A Handbook of the Sociology of Religion

By Michele Dillon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Religion and Spirituality
Toward an Integrated Analysis
Wade Clark Roof

For religion in modern societies, the early-twenty-first century is a time of considerable and often subtle transformation. One such subtlety is the growing attention to personal spiritual well-being and the ferment surrounding whatever people take to be sacred. Voices to this effect are heard within congregations of many differing faith traditions and in many other, seemingly less likely places, such as in self-help groups and at retreat centers; in motivational training sessions within corporations and businesses; in hospitals and medical schools, where they attend to the power of prayer and meditation; in popular books, films, and on radio and television talk shows engaging people to talk about their lives; and on the ever-expanding number of pages on the Internet devoted to spiritual growth. Because interest in spirituality is so widespread and arises across many institutional sectors, both religious and nonreligious, and is sustained by the rise of what we might appropriately call a market-oriented “spirituality industry, ” the topic is properly deserving of attention in a systematic study of religious and spiritual change.

Some commentators view much of the talk about spirituality as shallow and flaky, and of little good consequence for religious conviction, others attach more significance to what they see, or believe to be happening, but very few serious observers take the position that we should shut our eyes to these developments. Spirituality is now less contained by traditional religious structures and Americans – whether we like it or not – are increasingly aware of alternatives for nurturing their souls. Social scientists thus face new challenges in understanding these popular-based spiritual currents and what they might mean for religious communities and institutions. Without some consideration of this broadened scope of experiential concerns, we cannot fully grasp how the American religious landscape is evolving as we move into the new century.

The purpose of this chapter is twofold: one, to describe recent trends in spirituality within the American context; and, two, to propose an analytic scheme helpful in understanding these trends and for relating them to the study of religion more generally. The latter builds on the former and is our chief aim. Proposing an analytic approach is made difficult because words such as “spirituality” and “spirit” have many meanings in popular parlance today. “Religion” and “religious” as well have various connotations in the contemporary context.

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