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Religion, spirituality and the social sciences

Religion, spirituality and the social sciences: Challenging marginalisation

Basia Spalek
Alia Imtoual
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    Religion, spirituality and the social sciences
    Book Description:

    A growing number of people are claiming or reclaiming a religious or spiritual identity for themselves. Yet, in contemporary Western societies, the frameworks of understanding that have developed within the social science disciplines, and which are used to analyse data, are secular in nature, and so may be inappropriate for investigating some aspects of religion, spirituality and faith and how these intersect with individuals' lives. This edited collection addresses important theoretical and methodological issues to explore ways of engaging with religion and spirituality when carrying out social science research. Divided into three sections, the book examines the notion of secularism in relation to contemporary western society, including a focus upon secularisation; explores how the values underpinning social scientific enquiry might serve to marginalise religion and spirituality; and reflects on social science research methodologies when researching religion and spirituality. With international contributions from key academics in the fields of religious studies, cultural studies, political science, criminology, sociology, health and social policy, this engaging book will provide social science students, educators, researchers and practitioners with an essential overview of key debates around secularism, faith, spirituality and social science research.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-363-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. List of tables
    (pp. v-v)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. vi-viii)
    James A. Beckford

    For much of the 20th century journalists and programme makers in the mainstream media of advanced industrial societies showed relatively little interest in stories about religion. ‘The religion beat’ and the ‘god slot’ tended to be among the least prestigious areas of the media in which to work — with some honourable exceptions such as theNew York Times and Le Monde. The place of religion in the graphic and performing arts was also a faint echo of the prominence that it had enjoyed in previous centuries. But this changed in the 1990s when the public profile of religion began to...

  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  6. List of contributors
    (pp. x-x)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Alia Imtoual and Basia Spalek

    Religion, spirituality and the social sciencesis an international, edited collection of work, consisting of contributions from key academics in the fields of religious studies, cultural studies, political science, criminology, sociology, health and social policy. It is part of a growing body of social science research that is increasingly including, and engaging with, issues of religion and spirituality. As such, this book is very much a product of contemporary theorising and debate around religion and spirituality, which, despite the effects of the Enlightenment and modernisation, are generating considerable and ever-expanding discussion, controversy, policy making and research.

    For contributors such as...

  8. Part 1: Key debates on secularism and society

    • ONE Political religion: secularity and the study of religion in global civil society
      (pp. 9-22)
      John D’Arcy May

      The former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, himself a committed Christian, remarked in the late 1970s: “You can’t run a country by the Sermon on the Mount.” Yet, referring to the fraught situation in the Middle East, with its continual demonisation of the enemy and endless tit-for-tat killings, my German colleague Heinz-Günther Stobbe observed around the same time: “The Sermon on the Mount is the most realistic text in the New Testament.” The two comments neatly sum up the dilemma of religions in the public arena: the case could be made that their idealism, their promise of transforming society by transcending...

    • TWO Australia’s ‘shy’ de-secularisation process
      (pp. 23-36)
      Adam Possamai

      In many parts of the world religion has re-entered the public sphere to such an extent that it has undermined the ‘hard line’ secularisation thesis – that is, the assumption that religion would disappear in Western, modernised societies. Since this ‘hard line’ view should not be happening, views on secularisation have had to be revised. Some academics (for example, Bruce 2002, 2006; Norris and Inglehart, 2004) explain that secularisation is still happening but in a much less extreme process than first predicted, while others (for example, Richardson, 1985; Hadden, 1987; Brown, 1992; Warner, 1993; Kepel, 1994) propose that there is a...

    • THREE Muslims, equality and secularism
      (pp. 37-50)
      Tariq Modood

      Most European countries do not collect data on non-White citizens and residents, only on foreigners, but it seems that more than 5% and possibly up to 10% of citizens of EU15 are of non-European descent. Currently most of the largest, in particular the capital, cities of North West Europe, are about 15%–30% non-White (that is, people of non-European descent). Even without further largescale immigration, being a young, fertile population, these proportions will grow for at least one generation more before they stabilise, reaching or exceeding 50% in some cities in the next few decades. The trend will include some...

    • FOUR Section 116: the politics of secularism in Australian legal and political discourse
      (pp. 51-62)
      Holly Randell-Moon

      The theory referred to in sociology as the ‘secularization thesis’ (Nash, 2004, p 302) hypothesises that religion has gradually waned in cultural and social importance because Western modernity has secured a non-religious and secular foundation for liberal democracy. Secularism, however, does not necessarily imply secularisation as some religions, such as Christianity, can exercise a cultural power in ‘Western’ nations even as liberal secularism requires a separation of church and state. However, the idea of secularisation contributes to a framing of secularism as universal in its operation and diminishes the particularity of how secularisms and religions operate in specific cultural contexts....

    • FIVE Dreams of the autonomous and reflexive self: the religious significance of contemporary lifestyle media
      (pp. 63-76)
      Gordon Lynch

      Lifestyle media, with its early origins in popular manuals of etiquette and household management, seeks to explore options and to offer advice in such areas of everyday life as personal relationships, finance, health, fashion and choices over career and real estate. There are a number of interesting ways in which contemporary lifestyle media intersect with religious tradition. Best-selling religious writers such as T.D. Jakes and Rick Warren have produced lifestyle literature from a particular Christian perspective (for example, Jakes, 2002; Warren, 2003), and lifestyle media often carries implicit or explicit reference to alternative spiritualities, ranging from explicit discussions of meditation,...

  9. Part 2: Marginalisation of religious and spiritual issues

    • SIX Studying religion in Sub-Saharan Africa
      (pp. 79-92)
      Maria Frahm-Arp

      In Sub-Saharan Africa the high rate of HIV/AIDS infection, unemployment, economic instability and dynamic religious changes from the rise of African independent churches to the current popularity of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity and Catholicism¹ are startling, concerning and intriguing. In order to understand these, little consideration is normally given to the religious world-view of the people in this area and the place of religion within the sociopolitical shifts that have taken place. In this chapter I would like to explore the idea of taking religion seriously as a social variable,² as something to help us understand why and how people...

    • SEVEN Demographic fertility research: a question of disciplinary beliefs and methods
      (pp. 93-106)
      Lareen Newman

      This chapter explores the changing place of religion as a variable of interest within demographic research on fertility and family size in Australia. Fertility rates are of social, political and academic interest because of the implications for future social and economic trends. Currently each woman in Australia is having, on average, fewer than two children, and each nominal couple is not replacing itself. At this rate, and without considerably higher immigration, the Australian population is likely to decrease in size over the next 50 years, leading to an undesirably high ratio of non-working to working population (McDonald and Kippen, 1999;...

    • EIGHT Turning the world upside down
      (pp. 107-118)
      Caroline Humphrey

      The metaphor of ‘turning the world upside down’ is deployed in this chapter to examine differences between world-views and their implications for research in the social sciences and practice in the caring professions. The first section sketches out the contours of four world-views – that is, secular, scientific, spiritual and religious – with reference to their philosophical premises. It will be shown that the scientific world-view often inverts the secular world-view insofar as scientists uncover deeper truths and realities of human beings and planet earth, while spiritual and religious world-views involve an inversion of both secular and scientific world-views insofar as they...

    • NINE Spirituality and gender viewed through a global lens
      (pp. 119-136)
      Ursula King

      The contemporary cross-disciplinary interest in spirituality is a phenomenon of global proportions that belies the process of secularisation so normatively believed and proclaimed in the West. Western women’s and gender studies have largely operated within a dominant secular framework whose blindness to religion is now increasingly recognised and critiqued. Not only has religion been a contributing factor in the rise of the women’s movement, but also a wide range of religious ideas has impacted on feminism/gender thinking and practice, so that a large body of literature on women’s spirituality, feminist spirituality, and spirituality and gender has emerged. While comparatively few...

    • TEN Reading spiritually: transforming knowledge in a new age
      (pp. 137-146)
      Natassja Smiljanic

      Imagine a scene some time in the not too distant future, the world is in a new era of spiritual consciousness. A legal theorist sits and surveys legal thinking as it has flowed through the latter part of the 20th century through the early 21st. What critiques of law do they find? Feminist, critical legal studies, Marxist critiques, critical race theory, psychoanalytical theory…. What do they do with this information? Notice the labels, the boxes, the schools. My question would be, as they sift and review this work, how do they feel about the work of legal theorists? What were...

  10. Part 3: Reflections on social science research methodologies

    • ELEVEN Self-assigned religious affiliation: a study among adolescents in England and Wales
      (pp. 149-162)
      Leslie J. Francis

      Religious affiliation is both the most readily available and least understood indicator of religiosity within the social scientific literature. It is readily available because religious affiliation is regarded as an aspect of personal and social identity (like sex, age and ethnicity), properly included within public enquiries like the national Census. In this sense, ‘religious affiliation’ is regarded as belonging to the public and social domain, in marked contrast to ‘religious beliefs’ and ‘religious practices’ which are generally regarded as belonging to the private and personal domain, properly protected from public scrutiny. It is poorly understood because both conceptually and empirically...

    • TWELVE Concepts and misconceptions in the scientific study of spirituality
      (pp. 163-176)
      Miguel Farias and Elisabeth Hense

      In one of her last public interventions at a British Academy symposium on neo-evolutionary views of religion, anthropologist Mary Douglas argued that modern Man was not mentally more complex than 2,000 years ago; he was simply more confused. This thought is well illustrated by the recent history of the term ‘spirituality’, which is now widely used in an astonishing variety of ways and almost invariably with a positive connotation, although very few people seem to know what they are referring to. Central to the matter is a construction of spirituality as a universal feature of human experience addressing a feeling...

    • THIRTEEN Religion, spirituality and social science: researching Muslims and crime
      (pp. 177-190)
      Muzammil Quraishi

      Criminological studies have not traditionally focused on faith groups per se. This is, in part, the outcome of the way in which official criminal statistics are classified, but it is also reflective of the traditional dominance of the race relations and subsequent ethnicity paradigm in social sciences more generally. The rapid recorded rise in the Muslim male prison population of England and Wales, coupled with global incidents such as 9/11, has resulted in the emergence of a faith paradigm within criminology (Beckford et al, 2005).

      Such a paradigmatic shift has prompted increasing academic enquiry about Muslim people and communities within...

    • FOURTEEN Inadvertent offence: when ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’
      (pp. 191-202)
      Maree Gruppetta

      This chapter discusses the myriad ways the researcher/practitioner can inadvertently offend those with specific faith identities, which is based on experiences as both a researcher and practitioner working within the social sciences. When embarking on research involving faith communities there are few ethical guidelines one can access and only through sharing the experiences of others can such dilemmas be avoided and addressed. Many researchers and practitioners believe the issues arising from conflict within religious and spiritual beliefs are relatively easy to solve (Bouma, 2006). However, these assumptions can be misleading. Issues that are most likely to cause offence can be...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 203-208)
    Basia Spalek and Alia Imtoual

    Throughout this collection it has been argued that the social sciences are disciplines that have arisen out of an engagement with modernity. A number of contributions have argued that because of this, the values associated with Enlightenment philosophies in terms of secularism, rationalism and objectivity are hegemonic discourses. These hegemonic discourses have shaped not only social science theory but also many of the dominant social science research methodologies. Of particular interest to this volume has been the centrality of secularism within social science theory and research approaches. Many of the individual chapters have explicitly argued that secularism remains a powerful...

  12. Index
    (pp. 209-214)