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Challenging Traditional Sociology of Religions

Session Chair: Willem Hofstee | Thursday, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

Willem Hofstee

Fields and Figurations

Pierre Bourdieu and Norbert Elias launched key notions which might be relevant for the study of religion: ‘field’ (Bourdieu) and ‘figuration’ (Elias). Bourdieu’s field concept refers to a social universe with a language and logic of its own. It consists of networks in which games are played with bets and capital. Inequality of power and power struggles are an inherent aspect of every game that is being played. The concept of figuration (Elias) refers to the network of direct and indirect interdependencies which a plurality of individuals form with each other during their sustained interaction. Every actor has a certain autonomy of decision, but finds himself dependent on other actors due to control over resources. Are both concepts useful in understanding conflicts between and cohesion within religious groups? Are they useful in determining how ideas, acts and institutions sustain or inhibit religious ideas and motivations?

Frederik Elwert

From Content and Structure to Structure of Content: Text Network Analysis in the Study of Religions

Research in the study of religions moves between the poles of social structure (e.g., religious institutions, social settings) and religious content (e.g., scriptures, teachings). The sociology of religion often has to defend against the claim that she favours the study of social structures over the analysis of religious content or, as Weber put it, interests over ideas. Philological approaches in contrast have been accused of overemphasising scriptures at the expense of social context and lived religion. Recent approaches in text-based network analysis promise to bridge this divide, at least partially. They allow to visualise and study structures internal and external to texts, in conjunction with their content. On the methodological level, they can be discussed with regard to their implications and limitations. The paper will present findings from the completed project SeNeReKo as well as an outlook for future directions in this field of study.

Nikolas Broy

Bourdieu, Weber, and Religious Diversity: The Religious Field of China

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's interpretation of Weber's sociology of religion is a well-known and much lauded attempt to analyze religious change both in the "religious field" of a given society and within a religious tradition itself. Although scholars have presented various refinements of his theories, we are still missing proper attempts to apply Bourdieu's approach to religious landscapes that differ from the European and Western experiences. Therefore, this paper will employ the example of the religiously diverse setting of late imperial and modern China in order to discuss three crucial concerns: 1) the religious field of a religiously pluralistic society without just one monopolistic religion; 2) the role of the state and nonreligious agents within the arena of religious contestation; 3) the application of Bourdieu's approach to a modern society whose religious field has been fundamentally altered in the course of modernization and politically asserted secularization.

Naomi Goldenberg

Theorizing Religions as Vestigial States in the Context of Contemporary Governance and Jurisdiction over Violence

I will argue that it is useful and productive to understand religions as vestigial states in order to clarify how religions are functioning in current technologies of statecraft. Both words in the composite term 'vestigial state' will be discussed. 'State' will be defined with reference to its usage in international law although the specific linkage of the state and violence by Max Weber will also be cited. 'Vestigial' will be presented as an evocative metaphor that hearkens back to history both actual or imagined. Conceptions of past sovereignty will be hypothesized as grounding ambitions for the possibility of future powers. Examples of the succession of sovereignties and the gradual evolution of the term 'religion' to apply to such histories will be employed. 'Religion' will be shown to be used as category in which governments place displaced or marginalized groups and grant them limited autonomy. In general, physical force is forbidden to vestigial states that tend to lose the classification as religions if they authorize violence in almost any form. Exceptions to this policy as it applies to disciplining women and children will be highlighted.


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