Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Inner-Life Spirituality Publication Workshop - Eileen's Paper

Professors Paul Heelas (Lancaster University) and Dick Houtman (Erasmus University, Rotterdam) are editing a collection of work surrounding inner-life spirituality, and are this week holding an invitation-only publication workshop in the Lake District. As the Research Student representative at Lancaster, Paul asked me to organise a convoy of interested students who would like to attend the opening evening. So off we went to the beautiful setting of the Langdale Chase Hotel (a choice which Prof. Eileen Barker (LSE) later commented on as a 'spiritual' site for a conference, in contrast to something like a 'religious' Methodist Central Hall).

The workshop was also in honour of Ninian Smart, who established the first department of Religious Studies (at Lancaster University, of course!), and his widow Lubushka attended. Dr. Deborah F. Sawyer welcomed everyone, and handed over to Marion McClintock, who worked as Lancaster University's academic registrar (and honorary historian and archivist) from 1968 to 2006 and who reflected warmly on Ninian Smart.

The title of Eileen Barker's presentation "The God Within" was a little misleading, as we had been hoping she would shed more light on this common distinction between religion (the God without) and spirituality (the God within), but instead she gave an interesting overview of what she referred to as the 'diversification' of the religious and secular spheres. She had this diagram on a flipchart:

Apathetic secularism: where religion and/or spirituality is a matter of indifference. People just don't feel the need to think about it; they are disinterested in religion. In the discussion after the paper, a few other phrases were used: 'don't give a damn,' 'can't be arsed.' Soft secularism: where religions are turned to in times of personal or national crisis, and are used to mark rites of passage without evidence of sustained committment. Hard secularism: really a religion in itself, e.g. Richard Dawkins. Conservative fundamentalist religions and Traditional religions were not really touched upon as areas of Eileen's research interest, but there influence on other forms of religiosity and secularism are important. New Religious Movements: there are several definitions 'out there' in the sociology of religion, and Eileen didn't spend much time here either, because her focus is on Spiritualities.

Negative spiritualists: Those who are spiritual primarily because of an anti-religion (i.e. institutionalised religion) stance. Here there are a range of beliefs which Eileen characterised as primarily superstitious (in technical sense). She noted negative views not only towards members of established or traditional religions, but also of ethnic minorities and minority faiths.

Postive spiritualists: Those that are characteristically ecologically aware, liberal in their general outlook, and have a more systematic world view (according to whichever form of spirituality) rather than the particular superstitions of the negative spiritualists.

Further, a hand out charted the ideal-typical distinctions Eileen sees between Scriptural religiosity (religions [primarily of The Book]) and spirituality:

Religiosity (of The Book)
The Divine: Transcendent and Particular
Source: Without
Origins: Creation
Source of Knowledge: Scripture / Revelation
Authority: Dogma / Priest / Tradition
Theodicy: Evil / Sin / Satan
Life after death: Salvation / Resurrection / Damnation
Time: Temporal / Historical
Change: Lineal: past / present / future
Perspective: Analytical
Anthropology: Man in God’s image
Distinctions: Dichotomous: Them / Us
Sex/gender: Male / (female)
Relations: Controlling
Social Identity: Group (membership of tradition)
Control: External authority
Organisational unit: Institution / Family
Place of worship: Synagogue; church; mosque
Communication: Vertical hierarchy

The Divine: Immanent and cosmic
Source: Within
Origins: Creating
Source of Knowledge: Experience / mysticism
Authority: Personal experience
Theodicy: Lack of attunement, balance and / or awareness
Life after death: Reincarnation / Transmigration / Moksa
Time: Eternal / a-historical
Change: Cyclical: then / now / then
Perspective: Holistic / syncretistic
Anthropology: Humans as part of Nature
Distinctions: Complementarity: Us (them = them/us)
Sex/gender: Feminine-(masculine)
Relations: Relating (‘sharing’)
Social Identity: The inner ‘me’ / the ‘true self’
Control: Internal responsibility
Organisational unit: Individual (in relation)
Place of worship: Informal building; temple; shrine; open air
Communication: Horizontal networking

Eileen was clear that her ideal-types are dichotomies from which to begin, knowing that you will never find 'pure' examples of them, where a concrete example fits exactly with your model. She said that 'I don't believe what I've done... I'm denying that they exist in the pure form.'

I think that this is the problem with Paul and Linda's distinction between 'life-as' religion and 'subjective-life' spirituality. Rather than beginning with a dichotomy that is modified as you conduct fieldwork, I think that their fieldwork was made to fit a mould which doesn't exist in reality. I don't there are many (if any) concrete examples of purely 'life-as' religion - nor many concrete examples of purely 'subjective-life' spirituality... because as soon as you start talking to real people clean, neat dichotomies become blurred. I haven't blogged much about the Kendal Project and Paul and Linda's The Spiritual Revolution (here, a little), but I hope to publish my Masters thesis which uses non-heterosexual religiosity to queer their thesis, particularly their dichotomy of 'life-as' and 'subjective-life.'

I think that Eileen is right to reflect on the nature of ideal-types and their function within the sociology of religion.

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