Research into the religious beliefs and behaviors of children, young people, adults, and elderly people prompts questions about the way “generation” is understood in the social scientific study of religion. What seem to the researcher at first to be shared values and beliefs on broad moral issues appear, at least to older people, to be lacking amongst the young. Such a difference in perception could be an example of a “generation” gap where generation is perceived by theorists such as Mannheim to be a shared identity of people who have a social history in common. Extensive literature in both anthropology and sociology is explored to find how such concepts are understood and operationalized. Detailed ethnography amongst elderly Anglican women begins to problematize how such notions as boundaries of “generation” blur with gender.
Around Manuel A. Vásquez’s “More Than Belief: A Materialist Theory of Religion”
Manuel A. Vásquez, Abby Day, Lionel Obadia, David Chidester, and Chad E. Seales
Manuel Vásquez begins his book by describing university courses that frustrate his students by being text-based and divorced from real life. He rightly concludes that analyzing sacred texts does not alone explain lived religion and complex issues such as globalization, transnationalism, and hybrid identities. He is writing from a Religious Studies perspective that, as he says, sometimes suffers from an overly theological bias. Moves within the discipline to abandon ‘religion’ for something as equally diverse and difficult to pin down as ‘faith’ do not, he argues, take us any further, particularly because religion really matters to many people and therefore cannot be dismissed just because we scholars find it problematic. To adopt an approach that explores how religion is understood and lived by the people who practice it is, I agree, the most important task for people studying religion. If this serves as a wake-up call for people who still study religion as something, in Vásquez’s words, of angels rather than of people, then the book has done a great job.