The Practice Turn in Studies of Religion

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Professor Robert Wuthnow, Gerhard R. Andlinger `52 Professor of Sociology and Director of Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University

Religion is commonly understood as something that people practice, whether in the presence of others or alone and through worshipful acts, contemplative moments, and small gestures of devotion. But what does practice mean?  Over the past quarter century, practice approaches have been richly generative in the study of religion, focusing attention on the acts and utterances through which individuals and groups express themselves religiously in ordinary life. In emphasizing practice, scholars have shifted decisively away from essentialist arguments that grandly purport to explain what religion is and why it exists. Practice approaches instead attend to the habits, routines, improvisations, and adaptations that bring religion down to earth and into the messiness of everyday social interaction. This talk will suggest some of ways in which this “practice turn” is posing new questions and opening new lines of inquiry.