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.

BiographyRobert Wuthnow is Gerhard R. Andlinger `52 Professor of Sociology and Director of Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Religion. He has published widely in the sociology of religion, culture, and civil society. His publications include The Restructuring of American Religion:  Society and Faith Since World War II; After Heaven:  Spirituality in America since the 1950s; Loose Connections:  Joining Together in America’s Fragmented Communities; and Communities of Discourse:  Ideology and Social Structure in the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and European Socialism. His recent books include Small-Town America:  Finding Community, Shaping the Future and Inventing American Religion:  Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith.  He is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; a recipient of the Warren J. Mitofsky Award for Excellence in Public Opinion Research, the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Martin E. Marty Award for Public Understanding of Religion. His current research focuses on religion and politics, religion and race, social change, rural America, and sociological theory.