Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular

Please see below for details of a CfP for the book I hope to edit with Abby Day as part of the AHRC/ ESRC Religion and Society Ashgate Book series. Please circulate as you see fit :)

Chris

Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular

Edited by Abby Day and Christopher R. Cotter

 Call for Papers

Many people may not identify strongly or consistently as religious, yet religion still matters for them at certain times and in certain contexts. Rather than dismiss those self-identifications as meaningless, incoherent or insignificant, we may find through in-depth research that they are meaningful, coherent and differently significant (Day 2011).

What is sometimes construed as empty space is filled with something – but what? One typology advanced by Day (2006; 2009; 2011) suggested Christian ‘nominalism’ is an important way to mark social identities she described as Christian ethnic nominalism; natal nominalism and aspirational nominalism.  While her theory about Christian ethnic nominalism has been analysed cross-culturally and operationalized (see, for example, Storm 2009; Voas 2009) it is still limited by its Christian scope. Are there Muslim or Buddhist ‘nominalists’, for example? How can we best describe and understand such people who are neither, or are, perhaps, more fluidly, religious or secular? (Woodhead 2012)

Such explorations require innovative methods that do not force religious answers with religious questions and suggest new interpretations of what it may mean to be ‘non-religious’ (Cotter 2011). This under-explored domain between the secular and the sacred is a contested space that requires further investigation through innovative methods and fresh analytical thinking.

We are therefore delighted that we have been encouraged by the editors and publisher of the new Ashgate AHRC/ESRC Religion & Society series, edited by Prof. Linda Woodhead and Dr Rebecca Catto, to submit a full proposal for an edited collection:  Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular.

Our first priority has been to confirm the participation of key Religion & Society programme scholars.  We are now extending our Call to the wider academic community. Publication dates will be negotiated but we will aim for chapter submission date by April 2012, assuming 12-14 chapters of 5,000 words each.

 Below you will find a summary of the publication. If you would like to contribute, please let us know as soon as possible and provide a title and 100-word abstract by October 31 2011.

 Email: a.day@sussex.ac.uk and chris.r.cotter@gmail.com

 Summary

This collection of interdisciplinary chapters will present current empirical scholarship from local, national and international contexts. Work will negotiate and advance knowledge and understanding of the important conceptual and lived spaces between the contested poles of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’.

Researchers finding themselves in this space often did not expect to be here.   Many may have intended to study ‘traditionally’ religious or non-religious individuals, communities, and institutions, but found something else, something that was neither religious nor secular. It is that important work we aim to capture.

Book structure

The collection will be divided into three sections. We are summarising these below with questions intended to stimulate rather than prescribe.

1. The methodological space:

What issues were encountered and innovations made when researching these contested spaces? How are scholars to conceptualise these spaces? What do they do to existing concepts of ‘religion’ and the ‘secular? How can existing methodological approaches be adapted to studying these spaces? Do these spaces open up and demand new approaches? New vocabulary? How have those challenges been met?

2. The public space:

An exploration of these spaces can include, but are not limited to, the spatial, such as the university campus, the community centre, schools, prisons, urban streets, festivals, hospitals, or the football pitch. We are also concerned with the political space, dealing with issues such as legal definitions of what ‘counts’ as a religion, or foreign policy decisions and anti-terror laws. How is the in-between secular/sacred space described, mediated and discursively in media-related spaces? What are the ‘effects’ of our modern, globalised age upon the space between sacred and secular? What institutional manifestations of this in-between space defy easy emic or etic categorisation?  How do people use different spaces in different contexts, perhaps even vicariously? (Davie 2007)

3. The social,  identity-dominated space

How do individuals negotiate their identity when it falls into this in-between space? What are their personal pragmatic strategies? How is this space felt, embodied, sensed, articulated? What do terms and ideas like religious/secular belief, practice, or attitudes mean to people? What is the sacred/secular space that arises through inter-subjective and inter-corporeal real lives?

The Editors

Dr Abby Day is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent and a Principal Investigator at the University of Sussex.  Her qualitative longitudinal research has expanded conventional views of belief and belonging through empirical research based initially in the UK and extended through cross-cultural comparisons. Her latest book, Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World (Oxford University Press) is published in October 2011 by Oxford University press. She also edited the Ashgate collection, Religion and the Individual, 2008.

Christopher R. Cotter is a post-graduate student at the University of Edinburgh. His publications and research have centred on contemporary atheism and his recent MSc project concerned university students whose personal (non)religiosity challenged the reification of the religion-secular distinction. His future research work will continue the theme of ‘non-religion’. He is co-founder and podcast co-host at The Religious Studies Project, and a web editor at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network.

 References:

  •  Cotter, Christopher R. 2011. Toward a Typology of “Nonreligion”: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students. Unpublished MSc by Research Dissertation, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, August.
  •  Davie, Grace, 2007. “Vicarious religion: A methodological challenge”. In Nancy T. Ammerman, Ed. Everyday religion: observing modern religious lives. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press: 21-36.
  •  Day, Abby, 2011.  Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • –          2009. Researching belief without asking religious questions. Fieldwork in Religion, 4, no. 1: 89–106.
  • –           2006. Believing in belonging: a case study from Yorkshire. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK.
  •  Storm, I. 2009. “Halfway to heaven: Four types of fuzzy fidelity in Europe.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 48: 702–718.
  • Voas, D. 2009. “The rise and fall of fuzzy fidelity in Europe”. European Sociological Review 25, no. 2: 155–68.
  • Woodhead, Linda 2012. “Introduction” In Linda Woodhead and Rebecca Catto, Eds, Religion and change in modern Britain. London: Routledge: 1-33.
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About Chris

Scholar of religion/nonreligion... PhD Student (Lancaster University), blogger, singer, actor, thinker... Northern Irish living in Scotland. Co-founder of The Religious Studies Project. Director at the NSRN. Baritone masquerading as a tenor. Vegetarian for no particular reason.

2 responses to “Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular”

  1. Gemma says :

    It isn’t something I could really contribute to just now, but I would be particularly interested to see a look at prisons in this context.

    In terms of religion being something that one may turn to in certain situations, the prison is certainly an excellent example, but I would be intrigued as to whether there is any info about how often any religious beliefs relied upon/espoused in prison are continued in the same vein upon release. Also, related to that, the large number of prisoners turning to Islam in prison would be a really interesting topic of study – why would one choose Islam, rather than the more predictable path of Christianity? And does this impact their religious affiliations on the outside? How many seek chaplaincy for comfort without making any commitment, and does this differ to general religious belief?

    Spatially, the chapel provides a whole heap of theoretical and practical issues. Firstly as a mixed use arena – chapels are often used for family/training/counselling events rather than solely as religious spaces. Secondly as a mixed religious arena – there are few other places where various religions use the same space at around the same times for worship. Of course, theologically, the idea of being locked in whilst ‘enjoying’ the ‘freedom’ as it were of worship is interesting in itself. Finally, the chapel of prisons also transcend the private/public (false) dichotomy, so is this significant?

    Anyhoo, if I could help at the mo I really would but I hope you find someone who can look at this. :)

    Gemma.

  2. Chris says :

    Hi Gemma,

    Very interesting indeed, and exactly the sort of innovative essay we are looking for. I don’t know that we have received anything about this yet, but fingers crossed. Perhaps we can attempt to solicit…

    However, this might be covering ground that has already been staked out… have you read this? http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=huTj1ClCG_8C&pg=PP1&lpg=PP1&dq=beckford+and+gilliat&source=bl&ots=pPENXoIAt6&sig=xR5z4xvkAI5wuKQAburMsWXroeI&hl=en&ei=IpmSTtLxItDF8QO9kJQd&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=beckford%20and%20gilliat&f=false

    I haven’t read it yet but I really want to, given the hint’s in Beckford’s other work…

    Chris

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