Anthropology and Sociology of Religion
This perspective has been rather successful and has been appropriated by many other, especially historical, disciplines. However, it should not be mistaken for an ontological statement.
The dynamics of social relations can be analyzed from a more social structuralist or a more culturalist perspective. Social structuralists (from systems theories to network theories) tend to explain cultural phenomena more or less as derivative of structures of social relations. Culturalists (from anthropological theories of culture to interpretative sociological approaches) maintain that structures of social relations and cultural structures of meaning mutually constitute and influence each other and therefore have to be studied in their dialectical relationship
The ASR area regards structures of social relations alone as an insufficient foundation for the understanding and explanation of social phenomena. If human action is centrally based on interests, these interests are shaped not only by the position of actors in a social structure but also by the ways in which actors interpret that position. In other words, “interests” are not naturally given but culturally and socially shaped as well as subjectively appropriated and interpreted.
Firmly grounded in an approach that treats the study of social structures and culture as interrelated, the ASR Area’s major questions revolve around topics like the following: What is the role played by religious actors and institutions in a given social/cultural setting? What is the contribution of religions in the legitimation or contestation of authority? How are domains of religious interests socially and culturally configured? How does religion impact processes of social transformation or is impacted by them? How do religions contribute to the shaping of a specific habitus?
Accordingly, the ASR area studies religious phenomena as social and cultural facts and constructs, which can be apprehended through textual sources or through the ethnography of contemporary social settings, or through a combination of both methods.
Students have to take two exams in the area, and two exams in other areas of the Divinity School, chosen in consultation with their advisor.
ASR offers six examinations. ASR1 and ASR2 assess the ways in which “religion” as an analytical concept has been defined and theorized in anthropological and sociological literature. The first exam focuses on classical theoretical perspectives on religion from the early 19th to the mid 20th century; the second examines theories from the middle of the 20th century to the present. ASR3 addresses the formation and transformation of religious groups and ideas in the contexts of colonialism, post-colonialism and globalization. ASR4 focuses on theorizing the relationship between Islam and power in sociology, anthropology as well as political science. ASR5 explores different religious visions of history, like utopianism, millenarianism, messianism, and fundamentalism. ASR6 focuses on French sociology and anthropology of religion.
ASR1 Classical Theories view exam bibliography (pdf)
ASR2 Contemporary Theories view exam bibliography (pdf)
ASR3 From Colonialism to Globalization view exam bibliography (pdf)
ASR4 Modern Islam and Power view exam bibliography (pdf)
ASR5 Religious Ideologies and Utopias
ASR6 French Sociology and Anthropology of Religion