is the Department Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington as well as Affiliate Professor of Law in the Maurer School of Law at the same institution. She holds both a J.D. and a PhD. from the University of Chicago and is the author of  Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States (Harvard 1994), The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton 2005), and Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton 2009).

Prophecy and American Millennialism

RastafarI is itself a millennial movement with the belief that Haile Selassie I is the God Liberator, an avatar returned to restore True Salvation for the subaltern people of African lineage. It is also a revolutionary movement which wants to change the lot of Africans…

J. Gordon Melton: Prophecy and American Millennialism

By Marzia A. Coltri, University of Birmingham, UK

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 10 October 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with J. Gordon Melton on American Millennialism (15 October 2012).

J. Gorton Melton is a leading academic specialist on new religious movements, a scholar of occultists, Scientologists, Rosicrucianists, Neopagans, Branch Davidians, Theosophists, Reiki groups, UFO, Hare Krishnas, New Age  and vampires, who has spent his academic career investigating and classifying new religious groups throughout the world. He is founder of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, and in an interview at the 2012 annual meeting of INFORM in London he discussed Millennial movements in America, with particular stress on three typologies of movements that await the divine intervention of the Son of God on Earth. This eschatological conjecture in Christianity teaches and disseminates the ‘double resurrection’ of Jesus Christ (“the Messiah is coming again’) and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth as the supreme signs of salvation and liberation from oppression and tribulation. As Melton observes, many new religious groups in the second half of the 20th century were small in size and had a lack of organizational structure. These movements are, he says, increasing rapidly, changing denominations and metaphysical features, and are waiting a New Era.

The impact of the prophet, with her/his charisma, which is for Weber ‘a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which she/he is set apart from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities’[1], is felt when s/he founds her/his own ‘new religious movement’, and her/his ideas and programme lead the members of the group. In the case of the RastafarI movement, for example, Marcus Garvey is one proponent of Pan-African nationalism and a particularly charismatic voice in the development of the movement.  Through the prophetic teachings of Garvey concerning the coronation of the God-King from Ethiopia (Haile Selassie I), RastafarI develops its belief in the Coming of the Second Messiah to the Earth to save the subaltern people of the African Diaspora and create a new kingdom (the Promised Land, Ethiopia). RastafarI is itself a millennial movement with the belief that Haile Selassie I is the God Liberator, an avatar returned to restore True Salvation for the subaltern people of African lineage. It is also a revolutionary movement which wants to change the lot of Africans and liberate them from the chains of corrupt, evil and sinful Babylon in order to create a new golden age in ‘the millennium kingdom’ of Ethiopia.

Millenarian thought is the belief that after the end of this world a new, fertile and harmonious world will appear. Such a conviction is referred to the term Millennium which is taken from the Apocalypse of John and the Book of Revelation. Millennialisms are expecting either a collective earthly salvation by supernatural agencies or a heavenly salvation. However, as we know, millenarian movements often appear in periods of crisis and act as expressions of frustration, vulnerability and the desire to escape. With their charismatic personalities, millenarianists believe in an earthly Golden Age but have a pessimistic view of the future.  They can be classified as catastrophic (the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) and progressive millennial movements (the New Agers and the Theosophical movement). The progressive millennial thought has a positive view of the collective growth of society in harmony with the divine (Gods or Angels). Both the progressive and catastrophic millennial movements reflect dramatic episodes of failure and violence, awaiting a radical transit to salvation. They may be violent revolutionaries whose aim is to eradicate the ‘old’ to create the ‘new’. What is common in Millenarian movements is that they are exultant about the predictions of a New Era.

By way of conclusion, what happens in various millenarian movements is directly connected to the economic, religious, sexual and racial power which puts their adherents in a marginal position in relation to the dominant society. Therefore it is not clear how these forces operate within society due to extreme variations in the movements themselves, especially when the prophets die, which  may cause trauma (see the recent death of the Korean Revd. Sun Myung Moon, founder and charismatic leader of the Unification Church). Many of them are expecting that world will be transformed by divine interventions through prophecies in order to eliminate suffering and to offer collective salvation.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Marzia Coltri was born in Verona, Italy and completed a BA in Philosophy with a thesis on the liberal and scientific thought of Karl Popper. After finishing her MA in Philosophical Counselling, she came to England in 2007 to embark on research on minority ethnic religious groups. She recently received her PhD in African and Caribbean religions (the RastafarI movement and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) in the School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham (UK). She is currently part-time visiting lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. Her research focuses on gender studies, post-colonialism and NRMs. She has presented several papers in the UK and abroad, three of which are published in the proceedings of the CESNUR conference. One of her recent articles ‘The Challenge of the Queen of Sheba: The Hidden Matriarchy in the Ancient East’ has also been published in the History of the Ancient World website.

Bibliography:

Melton, J. Gordon. ‘The counter-cult monitoring movement in historical perspective’ in Challenging Religion: Essays in Honour of Eileen Barker, James A. Beckford and James T. Richardson, eds. (London: Routledge, 2003)

Bromley, David and Melton, J. Gordon, eds., Cults, Religion and Violence, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge: 2003)

Melton, J. Gordon. Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, ABC-Clio (2002)

Melton, J. Gordon. Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions, Thomson Gale; 8th edition (2009),

Miller, Timothy. When Prophets Die: The Postcharismatic Fate of New Religious Movements. ed., Intr. by J. Gordon Melton.  State University of New York Press (Albany, USA: 1991)

Useful links:

http://www.cesnur.org/testi/melton_speak.htmp

http://www.cesnur.org/2010/to-coltri.htm

 


[1] Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, tr. by Ephraim Fischoff (Boston: Beacon Press, 1953), 52.

The Faith-Spangled Banner: Changes in American attitudes and belief in all directions

The Faith-Spangled Banner: Changes in American attitudes and belief in all directions

By Lindsey Arielle Askin, Durham University

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 13 June 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Ariela Keysar on “What does ‘belief’ mean to Americans?” (11 June 2012).

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, ‘Connecticut, that’s near Minnesota,’ to the occasional, ‘I know exactly where that is! I’ve driven through your state! It’s very pretty in autumn.’ UK knowledge of the United States is a tricky one to evaluate, as it varies widely from an extensive familiarity since childhood of everything American, especially television and films, to nearly nothing at all with the basic ability to place New York City on a map and knowledge of the Simpsons and Glee.

Therefore I will try to carefully tread both lakes of knowledge (or ponds, respectively), and I sincerely hope that I can be informative and insightful for those in the latter group, without condescending to those who are frequently much more informed about what’s going on in America than many Americans themselves. Some of the data found by ARIS might be news to many, and yet other more subtle trends seem to defy all prediction.

At the end of the interview, Keysar promoted the ARIS 2008 Summary Report, available for free on the ARIS website. The report summarizes trends and findings since 1990 (NRSI) and 2001, the two previous years when ARIS was conducted. It contains many informative tables, and is divided into three parts: (1) national statistics on belief according to the questions posed by the survey, and how these responses were grouped together as quantitative data; (2) the data according to age, gender and marital status; and finally, (3) the data according to race, educational level, and geography—the last of which gives the term ‘Bible Belt’ a run for its money.

The first question to ask about quantitative demographic data that is arranged into percentages (e.g. 75% of Americans today are …), is how population and immigration affects our understanding of the numbers. ARIS shows us most of all, then, the changing composition of American society, not just the changing religious membership rates, since the population of the US increased by 30% from 175,440,000 in 1990 to 228,182,000 in 2008 (all numbers are drawn from Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar’s ARIS 2008 Summary Report).

So, delving more deeply into the data, ARIS discovered that the reason Islam in the US is slightly more male than female, and slightly younger than other faiths, is because of immigration. For another example, despite national losses in Catholicism, Texas and Californa’s Catholic composition increased due to America’s largest minority, Hispanic or Latino, who have immigrated to these states.

Other trends mark shifts in between movements in Christianity; the main trend is from mainline Churches to more Evangelical or non-denominational Churches. And while the number of Christians in America has risen, paradoxically America is now less Christian, because there are simply more non-Christian American citizens in 2008 than were in 1990 or even 2001. Yet one section persistently seemed to defy movement, immigration and other trends of changing social composition in America: the Nones.

The Nones are an interesting category. Despite age, education level, and geography especially (that is, even in the South), the Nones managed to rise in all demographic categories, from 8% in 2001 to 15% in 2008. While such a large percentage now professes non-belief, this is a group distinct from those who would self-identify as atheists, who stand at 0.7% of the American public (agnostics at 0.9%). The disparity between the Nones/No Religion and the Atheist and Agnostic categories is stark. Keysar muses that while many Americans today may feel a lack of belief, there is still very much a taboo surrounding explicit self-identification as an atheist or agnostic (see Edgell et al. 2006). Finally, while there is a remarkable variation of over 100 unique responses to the question, ‘What is your religion, if any?’ – the reply of ‘None’ was the most common of all answers. Yet still, the number of Americans today who identify as Atheist or Agnostic has still risen. Slowly but surely, the taboo is becoming less strong.

Other interesting facts from ARIS 2008 include the responses to questions about God and belief. The gaps between belief and religious category offer proof today that in America, association with religion no longer automatically equates to belief in God—or, just as much, that non-association with any religion equates to a lack of belief. Listening to Keysar’s podcast creates a sudden dawning realization that many religious people in America often have less belief than people who profess to be non-religious. It seems, in fact, that religious association often has little to do with what one believes (or how one votes). It is a shame that ARIS cannot ask about political leanings, but I think the results would challenge more than confirm many European (and North-East American) stereotypes about the religious composition of Republican and Democrat party voters.

Yet despite this trend – most confusing of all, when asked about human evolution, only 33% of Nones actually ‘professed belief’ in the concept. However, positive belief in evolution was not the only committal answer, as those who outright rejected evolution was then 36% of the whole survey, and only 17% of Nones – leaving the largest chunk of Americans with no professed religion or faith mostly unsure of how they felt about evolution.

Keysar labels evolution, as much as religious identification, still a ‘cultural wedge’ in society, in her words. And yet, paradoxically, very few of the Nones, 17% to be exact, believed that there was anything to horoscopes. Nones are now very sceptical of New Age practice, but also, strangely, of human evolution. This makes up a very interesting profile for many Nones: no organised religion, no New Age, perhaps God, perhaps not, or perhaps God acting in the world and in one’s personal life, but no evolution. The ghost of the Scopes trial still haunts American society.

Finally, the Summary Report notes religious belief according to gender and religion. In America, there are 49 males for every 52 females (ARIS Summary Report, p.11). All Christian groups matched this national average, whereas in non-Christian religions where there were a higher percentage of immigrants, there were more males. Yet the Nones numbered 60% male, matching the suspected theory that women remain more religious than men. As far as marriage goes, rates are high regardless of religion or lack thereof. Catholics and Nones match at 11%, while, shockingly, Pentecostals have a rate of 16% divorced.

The final table of the Summary Report tells us much more about the composition of American states and regions today than is widely assumed. Familiarizing yourself with this type of information proves particularly interesting in an election year. New England is becoming less Catholic, Nones have increased everywhere but especially in New England more than anywhere else (more ways in which New England is like the Old England – in addition to being green and pleasant), and the South is becoming more Catholic in many states, less Protestant almost everywhere, and non-Christian religions are on the rise!

I have attempted to include some of the most interesting trends that were not all found in the podcast. The most important thing I have learned from this podcast and the work of ARIS is that religion no longer automatically means belief in God or providence, and that the non-religious in America are often just as religious as those professing faith. Most surprisingly, the former category is also simultaneously suspicious of both New Age trends and science. Anyone who has switched on a TV in both the USA and the UK will notice that American channels tend be more receptive to showing things about aliens, conspiracies, ghosts, and alternative medicine. Which makes me think, would the disbelieving response of the Nones have been different if the question had been about ghosts or aliens, instead of star signs?

The trends which have occurred over the seven year period between 2001, the year everything changed, and 2008, have all been surprising. We have certainly grown in many ways since 2001, but our self-perception as a ‘Christian nation’ may need to shift. The most delightful changes are the ones that show a shifting composition in regions typically viewed by others and ourselves to be traditionally one way or another, such as the Bible Belt – because for today and in future years, those stereotypes might need to radically shift to reflect reality.

The two things which my friends in Britain seem to pay more attention to in America than anything else are politics and religion, which our media likewise seems to use as a lens for making sense of the world. So, it is truly fascinating to discover that all is not as it seems. One thing I have noticed personally from trips back home is, as ARIS has found, that more Americans want to reject self-identification with any ‘organized religion’ at all. Could this be partly due to the polarity of our media, about which Americans constantly speak and attribute so much in our society? Are we becoming switched off by the lambasting, while others still seem inspired by it?

Could it be we are becoming more sceptical? I have always understood that we Americans have a strange relationship with scepticism; we both love it and hate it, don’t allow our politicians to have it, and mistrust it in our enemies. And yet, we seem to be slowly becoming more sceptical as a nation, albeit sometimes in strange ways. But what an unexpected change, and who knows where it will lead in the next ARIS years? Keysar’s project has, at least, made me increasingly sceptical of my own traditional understanding of this increasingly complex and colourful nation.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Lindsey Arielle Askin is currently a postgraduate taught MA student in Biblical Studies at Durham University, is taking lots of dead languages, and is writing a dissertation on Second Temple attitudes to Hebrew in the Book of Jubilees. She is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, has done a PG Cert in education, and is from Connecticut, USA. Lindsey is involved in various reading groups, web committee, Café des Femmes reseach group, founded her own Apocrypha/Pseudepigrapha reading group, and runs its updates blog “Interesting Texts“. Her research interests are in dead languages, Second Temple Judaism, biblical criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, scribal practices, and the Old Testament. She is also interested in computers, book-repair/binding, and TeX. She aims to commence her PhD studies in October 2012.

References:

Edgell, Penny, Joseph Gerteis, and Douglas Hartmann. 2006. ‘Atheists as “Other”: Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society’. American Sociological Review 71 (2) (April): 211–234.

Ariela Keysar on “What does ‘belief’ mean to Americans?”

‘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.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

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 Century and 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.

Secularization: A Look at Individual Level Theories of Religious Change

The Demise of Established Religiosity

While it is often argued that the secularization thesis only referred to macro-level secularization – the separation of religion from other societal spheres in the process of functional differentiation (cf. e.g. Wilson 1998) – there is no way of denying that most specific secularization theories also refer to a loss of significance of religion on the individual level, explicitly or implicitly, which may be prompted by macro-level differentiation and individualization, and which itself may affect the meso-level in the form of a steady decrease in church membership or attendance (cf. Dobbelaere 2000). As an explanation for this observed or expected micro-level secularization either one or both of two reasons are commonly given. It is either assumed that there was or will be no further need for religion – as, in Weber’s case, rationality and science have taken over its explanatory function or as, in Marx’s case, its solace function will not be required any longer in a perfect socialist society. Or it is postulated that the individual will eventually lose confidence in the established religion’s supernatural truth claims, will literally fall from or at least be shaken in his or her faith. This was the central argument of Peter L. Berger’s early approach (before his conversion to being critical of secularization theory), which was built on the idea that any belief or belief system relied on an intact “plausibility structure”, provided through social affirmation. But Christianity’s plausibility structure – the taken-for-grantedness particularly of its metaphysical claims – had suffered from the accessibility of a plurality of competing religious faiths and other worldviews, made commonplace by modern media, travel, education, and cultural exchange, and thereby from decreasing affirmation or even widespread refutation. The result of this, in any modernized society, would be a doubting, secularized populace as well as secularized churches, which would refrain from overly demanding metaphysics and, instead, turn to the individuals’ this-worldly needs in order to avoid their complete demise (cf. Berger 1980).

This concentration on the decline of institutionalized, established, church religiosity by early secularization theorists prompted some criticism. Berger’s companion in other projects, Thomas Luckmann (who defined as religion anything that helps people to overcome different sorts of “transcendences”), claimed that religion had not disappeared but only changed its location – e.g. to psychotherapy, esotericism, and other hedonistic projects of self-fulfillment. To him, religion had become privatized and thereby “invisible” for the social scientific study of religion (cf. Luckmann 1967). Similar to this is Grace Davie’s (1994) concept of “believing without belonging”, and other theories of individualized religiosity, which claim that spirituality persists outside institutionalized churches. Relying on Durkheim’s integration model of religion, Robert N. Bellah, too, denied that religion had disappeared but claimed that, in a multidenominational nation such as the United States, it had to manifest itself differently – not in an all-encompassing, European style nation church, but in what he called “civil religion”, composed of reference to a generalized “God” as well as of “sacralized” national institutions, documents, figures, holidays, and symbols, whose role it was to achieve national integration (cf. Bellah 1967). Nevertheless, both Luckmann and Bellah agreed that the significance of conventional churches and denominations, as well as of personal (substantively defined) religious belief and activity, had diminished over the past decades.

The American Challenge

An early critic of the view that modernity necessarily meant secularization, as pointed out by Linda Woodhead, was David Martin. Besides rejecting an ahistorical, undifferentiated theory of secularization as a universal, linear, and irreversible process, Martin warned against secularists (and for him this might just as well apply to proponents of secularization theory) taking “Catholic laments about the period when men were truly religious” too seriously (Martin 1969: 30). In order to diagnose secularization in the present one would have to believe in the existence of a former “Golden Age of Faith”, a highly sacralized past. But for critics of the secularization thesis this constituted largely a fiction. They argued that there had never been a time of universal and widespread religious belief and presented examples of medieval impiety as proof (cf. Bruce 2011).

Yet attacks on secularization theory were not only directed against its depictions of the past, but also of the present, with the most prominent (twofold) challenge coming from the United States of America. Firstly, the empirical situation in the U.S. had always given reason for doubt. American rates of church affiliation had constantly been high, as had rates of individuals’ belief in a personal god and other religious indicators. Particularly surprising was that this situation was to be found in a highly modernized as well as religiously pluralized country. Secondly, starting in the U.S. during the 1980s, these doubts were translated into a forceful theoretical onslaught on secularization theory, brought forward by the so-called “rational choice” or “market” theorists of religion. Rodney Stark, Laurence R. Iannaccone, William S. Bainbridge, and Roger Finke wholeheartedly dismissed the idea of micro-level secularization. Instead they claimed that demand for religious products, for other-worldly “compensators”, was always stable and about the same in any society – with a range of societal “niches” with differing degrees of such demand. What really differed when comparing different societies – and the historically specific characteristics of which had produced the, in their view, exceptional case of European “secularization” – was the makeup of the “religious marketplace”, the degree to which religious entrepreneurs were free or hindered to do their business. In contrast to Berger’s original view, religious pluralism was not seen as undermining religious faith and vitality, but on the contrary as a prerequisite for sufficient supply to meet the diverse kinds of religious demand (cf. Stark, Bainbridge 1987, Stark 2000, Stark, Finke 2000).

According to this theory, citizens in the United States, with its free and rich religious market, were able to make a “rational choice” about their religious affiliation and pick one according to their specific preferences. Those segments of society, for example, who took a specific interest in the supernatural promises of a religious brand – such as compensation in the afterlife for earthly suffering – would favor fundamentalist churches, because these, with their high costs for membership (e.g. abstinence from some earthly pleasures, stigmatizing appearance, denial of contact to wider society), were able to generate a dependent and committed congregation. For these religious searchers, a vibrant community of believers is seen as crucial, since, other than a congregation of lazy and sullen churchgoers, only this would be able to provide at least some testimony to a highly insecure and untestable expected reward, such as other-worldly promises. This would explain the success particularly of “strict churches” in the U.S. (cf. Iannaccone 1994). Religious vitality in Europe, on the other hand, was thwarted by a lack of religious choice and, in addition, a lack of incentives for pampered state church officials to make their regulated religious brand somewhat more appealing. To the rational choice authors, the dearth of religious vitality in most of Europe has nothing to do with diminished demand, or individual secularization, but everything with insufficient supply. Accordingly, they expect that with further separation of church and state and further cutbacks of church privileges in Europe, these countries will, after some generations, eventually be de-secularized and become as religiously vital as the United States, leaving proclaimed individual-level secularization a mere fiction, or even an ideology, and Europe’s meso-level secularization nothing but a historical oddity (cf. Stark, Iannaccone 1994, Stark, Finke 2000).

Refined Theories of Secularization

This economic approach has, from its conception, drawn a lot of criticism – in particular from Steve Bruce, whom Linda Woodhead called “probably the most important defender of secularization theory now”, and who has published a book length refutation of the economic theory of religion, hoping that this might be “the stake through the vampire’s chest”, as which he sees his opponents (Bruce 1999, 2). Somewhat more moderate is the criticism by Christopher G. Ellison (1995) and Darren E. Sherkat (1997). They agree with Stark and his colleagues that people make their religious choices rationally, but doubt that they necessarily do so for inherently religious reasons. Instead, on many occasions, people would enter, remain in, or actively participate in specific churches with the reactions of others in mind – e.g. in order to set an example or not to suffer social sanctions. This would make individual-level secularization compatible with high levels of religiosity on the organizational level – people may remain active in churches for social reasons, without actually believing.

Steve Bruce agrees and concludes that the supposed “free choice”, central to the rational choice approach of religion, was actually a fiction. While overall in the United States there really existed a plurality of religions and denominations, at the local level, where people actually made their religious choices, this was not so. Even if there were a plurality of churches in one town or county, membership was not open to everyone, but bound up with ethnicity, class, or other forms of social identity and related sanctions: “Racial segregation is still such that adding a black Pentecoastal church to a town does not in the least increase the choice for white Americans. Adding a German language Lutheran church makes no difference to a Swedish American.” (Bruce 1996, 135). Yet, Bruce does not doubt that many Americans actually are highly religious and practice their faith fervently and wholeheartedly. But, in his view – and in contrast to the rational choice theorists’ – this does not falsify secularization theory as such. Bruce’s explanation is that, in many places in the United States, modernization did not and could not have its secularizing effects. Due to the deregulation of the informational and educational sectors, the United States enabled fundamentalist Christianity to build its own universe, shielding its members from different views in the privatized media, schools, and even universities, and thereby leaving the religion’s “plausibility structure” intact (cf. Bruce 2002, 2011).

Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart offer a different explanation for why Americans seem to cling to religion in large numbers. Analyzing a range of international surveys and indices, they show that subjective religiosity is positively correlated with existential insecurity. In line with the classical view of Marx and Freud, but also with the rational choice theorists, they conclude that religion may serve as consolation or compensation. But they differ from the rational choice theorists in that they do not assume such need to be universal, but rather dependent on the specific economic situation and other alterable factors under which individuals live and grow up – and that in this respect the United States is, at least for now, an exceptional case in the western world: “Relatively high levels of economic insecurity are experienced by many sectors of U.S. society, despite American affluence, due to the cultural emphasis on the values of personal responsibility, individual achievement, and mistrust of big government, limiting the role of public services and the welfare state for basic matters such as healthcare covering all the working population” (Norris, Inglehart 2004, 108). Being and feeling more vulnerable to existential risks, Americans were more likely to turn to religion for solace and comfort than were citizens of other western nations.

Conclusion

Over the past decades, the secularization thesis has been discarded – but only insofar as it postulated an inevitable, universal, and uniform process. It would be going too far, though, to assume that “there was nothing really ever there”. Theories of secularization have, instead, been refined. Karel Dobbelaere (2002) and José Casanova (1994) have shown that secularization may work differently on different levels – for example affecting the institutional organization of society, but not individual religiosity. Concerning the latter, Bruce and Norris/Inglehart maintain that modernization is very likely to have a secularizing effect – yet only insofar as it is accompanied by 1) access to a plurality of worldviews as well as 2) feelings of existential security for wide sectors of society. Both conditions depend on political and economic arrangements and are prone to change. Consequently, secularization is no longer seen as a natural development – even by its theoretical proponents –  but, rather, as a contingent phenomenon.

References

Bellah, Robert N. (1967): Civil Religion in America. Daedalus 96, 1-21.

Berger, Peter L. (1980): The Heretical Imperative. Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation. London: Collins.

Bruce, Steve (1996): Religion in the Modern World. From Cathedrals to Cults. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Bruce, Steve (1999): Choice and Religion. A Critique of Rational Choice Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Bruce, Steve (2002): God is Dead. Secularization in the West. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Bruce, Steve (2011): Secularization. In Defence of an Unfashionable Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Casanova, José (1994): Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Davie, Grace (1994): Religion in Britain Since 1945: Believing Without Belonging. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Dobbelaere, Karel (2000): Toward an Integrated Perspective of the Processes Related to the Descriptive Concept of Secularization. In: Swatos Jr. et al. (eds.): The Secularization Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 21-39.

Dobbelaere, Karel (2002): Secularization: An Analysis at Three Levels. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Ellison, Christopher G. (1995): Rational Choice Explanations of Individual Religious Behavior: Notes on the Problem of Social Embeddedness. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34, 89-97.

Iannaccone, Laurence R. (1994): Why Strict Churches Are Strong. In: American Journal of Sociology 99, 1180-1211.

Luckmann, Thomas (1967): The Invisible Religion: The Problem of Religion in Modern Society. New York: Macmillan.

Martin, David (1969): The Religious and the Secular. Studies in Secularization. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Norris, Pippa and Ronald Inglehart (2004): Sacred and Secular. Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sherkat, Darren E. (1997): Embedding Religious Choices. Preferences and Social Constraints into Rational Choice Theories of Religious Behavior. In: Young (ed.): Rational Choice Theory and Religion. Summary and Assessment. London, New York: Routledge, 66-86.

Stark, Rodney (2000): Secularization R.I.P.. In: Swatos Jr. et al. (eds.): The Secularization Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 41-66.

Stark, Rodney and William S. Bainbridge (1987): A Theory of Religion. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Stark, Rodney and Roger Finke (2000): Acts of Faith. Explaining the Human Side of Religion. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stark, Rodney and Laurence R. Iannaccone (1994): A Supply-Side Reinterpretation of the “Secularization” of Europe. In: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33, 230-252.

Wilson, Bryan (1998): The Secularization Thesis: Criticisms and Rebuttals. In: Laersmans et al. (eds.): Secularization and Social Integration: Papers in Honour of Karel Dobbelaere. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 45-66.

Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment

The South Fork Dam once stood high above the city of Johnstown Pennsylvania, erected to supply water to one of the many canal systems that made up the early American interstate trade route.  Purchased by the South Fork Hunting and Fishing club in 1881, the massive body of water behind the dam, Lake Conemaugh, was made part of an exclusive mountain resort for the wealthy from nearby Pittsburgh.  Over the next eight years frequent inspections found the South Fork Dam to have many foundational flaws, as well as a number of recurring surface cracks.  With gilded aesthetics in mind these cracks were mended by rudimentary patchwork, a temporary slathering of mud and straw.  On the rainy afternoon of May 31st, 1889 the dam melted under the pressure of the swelling lake, releasing a surging wall of water onto the city below.  By the time the water receded 2,209 people had perished in one of the worst “natural” disasters in US history.

As anecdotes go, this is a pretty good one.  The impudence of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club contributed to the idea that by solving surface issues with a little patchwork the real problem at the foundation would equally be resolved.  In the field of academia we come across this sort of logic quite regularly; more so, it seems, in the category of religious studies.

Sean Bean as Odysseus in the movie ‘Troy’

It seems fair to say that ours is a rather dangerous vocation, not dangerous in the way a dam keeper’s job might be dangerous on an afternoon of heavy rain, but dangerous in that we bravely tread the waters of humanity’s inner-most sacred beliefs and practices.  This is not a gentle sea by any means.  Tempests rise up unexpectedly, detouring our crossing with tangential distractions—much like those which plagued that long adrift Greek hero, Odysseus.  Like him, we too seem impassioned to return to something genuine and practical, longing to once again stand on familiar soil; and we are ever creative in our ways of doing so.

Recently, Professor Jay Demerath took up such a challenge, which formed the basis for his interview with Chris Cotter.  Promoting the replacement of the ambiguous term “religion” with the functional term “sacred,” Demerath’s novel approach at interpreting that which stands out against the profane or secular comes with two critical issues: definition and application.

Definition

Demerath originally proposed this turn from “religion” to “sacred” in his deliberately misquoted “Varieties of Sacred Experience,” nominally linking his amended term with the foundations of religious studies in William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience.”  This calculated revision brings Demerath’s proposition into the context of debate between experience and belief as designated by the modern ambiguity of “religion” and his novelized sobriquet, “sacred.”  As he states, “religion is just one among many possible sources of the sacred,” (Demerath 2000) and that the ambiguity which anchors itself to the definition of religion can easily be weighed by defining it substantively, while interpreting its consequences, “the sacred,” functionally.  This is a methodological proposition which focuses not on the encompassing importance of “religion” but rather on what it is that individuals—or groups—take to be “sacred.”  By divesting religion and sacred between substantive and functionalist, assigning “religion” to the “category of activity” and seeing the “sacred” as a “statement of function” both terms seem to work in their application

This is further demonstrated in his polythetic method of deciphering that which individuals and social groups set apart as being “sacred.”  In the interview, when asked how sociologists navigate the ambiguity of what is sacred or not, he suggests a sort of polythetic taxonomy when it comes to deciphering what is sacred to the people under examination.  By developing a “kind of a checklist of behaviors that are associated with what might be a sacred commitment,” such as is found in certain categorical methodologies (Saler 1993, Smith 1996, Smart 1997), he believes we can properly decipher what “people do, what they don’t do, what they believe, what they don’t believe, what they observe and don’t observe.”  Furthermore, this alludes to a stipulation of terms, rather than a dependence on real definitions (Baird 1971).  Both techniques reveal a method which assists us in accessing the “priority” of the religious person’s “commitments, the commitments in their life, and the convictions in their life.” (Demerath 2012).

However, Demerath is also navigating very dangerous waters here, steering between narrow straights where on one side awaits the swirling temptress of a definition of religion, and on the other the horrifically multifaceted monster of misapplication.  For example, if removed from his sociological context, how does his term “sacred” differ from that of “religious?”  One of the advantages with stipulative definitions is that they must be anchored to a particular study, the borders of which Demerath’s proposition seems to push against.  Consider if we categorically formed a stipulative interpretation of the traditional term “religious” as pertaining to the consequences of the practitioner’s “religion,” would we not be able to equally balance out the ambiguity found in “religion?”  Would using a stipulated interpretation of “religious” as the function of a person acting under the substantive form of “religion” not be the same?  While Demerath responds to a similar question in the interview by legitimating his use of the “sacred” as something that does not need to transcend our world to some other-worldly deity, he is limiting himself to a “definition” of religion devoted to a transcendental relationship between man and deity.  This seems, again, a difference between “religion” and “religious” as equally as it pertains to the difference between “religion” and the “sacred.”  This is an issue of definition and application.  Where his turn from the sociology of religion to the sociology of the sacred succeeds and fails is within this issue.  By pushing against these borders his stipulation begins to sink into the periphery of real definition.  Fortunately he saves himself with the life-raft of an applicative example.

Application

Ethan

Ethan Quillen

The decision of United States vs. Seeger is about as close to a “definition” of religion the United States Supreme Court is legally allowed to make.  The disestablishment clause of the 1st Amendment—Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion—is a collection of ten words which make the United States exceptional to religiously established nations such as England and Scotland.  It also creates quite the conundrum when cases like these come to the Court’s attention.  The Seeger case did not occur ex nihilo, but was rather the result of the decisions in Everson vs. Board and Torcaso vs. Watkins, steps made by the court over twenty years of social and political change in a country seeking an umbrellic identity between the end of World War II and the turbulent second half of a decade that saw the assassination of John F. Kennedy at one end, and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon at the other.

This brief circumnavigation speaks directly to Demerath’s application of the term sacred.  When seen through the lens of American legal amendments, wherein the “belief in and devotion to goodness and virtue for their own sakes,” and a religious “faith in a purely ethical creed” amounts to a “a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by God,” what is construed as “sacred,” the “ultimate concern” may seem counter to even the most liberal applications of “religion.” (U.S. vs. Seeger)  By amending the qualifications of article 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act to accommodate Daniel Seeger’s philosophical views, the function of Tillich’s substantive definition, as accepted by the Court as a standard by which to measure the religiousness of the individual, “religious” and “sacred” become stipulative suggestions, pliable by what might justify a sacred belief.  Thus, in a nation devoted to a sense of individual sacralization, the nation of Sheilaism (Bellah et al.), Demerath’s reassignment of transcendental “religion” with “sacred” seems justified.

Conclusion

While the legitimation of his using “sacred” rather than “religion” seems justified in the above sample, it still seems a patchwork fix rather than a foundational repair.  It should be said, though, that this is not so much a critique of Demerath’s thesis, but of the idea in promoting a new term as the replacement of an old one.  Perhaps this is due to the definitive style it seems to imply at the suggestion of “sacred studies” rather than “religious studies.”  New terms are not always the best way to fix a foundational issue such as the ambiguity of “religion” in a global context.  Instead, we would benefit far greater by digging up and unpacking what we mean by terms when studying the practitioners who make them sacred in specific contexts.  The stipulation of an established, utilitarian term like “religious” to mean the actions of individuals seeking what they deem foundationally sacred relieves the pressures of ambiguity just as equally as “sacred,” especially because of its relationship and differentiation from “religion.”  Perhaps a good argument against Demerath’s contextual use of “sacred” might be a change from the “sociology of religion” to the “sociology of the religious.”

Definitions of religion seem the ever-widening Charybdis in the field of religious studies—in all its forms.  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.  These waters are dangerous, and without precaution we appear more and more drawn into the riptide of circular academia where, once swallowed up, we run the risk of drowning in a sea of uncertainty.

References and Suggested Reading

  • Robert D. Baird.  Category Formations and the History of Religions.  Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1991.
  • Robert N. Bellah.  Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  • Robert N. Bellah, et al.  Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • James L. Cox.  “Afterword: Separating Religion from the ‘Sacred:’ Methodological Agnosticism and the Future of Religious Studies” in Steven J. Sutcliffe.  Religion: Empirical Studies.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Jay Demerath.  “The Varieties of Sacred Experience: Finding the Sacred in a Secular Grove” in the Journal for theScientific Study of Religion, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2000.
  • ———.   “Defining Religion and Modifying Religious “Bodies:” Secularizing the Sacred and Sacralizing the Secular” in Phil Zuckerman, ed.  Atheism and Secularity: Volume 1: Issues, Concepts, and Definitions. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010.
  • ———. Religious Studies Project Interview with Jay Demerath on Substantive Religion and the Functionalist Sacred (12 March 2012).
  • David McCullough. The Johnstown Flood: The Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating “Natural” Disasters America has Ever Known. NewYork: Touchstone, 1987.
  • Ethan Gjerset Quillen, 2011. Rejecting the Definitive: A Contextual Examination of Three Historical Stages of Atheism and the Legality of an American Freedom from Religion.  MA Thesis, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
  • Bensor Saler.  Conceptualizing Religion: Immanent Anthropologists, Transcendent Natives, and Unbounded Categories.  New York: E.J. Brill, 1993.
  • Ninian Smart.  Dimensions of the Sacred: Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs.  New York: Fontana Press, 1997.
  • Jonathan Z. Smith  “A Matter of Class: Taxonomies of Religion” in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 89, No. 4, 1996.
  • Terence Thomas.  “‘The Sacred’ as a Viable Concept in the Contemporary Study of Religions” in Steven J. Sutcliffe.  Religion: Empirical Studies.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)
  • Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)
  • United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965)
  • Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970)