Religious agency, identity, and communication: Reflecting on history and theory of religion

If the individual religious actor is not a hallmark of modernity, and if premodern societies are the context for religious practices and beliefs that extend beyond the collective, then we need a new analytical model of religion if we are to analyse and describe religion and religious transformations prior to the second half of the 20th century. Between the poles of structure and agency, it is structure that has tended to win out in the scholarship. Approaches to chronologically distant societies usually opt for structural or cultural traits as units of description and as factors in the explanation of historical processes, while minimizing or even ridiculing agency (e.g. S. Fuchs 2001) and processes such as individualization. In discussing the shortcomings of such approaches for the period at issue, this chapter will develop a model of religion along the lines set out in the Introduction to this volume, a model that emphasizes religious agency, identity, and communication. It thus opts for a relational view of the concepts of agency and structure (Depelteau 2008) and provides a suitable basis for the ‘lived religion’ approach set out in Chapter 4. However, the consequences are not just methodological. At the end of this chapter, the theoretical idea of religion (see Stausberg 2009, 9) that lies behind the model is briefly made explicit, thus inviting readers to inquire further into corollaries and changes that may be necessary in order to make the model applicable for research into other historical epochs and geographical areas.

Michael Stausberg (2010, 223 4) has noted the reluctance of historians of religion to approach the issue of theories of religion due to the distance between this overarching task and their usual business of investigating the depths of historical contingency. The concerns raised in the context of these debates frequently fail to engage the interest of historians as their methodologies primarily pay heed to the character and limits of their evidence. The concept of religion employed by historians usually remains implicit (which is not to say innocuous). On the other hand, theoreticians tend not to be interested in mid-range theories based on such materials,1 despite a prominent strand of scholarship in Religious Studies claiming to be interested in exactly these sorts of mid-range concepts and theories.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >