Sociology of Religion

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Engaging with Religion and Populism

In Professor Brian S. Turner’s RSP podcast interview with Sammy Bishop, a rallying cry for the relevance of sociology of religion rang out. In the aftermath of 9/11, it was the rush to understand Islamic terrorism that re-centred the study of religion in the social sciences. Now, Turner argues,...
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A World-Conscious Sociology of Religion?

This week we're doing something a little bit different. Instead of a written response to the podcast we have a video response instead: For my take on James Spickard’s phenomenology see: “Prolegomena to a Philosophical Phenomenology of Religion: a critique of sociological phenomenology”.
Podcast

AI and Religion: An Initial Conversation

This roundtable, in association with the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, considers the impact of recent technological advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics on religion, religious conceptions of the world, and the human. It draws attention to how such advances push religion beyond how it has been commonly defined and considered.
Podcast

Sociology of Religion – and Religious Studies?

What makes the sociology of religion and Religious Studies distinct from each other - if anything? Paul-Francois Tremlett, Titus Hjelm and David Robertson discuss what the two approaches have in common, and how they differ. Importantly, they consider how they might learn from each other.
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Report: 2015 Joint Conferences of the New Zealand and Australian Associations for the Study of Religion

The biennial conference of the New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions (NZASR) and the annual conference of the Australian Association for the Study of Religions (AASR) were held together in Queenstown, New Zealand from December 8-10 2015. Interdisciplinary perspectives and theoretical approaches across the humanities and social sciences were evident in the wide-range of papers presented. Islam, and Asian religions more generally, were the most consistent objects of focus, perhaps unsurprising given Australasia’s proximity to Asia and recent increased media attention to the Islamic State.
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“Religion in Peru” — conference report, 2015

That this conference took place at the National University of San Marcos was quite inspiring. This was the first university on the continent with a theology and arts faculty during the second half of the sixteenth century. Now, almost five hundred years later, Peruvian academics still have an interest in studying religion. However, our current perspectives and methodologies are far more diverse, and ever broadening. I remain optimistic that, in the near future, the academic study of religion in Peru will be as widespread and supported as other research areas.
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“Understanding Religious Change” – 2015 ASR Conference Report

77th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR), 20-22 August 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Amanda Schutz, PhD student in the School of Sociology, University of Arizona. The theme of this year’s annual ASR meeting was a familiar one among social science conferences: understanding change. In her presidential address, “Complex Religion:
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Conference report: Rethinking Boundaries in the Study of Religion and Politics

"Oganessian proposed that if we were to view politics, or the public sphere, as a “marketplace of ideas,” that would allow us to move beyond the religious/secular binary that dominates western thought. In this “marketplace of ideas” framework, we should view all ideologies, concepts, or moralities as having a societal value, and politics as a kind of flea market for any given worldview to sell their perspective on how to govern the society. This framework frees religious thought of its unfair stereotype of only being suited for one’s private life, putting it on an even footing with all other worldviews."
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2015 Conference on Religion and American Culture Report

The Biennial “Conference on Religion and American Culture” was held June 4 to June 7, 2015 in Indianapolis. The conference is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture and Religion & American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Jeffrey Wheatley, a PhD student at Northwestern University.
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“The Study of Religions in Ireland: People, Places, Projects” – 2015 ISASR Conference Report

The Study of Religions in Ireland: People, Places, Projects” Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR), Trinity College Dublin, May 11th 2015. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Dr. Eoin O’Mahony, Department of Geography, St Patrick’s College DCU
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“Societies in Transition: Progression or Regression?” – BSA Conference Report

“Societies in Transition: Progression or Regression?” British Sociological Association (BSA), University of Glasgow, 15-17 April 2015. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Rachel Hanemann. The British Sociological Association’s conference was held this year at the University of Glasgow. The conference theme was “Societies in Transition: Progression and Regression,...
Podcast

Social Constructionism

What is social constructionism, and how is it important to the study of religion? Titus Hjelm explains how approaches which see social realities as built from discourses challenge how we think about ontology, epistemology and power.What is social constructionism, and how is it important to the study of religion? In this interview,
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Is Britain still a Christian country?

In what sense can a country be “Christian”? Today on the Religious Studies Project, we welcome back Professor Linda Woodhead to discuss and interrogate the question "Is Britain Still a Christian Country?", the topic of her recent Croall Lectures at the University of Edinburgh.
Podcast

Understanding the Secular

Making their own contributions to the discourse, Shook and Zuckerman briefly discuss the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Secularism they are co-editing, the growing field of secular studies, what it might mean to ’be secular‘, different secularisms, and offer up two different views of the relationship between categories such as ’religion‘ and ’secular‘.
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Baby Boomers, Quest Culture, and Spiritual Seeking

In this interview, discussion focuses on Roof’s work on the Baby Boom generation and beyond, particularly as expressed in his books A Generation of Seekers (1993) and Spiritual Marketplace (1999). In these books, Roof combined survey data with panel studies and interviews across a broad spectrum ...
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The Logics of Bricolage Reconsidered: A Cognitive Approach to Individuals and Their Constraints

This response is a defense of the academic interest in the individual, which I take to be inclusive of the variety of ways that the activities of individuals are constrained, or not, in any given context. All constraints are not equal. Veronique Altglas is to be commended for her intervention into the contemporary academic discussions and (often uncritical) usage of the concept of bricolage. As she rightly suggests, ...
Podcast

Os serés matáves: Pentecostalism in the Prisons of Rio

For Brazil’s “killable people”, there are two prevalent ways to deal with the relative hell of prison - both involving allegiance and devotion. You can give your life to the gang or give your life to God. Only three types of people dare to venture into the heart of a Minas Gerais prison: the condemned, the pentecostal pastors leading the prison ministry, ...
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Habermas, Religion and the Post-Secular

Habermas mostly ignored religion, contending that it was not rational enough to be included in public debate. But over the past decade, he has begun to reexamine religion in light of its persistence in the modern world, calling this a turn toward post-secular society. He argues that religion deserves a place in public debate, ...
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Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict

Big Gods: 1. Watched people are nice people, 2. Religion is more in the situation than in the person, 3. Hell is stronger than heaven, 4. Trust people who trust in God, 5. Religious actions speak louder than words, 6. Unworshipped Gods are impotent Gods, 7. Big Gods for Big Groups, 8. Religious groups cooperate in order to compete.
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There be Spoilers Here: Durkheim, ‘Breaking Bad,’ and the Uncertainty of Religious Theory

"When I think back on it, one thing I truly enjoyed about Professor Strenski’s book—as well as his teaching style—was his ability to tangentially veer off topic while not losing complete track of the subject at hand. Tangents, I have always felt, are the instructor’s greatest tool. Not only do they assist in keeping the student’s attention, but as metaphor, paint the instruction in different hues than mere black and white."
Podcast

Emile Durkheim

"...a vital tradition of the study of religion is the Durkheimian intellectual tradition. Generally dismissed by many in the study of religion because of its supposedly narrow "sociological" bent, the school of scholarship represented by Émile Durkheim, Henri Hubert, Marcel Mauss, Louis Dumont, Roger Caillois, Georges Bataille and others is, ...
Podcast

Belief, Belonging, and Academic Careers

Almost twenty years ago, Grace Davie observed that despite plenty of studies into the ‘exotic edges’ of religion, ‘the picture in the middle remains remarkably blurred’. Seeking to address this imbalance and engage with the ‘beliefs of ordinary British people in everyday life’, Abby Day's recent book, ...
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Heavy Metal as Religion and Secularization as Ideology

"Social science, more than any other branch of science, is prone to the undesired influence of philosophical and ideological perspectives. The question is, then, how should social scientists deal with ideologically-infused theories without glossing over the ideologies behind them? I don’t have a straightforward answer to this question, but I can refer to Gauthier’s nuanced approach to studying neo-liberalism, which he outlines in his interview."
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Historical Approaches to Studying Religion

Tim Hutchings: "My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change." As the RSP continues to grow, we're going to be returning more frequently to topics and themes which have already been touched upon in previous podcasts and features.
Podcast

Bruno Latour, Talking “Religiously”, part 1

Professor Bruno Latour is one of the most respected scholars in the social sciences today. In this first part, Latour and David Robertson discuss the broader relevance of his work for Religious Studies. They discuss actor-network theory, of which Latour was instrumental in developing. This includes some discussion of phenomenology and religious “essence”.
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Sociotheology and Cosmic War

Over the course of the last few decades religious violence has become an increasingly salient topic of public discourse and particularly in its global manifestations. In the social sciences these discourses focus primarily on explanations of violent acts that are driven by the socio-political contexts enveloping them.
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The Sacred

Religion and the Sacred, the Sacred and religion. Two words that seemingly go together like hand in glove but just how accurate is that? When we talk about religion it’s very hard not to talk about the Sacred but when we talk about the Sacred does this mean we have to talk about religion? What does the Sacred even mean? This introduction began with “Sacred” but it may well be more appropriate to write “sacred”.
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Digital Religion

The digital realm is a dark continent in which the standard practices of methodology and theory find themselves tested by a whole new landscape. To introduce us to the vast array of topics Tim Hutchings provides us with an introductory discussion into the world of digital religion. We discuss the ways in which religion is finding itself in the digital realm and how this new format of expression differs from its real world iterations.
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Why are Women more Religious than Men?

The relationship of religion to gender is a highly complex and disputed area. However, it is well-documented that (to take some UK-based examples), ‘men are proportionately under-represented’ in (mainstream ‘Christian’) ‘religious’ services, and ‘women outnumber men on all indices of religiosity and spirituality’. In fact, Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce, ...
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Editors’ Picks 3: Jay Demerath on Functionalist Religion and the Substantive Sacred

Week three of our Editors' Picks. Chris tells us why he (and his fiancée) liked Jay Demerath's interview on substantive and functionalist definitions of religion. Could the difficulties associated with the academic conceptualisation of “religion” be overcome by changing our focus instead to “the sacred”?
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Roundtable: Critics or Caretakers?

This discussion brings together a number of aspiring academics to reflect on some of the issues brought up in a recent podcast in a friendly and hilarious manner. The question cuts to the core of what academics who study religion are doing… are they taking care of religion? Are they antagonising it? What should they be doing? And judging by the various long tangents through which discussion meanders, the question certainly sparked our interest.
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Should Scholars of Religion be Critics or Caretakers?

The inspiration for this episode came from one of Russell McCutcheon's works which we had encountered through the undergraduate Religious Studies programme at the University of Edinburgh, entitled 'Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion'. The result is this compilation of differing opinions and interpretations ...
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Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide: The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

By using “vitality” in the title above, I mean to point to two aspects of the same urgent call. First, I simply mean that research methods are vital to the academic study of religion. As Stausberg and Engler suggest, “it is through methods that data and theory speak to each other and become part of a shared horizon” (2011: 11), and indeed it is still not a platitude to recall that theory, method and data can be considered three sides of that triangle we conjure, whether implicitly or explicitly,
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David Voas on Quantitative Research

Sociological research has followed two broad paradigms – qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative studies seek depth, typically based on interviews and observation with a relatively small pool of subjects. Quantitative studies, on the other hand, survey a larger pool – in some cases, such as the UK National Census, practically the entire population of a country – relying on mass methods such as questionnaires with a limited set of questions and responses.
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Titus Hjelm on Marxist Approaches to the Study of Religions

"The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is indeed the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, state, society. This state and this society produce religion, ...
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Studying “Cults”

Although "cult" and "sect" are used as technical terms in religious studies, in their popular usage, "cult" tends to refer to a New Religious Movement [NRM] or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered reprehensible. Since such pejorative attitudes are generally considered inappropriate for the academic study of religion, ...
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A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion, by Tim Hutchings

"My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change."
Podcast

Roundtable: Can We Trust the Social Sciences?

In another roundtable gathering, conversation ranges from the strengths and weaknesses of such data, whether there is more to the social sciences than quantitative methods, and the place of the social sciences within a multi-disciplinary Religious Studies field. Can we trust social sciences when we study religion? Is a social scientific approach the future of religious studies?
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The Secularisation Thesis

The secularisation thesis - the idea that traditional religions are in terminal decline in the industrialised world - was perhaps the central debate in the sociology of religion in the second half of the 20th century. Scholars such as Steve Bruce, Rodney Stark and Charles Taylor argued whether religion was becoming less important to individuals, or that only the authority of religions in the public sphere was declining.
Podcast

Substantive Religion and the Functionalist Sacred

Could the difficulties associated with the academic conceptualisation of "religion" be overcome by changing our focus instead to "the sacred"? Jay Demerath tells Chris why we should define religion substantively - that is, in terms of specific attributes like rituals, deities or dogmas - but the sacred in terms of the function it serves in the lives of individuals and cultures.
Podcast

The Changing Nature of Religion

In the 1960s, most sociologists consciously or unconsciously bought into idea of the 'death of god' - religion became effectively invisible to academia. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, a number of events - most notably the 'Satanic Verses' controversy - dramatically increased the 'visibility' of religion: it became a political problem. Now, in the 21st century, ...