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Focusing Concepts and Theories for the Study of Lived Religion (1/2)

Panel Chair: Terhi Utriainen | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

The study of lived religion has become a prolific strand of scholarship within sociology of religion and religious studies. Research on lived/everyday/vernacular religion denotes an emphasis on religion as part of everyday life. It often involves an inductive approach to religion: the abandoning of pre-existing definitions as a starting point of analysis in favor of individuals’ own interpretations of their activities. As such, the concept has helped shift the focus of inquiry away from normative forms of religion and towards new directions. While applications of the concept of lived religion have multiplied in recent years, it is often used in a relatively general sense, to describe the basic contours of the research. This panel, on the other hand, discusses more focused theoretical and methodological advances. It brings together scholars to present their suggestions for how the concept can be operationalized in analysis and for how to study lived religion.

Marja-Liisa Keinänen

Negotiating ‘Religion as Prescribed’ in a Lutheran Parish in Northern Värmland, Sweden

Dichotomies such as official/unofficial religion and religions as prescribed respectively religion as practiced/lived have been heavily criticized during the past decades. This presentation seeks to supersede this dichotomy by focusing on the lived dimensions of the normative religion. I will examine the regulative activities of two local priests in a rural parish in Värmland, Sweden during the years 1765–1820 and the reactions of the parishioners to these activities. One of the duties of these clergymen was to impose on the flock the norm system defined in the Church Statutes and various decrees. However, their implementation was not a straightforward process. At the local level, religion as prescribed was to some degree the result of negotiations between the clergy and the parishioners. It is these negotiations that are at the centre of this paper.

Helena Kupari

Lifelong Religion as Habitus

In this paper, I present an application of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s practice theory to the study of lived religion. More specifically speaking, I discuss the lived religion of lay individuals as habitus. Studying religion as habitus means viewing individual religiosity as a system of embodied dispositions amounting to a practical worldview and way of life. Through examples drawn from my research on the religion of elderly Finnish Orthodox Christian women, I argue that Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is particularly useful in studies of lifelong religion: religion into which one has been socialized as a child and that one has continued to practice, in some form, throughout life. The reason for this is that the concept aptly illustrates the long-term effects of practice on the self. It highlights the enduring effects of childhood socialization, while accounting for the evolving dynamics of religious practicing in the context of complex social changes.

Kim Knibbe

The theoretical consequences of the lived religion approach: reflections on the ontological turn

The body of work indicated by the term ‘lived religion’ often uses ethnographic methods. In this field, sociologists of religion, ‘religious studies scholars’ and anthropologists find a common ground. This paper aims to make a contribution to the body of work gathered under this umbrella by discussing a development that has been taking place especially in the anthropology of religion, namely the so-called ‘ontological turn’, namely to explore how different ways of being in fact create different worlds. This ontological turn seems similar to an earlier body of work in the anthropology of religion that developed a phenomenological approach to the study of religious experience. Both of these approaches are dedicated to understanding ‘lived religion’ and can contribute to the science-theoretical implications of a focus on lived religion. However, both also seem to create blind spots that detract from the holism that also informs both anthropological and lived religion approaches.

Amy Whitehead

Vernacular religion: a method of ‘things’

The ‘lived realities’ of religions can be examined and understood through their material expressions. Religious materiality not only ‘visibly’ mediates between a continuum of still productive dualisms that separate, for example, subject from object, immanence from transcendence, spirit from matter, or nature from culture; materiality also mediates between ‘official’ and ‘vernacular’ religion. As such it is also capable of inspiring co-creative methodological approaches which are dependent upon account of ‘encounters’ with religious objects such as statues, and are hereby argued as ‘relational’ as vernacular religion is best understood through the intimate relationships and negotiations that take place between humans and religious artefacts. A relational methodological approach to religious materiality based on ontological understandings (different to epistemological understandings) assists qualitative research and aids in expressing lines of possibilities for understanding the volatile, relational phenomena that take place in the religious ‘worlds’ of others.

Terhi Utriainen

Everyday realities and the ritual frame

Lived religion is often said to be such an integral part of everyday life that strict boundaries between sacred and secular or natural and super-natural would not hold as much as they may hold for more official religion (or theories on religion). I argue, however, that ways of making difference to the quotidian experience is important in lived religion. My paper argues that making (sometimes a very small) difference to the everyday reality may happen through artful and tactical ritualizing and enchantment. This would mean that ritualizing, and particularly ritual framing, should be understood as dynamic communicative art of changing perspective in often delicate but sometimes also effective ways. The paper will explore the possibilities of the notion of ritual frame through the ethnographic case of women doing things with angels in present-day secularized but culturally still relatively Lutheran Finland.


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