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.
Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World
Christopher R. Cotter, Grace Davie, James A. Beckford, Saliha Chattoo, Mia Lövheim, Manuel A. Vásquez and Abby Day
I first had the pleasure of meeting the force of nature that is Abby Day back in 2010 at the Non-religion and Secularity Research Network’s “Qualitative Methods Workshop” at the University of Cambridge (Cotter 2011). Back then I was working toward my Master’s degree in Religious Studies and had little idea that in the coming years we would end up co-editing a book with Giselle Vincett (Day et al. 2013) or that I would find myself reviewing Believing in Belonging (see Cotter 2013) and collaborating on projects such as the one appearing in this journal. Given that the essays that follow this editorial introduction—from Grace Davie, James A. Beckford, Saliha Chattoo, Mia Lövheim, Manuel A. Vásquez, and Abby Day herself—engage extensively and thought-provokingly with Abby’s work, I am going to restrict my comments to two brief points. The first concerns the connections that I can see between Believing in Belonging and the growing body of research into ‘non-religion’. The second includes some reflections on the place of Abby’s work in the critical academic study of ‘religion’ more broadly.