- Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life
In her newest book, Meredith McGuire challenges post-Enlightenment, Western-oriented ways of studying religion which focus on theology and beliefs to the neglect of the actual lived religious experiences of men, women, and children. She historicizes the field of sociology of religion and asserts that most sociological studies of religion overlook how people actually live out their faith. These studies, she writes, also assume a cognitive consistency to people’s beliefs when there may be none at all. McGuire argues that sociologists who study religion must discontinue privileging beliefs over practices and need to focus instead on how people live and embody their beliefs. To do so, sociologists must move beyond quantitative surveys, which she argues fail to grasp the complexity of people’s lived religious experiences. McGuire’s book is important as well as timely. She draws on and surveys a growing body of scholarship that takes seriously people’s lived religious beliefs and practices and offers a better way to study people’s religious worlds. Lived Religion is very well researched and written; provocatively framed as well, it promises to become a pivotal book in various fields, including sociology, anthropology and religious studies.
McGuire shows that she is anything but a novice to approaching religion as it is lived; rather, she offers a thoughtful critique of the sociology of religion that is based on years of hard work, study, and reflection. One of the many strengths of her book is that in it she offers a genealogy of her career as a sociologist of religion, one in which she has thought long and hard about her field and craft. Lived Religion is a deeply informed and meditative revisionist work that seeks to resurrect the sociology of religion and make it more applicable to the everyday realities of people. While McGuire acknowledges that any lens through which we study religion offers a partial truth, an improved sociology of religion can come closer to the truths and meanings that people make in their lives and will by necessity venture further from the constructed boundaries scholars place on others’ religious worlds. “If we fail to recognize the contested nature of definitional boundaries,” she writes, “we risk adopting an overly institutional—and historically inaccurate—view of religion. That is, we risk entertaining that religion is a thing, an entity that exists in the real world with its distinguishing features objectively ‘given’ and not subject to historical or cultural change” (43).
While her primary audience is sociologists, McGuire is also addressing scholars in other fields who study religion: we need to pay very close attention not only to what people do and say at church, temple or synagogue, but also to what they [End Page 127] do and say in their homes, in their gardens, and with their bodies. In chapters two through seven, she examines U.S. Latino/a religious expressions, Southern white evangelicals, embodiment and religion, and gendered spiritualities, and how women and men create alternate spaces for religious and spiritual meanings, rituals, and expressions. The theoretical erudition of her introductory and concluding chapters is complemented by equally sophisticated ethnography and deep reflections on the merits of qualitative sociology in these middle chapters. She doesn’t just tell her reader that turning our gaze towards lived religions is important, she shows us why it is imperative. If we are to understand the moods and motivations of our interlocutors, which includes their beliefs and religious affiliations, we must also look to other spaces where people create religious and spiritual meanings. Churches, synagogues, and temples may be among those places but so are home shrines, organic gardens, yoga sessions, and a Precious Moments chapel. It is at these non-institutional religious and spiritual places that we can see more popular as well as “official” religious expressions and beliefs coming together in powerful ways. And sociologists, McGuire urges, need to go to these places and to study them as intently as they would behaviors, beliefs, and...