Brock University

Sociology of Religion I: Boundaries and Liminality

In the past couple of years there has occurred a re-emerging interest in the sociology of religion. This session aims to explore the various ways in which religion is being researched, discussed, analyzed and interpreted in our current economic, political, and cultural climate. The main aim is to re-introduce the importance of religion back into sociological inquiry.

Session Organizer: Agata Piekosz, University of Toronto,


Medieval Christianity in Current Social Theory: A Reflex to Mechanism and A Holistic Alternative

Barbara Hanson, Sociology, York University,

This paper looks at how medieval Christian politics and modes of thought have led to a reflex toward mechanism in social theory.  Social theoretical activity of the past 75 years has criticized conceptions of modernity, science, objectivity, and reason as artifacts of European or Western thought in the 1500s to 1900s.   However, these critiques have failed to address how these ideas grew out of dominant monotheistic religion in the Medieval or Middle Ages (400s-1400s) in territories that later became Europe.   They were carried via religious scholasticism into the formation and maintenance of academia.   This mechanistic reflex persists and can be transformed by alternative holistic epistemology.


Challenging Boundaries: the challenge of critical history and theoretical innovation in the sociology of science and religion

jason jean, University of Saskatchewan Department of Sociology,

Sociologists presently engaged in the study of Creationism and Intelligent Design have been forced to engage with and develop theoretical constructions concerning how science and religion can or cannot be related to each other.  Critical histories developed by academics such as John Hedley Brooks, Steven Shapin, and Ronald Numbers are presenting the public with alternative histories of scientific development where there was never a definitive break between religious and scientific activity and in which the 'scientific revolution' never occurred.  Also, experts in the field of science and religion like Ian Barbour have recommended utilizing Thomas Kuhn's paradigmatic epistemology to interpret both scientific and religious knowledge and activities, providing a theoretical framework which puts both on equal epistemological footing.

For this article, I formulate and defend such a theoretical framework as it is very useful for both interpreting and respecting religious knowledge when placed in relation to fundamentalism, as well as scientific knowledge and activities.  This approach to the intersection of religious and scientific interaction provides a much more historically honest approach, bypassing the whig histories commonly found within science textbooks, and does not belittle or incorrectly restrict religious knowledge to the supernatural realm.


Liminal Practice: Pierre Bourdieu, Madness, and Religion

Robin Willey, University of Alberta,

This presentation uses conceptions of liminality as found in the works of French social theorist and philosopher Georges Bataille, sociologist Emile Durkheim, and anthropologist Victor Turner to resolve limitations in Pierre Bourdieu’s functionalism.  Concepts of “restricted” religious fields (e.g., rationalist, institutionalized), and “liminal” religious fields (e.g., charismatic effervescence) help one account for the affective, irrational, heterogeneous, and/or sacred aspects of social life, while maintaining the explanatory power of Bourdieu’s theoretical framework. In particular, this critical revision to Bourdieu allows one to account for certain religious events, such as the Toronto Blessing, that obscure the lines between religious practice and madness, and makes it possible to better analyse and explain the boundaries and intersections that exist between restricted religious fields and the liminal.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie