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Author: Vikash Singh

This is a primarily theoretical meditation on the key findings and arguments put forth in the chapters in this volume. Approaching these representations as the current “state of religion,” it situates them in light of the prognoses from classical thinkers, including Freud, Durkheim, and Weber. Building a conversation among the chapters, it seeks to outline the consequences of these exercises for broader debates in the sociology of religion. The chapter reflects on the divergent, often contradictory meanings (existential, systemic) and meaning-making that the “religious” enables in the range of empirical settings discussed in this volume. It highlights the many forms and disguises “religion” takes depending on the vicissitudes of history and power. While attending to the often-profound subjective significances of religion, this concluding chapter highlights how religious identifications are often complicit with and products of ideological and material domination.

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This chapter discusses the benefits of enactive ethnography for the interpretive sociology of religion. Enaction refers to knowing by doing: generating or ‘bringing forth’ knowledge of the world in and through acting within it. Applied to ethnography, an enactive approach entails that the interpreter of religion engages in many of the same embodied practices and associated experiences as those being interpreted. Using examples from the author’s research on Muslim and Eastern Orthodox converts in the United States, the chapter demonstrates how an enactive approach grants analysts of religion access to data regarding how religious practices (re)shape bodily habits and modes of sensory perception below the levels of explicit symbolization and discourse, significantly influencing both the form and content of the religious experiences and interpretations that follow.

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Many extant taxonomies of Buddhists outside of Asia have stumbled over issues of race, ethnicity, class, and nationality, because they have used those identity markers to clunkily try to index what they are really attempting to represent, that is, a particular Buddhist's enculturation into a particular kind of Buddhism. This chapter explores Buddhist taxonomies of the past and present as well as their disparate strengths and shortcomings. In an effort to more accurately address differences in Buddhist enculturation and practice, the author posits a more flexible way forward through the use of a “heritage spectrum” for Buddhist persons and institutions. The chapter asserts the need for scholars to be more careful and inclusive with their terminologies in Buddhist studies, and in religious studies more generally.

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Author: Janet Jacobs

This chapter investigates the relationship between inherited trauma and religious beliefs and practices among children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. It is a study of genocide, religion and traumatic inheritance, as religious culture becomes a vehicle for both the memorialization of the past and the means by which a religious/spiritual future is reimagined. The chapter makes use of an interpretive framework that, in its departure from the prevailing psychological approach to traumatic transference, focuses on the social structures of family and culture – religious beliefs systems and ritual practices – through which a history of genocidal trauma is passed on from one generation to the next. It offers an exploration into the adaptive and creative religious responses that children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors employ as they negotiate the responsibility of culture-bearing for future generations among an historically threatened religio-ethnic population.

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Author: Evan Stewart

A major challenge for researchers studying religious disaffiliation and nonaffiliation is that these concepts mean different things to different people. Some people actively leave religious groups, some drift away, and others never join in the first place. This chapter argues that such variation creates an interpretive challenge for researchers. While they typically address this challenge by creating new categories for nonreligious identities, disagreement about those categories can create measurement error in survey research on nonreligion. An alternative approach is to focus on interpreting different nonreligious experiences using multiple measures of religiosity and focusing on differences in magnitude, rather than differences in kind. Results from two national surveys show how this interpretive approach can better capture the range of nonreligious experiences and improve survey research on the growing number of Americans with no religious affiliation.

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Making Sense of Religious Lives

This edited collection harnesses a diversity of interpretivist perspectives to provide a panoramic view of the production, experiences, contexts, and meanings of religion.

Scholars from the US, South Asia and Europe explore religious phenomena using ethnographic, comparative historical, psychosocial, and critical theoretical approaches. Each chapter addresses foundational themes in the study of religion – from identity, discourse and power to ritual, emotion, and embodiment. Authors examine dynamic intersections of race, gender, history, and the present within the religious traditions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, as well as among the non-religious.

Cutting boldly across religious traditions and paradigms, the book investigates areas of harmony and contradiction across different interpretive lenses to achieve a richer understanding of the meanings of religion.

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This chapter provides an accessible introduction to interpretive approaches in the study of religion and identifies core themes and ideas that cut across the volume’s diverse chapters. In tracing areas of similarity and divergence across the different interpretive lenses that contributors bring to their empirical cases, this chapter will help readers see the relative merits of each approach and equip scholars interested in the interpretive study of religion with a useful orientation to the field.

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Author: Jodi O’Brien

This chapter uses an interpretive framework to explore the expanding repertoire of narratives through which LGBTQ Christians make sense of themselves and their lives within a dominant narrative of exclusion. An interpretivist lens highlights the significance of situated cultural contexts, reference groups, and cognitive migrations in understanding collective social change as well as individual sense-making. An interpretive framework also reveals the complexities of supposedly dominant or hegemonic institutions, such as religion, as sources of both inclusion and exclusion; of meaningful self-understanding and simultaneous oppression.

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This chapter is an inquiry into the many roles that silence can play in the ethnographic encounter. With a topical focus on religious environmentalism in the United States, the chapter uses the interpretive lens of silence to shed further light on both the potential and the limits of working with and across religious difference when engaging in environmental activist work. Through an examination of four cases, silences are probed for the range of meanings that they may reveal: the silencing of what Robert Orsi calls the “real presence” of religion in a secular context, the silencing of more traditional, orthodox Christians and Jews by their more liberal peers (or vice versa), the self-silencing of those wrestling with the tension between religious identity and lived religious experience, and the silences that indicate both discomfort and shared understanding across religious difference. Investigating silence adds additional nuance to the field of religion and ecology

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Author: Titus Hjelm

An increasing number of scholars are resetting their analytical lenses for the study of religion. Instead of starting with a definition of religion to be operationalized, these scholars take the defining process as the object of inquiry instead. How is religion defined in, say, politics or the media? Why is it defined so? What are the consequences of such definitions? How is power exercised in the definition of religion? This chapter discusses the theory and practice of a critical discursive sociology of religion, which seeks to provide tools for answering such questions. It uses the example of the concept of “folk church” as an ideological construction that suppresses alternative understandings of church and state relations in Finland.

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