Lived Religion and Spirituality in 2019

Lived Religion and Spirituality in 2019


(calm guitar music) – Hello everyone. Hello, welcome. Welcome to Harvard Divinity School. We’re so glad to have you all here. We’re in for a real treat this afternoon, I hope, with four wonderful
speakers and scholars. Just wanna ask is that anyone who is here at HDS for the first time today? I just wanted to welcome. Well we’re so glad to have you. Well done for finding this very room. It’s always a little
bit of a jigsaw puzzle. Just as a point of information we are filming today’s event. Thank you, Bridgette, for being here. It’s not streamed live so
if anything awful happens we can always edit it out. (laughter)
So feel very free to behave within reason obviously. I wanna say a big thank you
to Leslie MacPherson Artinian who has put together so many
of the logistics for today. These things never work without the invisible lady behind the scenes, so big thanks to Leslie. And also to Dudley Rose for
making all our work possible. So big thank you to Dudley who I will give a round of applause and I hope you’ll join me. (applause) So just to lay out our time together, welcome welcome, to lay out our time together, I will just give a sense of kind of the big picture as it were of some of the major trends which have brought these scholars to our attention and I think hopefully to an
interesting conversation today. And then we’ll hear from all four of them on some questions that I’ll pose. I’ll have a few follow up questions then I’ll invite you, brave audience, to talk to one another
for just a few moments of things that resonate with you, ideas that you have, before we open it up for conversation. And the most exciting
part of the afternoon is the wine and the
cheese that will be served from four til five in the Center for the Study of World Religions which is just across the road. And you can follow us and
sort of caravan there. We’d love to have you with us. So the kind of context for this conversation comes in part thanks to a conference that happened here in I think 1994, and we’re very grateful to have
Professor David Hall with us who, yes, also deserves
a round of applause (applause)
for his many decades of scholarship. And it was called, if I’m not mistaken, Lived Religion, based on the book. And so Lived Religion is this kind of idea of how do people actually live out these things that we study as religions. And Angie and myself, as
Ministry Innovation fellows here at Harvard Divinity School came into our time as students here really with that question
of looking at people’s religious and spiritual
practice outside of the kind of boxes that we might tick, whether it’s catholic or reform Jewish or whatever it is. And so what we’re looking at is as kind of a big picture is these very significant changes in how people are identifying in their religious lives, the language they use, perhaps even the practices they do. Very recently, just a few weeks ago, the General Social Survey indicated that people who tick none of the above now out number Christian evangelicals. So in terms of kind of
significant tipping points this is one. Mark Chaves, Princeton, estimates that 3,500 churches close every
year in the United States. So it is a really
significant moment of decline in some areas of institutional religion which are reshaping
how we are in community and how we make meaning. But the story is not a simple one. There is significant complexity Dean here, David Hampton,
talks about people braiding their identities and practices together. So whereas perhaps 50, 60 years ago you would describe yourself simply as, “Well, I’m United Methodist,” now there is the mixing and un-bundling and
re-bundling of practices. So of those people who
describe themselves as none of the above or
nothing in particular, one in five of them still pray every day. And two thirds of them believe in some sort of god or higher power. So that boundary between
religious and secularist as ever much more complicated. And in fact of people who list themselves as nothing in particular, only 22 percent of them say that the reason for being nothing in particular is that they don’t believe in God. So again, a much more complex picture that we’re in the middle of. In Angie and my work with
the How We Gather project, we were looking at secular communities that were doing religious things, whether it was fitness
communities like CrossFit, or adult summer camps, we often looked at communities that were more likely to be costal, urban, a lot of them were white, majority white, certainly more higher
income, higher education. And that’s often the picture that we see in the media, certainly, of people who are described as nothing in
particular or none of the above. And really only about a third of none’s fit into that picture. There’s a whole other sector of none’s that are simply unable to participate in congregational life. If you don’t have a car it’s hard to get to church on a Sunday morning. If you’re working shifts,
you don’t have the ability to show up at
specific times every week, and therefore really be part
of a community in the same way. So there’s a whole other picture here of people whoa re just
generally more isolated and alienated from society that
we should not lose sight of. At the same time as this massive decrease in afflation we’re seeing
a rise in loneliness, and you all I’m sure will be
familiar with this by now, but the very striking statistics from epidemiologists in
the field of public health is now suggesting that being lonely is more dangerous to your well being, in fact to your survival, than smoking 15 cigarettes
a day or being obese. And so loneliness is really
a killer at this point, whether it’s through
suicide, through addiction, we’re hearing more and more
about these deaths of despair. So there’s an urgency to this question of community and connectedness as we see one in four Americans describe themselves as
they never feel like they have people who really understand them, including family members, 25 percent. And, indeed, when we are not connected
to a congregation there’s all sorts of pro-social behaviors that we see decline. The amount of money that we give, the amount of volunteering that we do, so there’s a significant
social capital loss as congregations decline. So we’re in an interesting moment. The App Store has never been more full of things like head space and calm. I just downloaded on that gives me nature sounds whenever I need them, which I’m not complaining about but nonetheless we’re
seeing a trend towards isolation and individualism
in how we make meaning and how we perhaps live our
spirituality and religion. So with all that said let me introduce you to our wonderful panel. Starting with Nancy
Ammerman, welcome Nancy. Nancy is the professor
of sociology of religion in the sociology department at the College of Arts and Sciences, and in the School of Theology
at Boston University. She has a PhD from Yale and is a prolific author of articles, books, and her research has
really shaped the field, I’d say, for a generation. Particularly I have always loved reading how Nancy explores congregational life. There’s so much insight and wisdom there so if you’re leading a congregation or interested in them
definitely read Nancy’s work. And there’s always a deep empathy, I feel, in Nancy’s work for whoever she’s learning about or studying. There’s never a cold, outsider gaze. There’s always a warmth of understanding. And her book, Sacred Stories
and Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Every Day Life, from Oxford University Press
is just a fabulous book. If you haven’t read it
I highly recommend it. So welcome, Nancy. – Thank you. – We also have Anna Sun with us. Welcome Anna. Anna this year is a
visiting associate professor of women’s studies and
east asian religions here at HDS. But when she’s not at HDS, she’s an associate professor of sociology and asian studies at Kenyan College, and chair of the department
of sociology there. She’s written a wonderful book called Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and
Contemporary Realities from Princeton, which is a fabulous
exploration of Confucianism through a global context. So if you’re interested in
Confucianism in America, this is a wonderful
text to explore as well. And what I found so fascinating and I’m looking forward to hearing today is how Anna’s models and
scholarship of religion in China really offers some
interesting analytical tools to understand religion in America as well. So very grateful to have you. We also have Christopher
White, welcome Chris. Chris is the professor
and chair of the religion at Vassar College. And he’s not unfamiliar
with this very room because he got his PhD
in religious studies here at Harvard where
he studied with David. He is the author of Other Worlds: Spirituality and the Search for Invisible Dimensions from Harvard University Press, and is fascinated by exploring a cultural history of ideas that the universe has hidden
dimensions, spaces, and worlds. I told him earlier it’s one of the most pleasant book covers that
I’ve ever seen as well. So if nothing else, if
you want to show off, just from your book shelf, I highly recommend Chris’ book. Also for it’s content, clearly, but (light laughter) it’s–
– It’s available on Amazon. – Well there you go, exactly. As they say in download on iTunes. – Yeah. (laughter) From your phone. – And finally we have my dear friend and colleague Angie Thurston. Angie has her MDIV from HDS and is creating spiritual
formation experiences for the 21st century. She is dedicated to connecting the inner life of spirit to
the outer life of action, and is convinced that we need one another to become who we are meant to be. Angie is the co-author of
How We Gather in Carousels. But what I want you to
know for this context is that she also used to be a playwright and wrote musicals about garden lawns and adventures on the moon. So comes with a fascinating history of looking for spirituality and also to different, unsuspecting
places from the arts. So that was a long introduction. Thank you for bearing with me. What I will ask the panel now, and they’ll each speak to
these questions in turn, are three questions that
we’ll spend our afternoon on. First how is our lived experience of religion and spirituality changing? Where are the boundaries
of religion being tested and transformed? What counts as religion? And then how will
scholars and practitioners define and understand
religion in the future as we look forward? So we’ll start with Nancy and
then turn to Anna after that. – And I’m gonna do one question at a time? – No you’re gonna do them all at once. – Oh my goodness.
– I know. A brave new world. – And 10 minutes for the whole thing? – I’ll kep you to time. – Okay.
– Yeah. (laughter) – Thank you.
– Okay. Here we go. So how are things changing? Fortunately Casper has already hinted at a lot of what I want to say. I’m gonna make two primary points here. One is about that growth of the no preference, the none’s. As that segment of the population grows, part of what we see, of course, is that it becomes more normal to not have a religious preference, and that has real consequences. But I do wanna emphasize two caveats around that growth of the non-religious segment of population. One is one that Casper already hinted at which is that the people who aren’t the well-educated Sunday brunch community are very different from
that well-educated, well-off segment of the
no-preference population. So when we think about the people who are disconnected
from religious afflation we really need to keep in mind that there are very different reasons for people being disconnected. One other little interesting caveat about that population and the growth of it is that the growth is a little less clear among the okay, gotta get all the qualifiers here, married, straight, couples,
with school-aged kids, okay, that segment of the population, is still more likely to be affiliated with a religious community than other demographic segments. And at least until fairly recently, almost as likely to be affiliated as that segment of the population
was back in the 1950’s. It’s just that there aren’t
very many of them anymore. So again, our picture of what’s going on and what’s changing I think
needs a lot of nuance. The other big point I wanna make about how things are changing that is really important, I think, and that is that our religious preferences are in fact increasingly
tied to our politics. That simply was not the case a generation ago in the
same way that it is now, and it’s both a matter of
which religious preference and whether religious preference being tied to how we understand ourselves in the American political scene. So how are the boundaries
being tested and transformed? They’re being transformed,
at least in part, by the increasing diversity of
the American religious scene. Both from this growth of
the no preference sector but also from the way immigration has changed our overall
religious landscape. And putting all of that together, one of the things you also see is we’ve become increasingly timid about talking about our religion in public because we’re afraid we’re
gonna insult somebody. Because we’re aware of the degree to which we can’t simply assume that the people around us are of the
same religious persuasion or not persuasion. Now again, a caveat, a nuance, of this observation is that the majority of the immigrants
who have come to the U.S. in the post 1965 immigration
are actually Christian. So what’s happened mostly is the diversification of Christianity itself, rather than so much a diversification of the overall spectrum
of religious affiliations. How is it being tested and transformed? How is religion being
tested and transformed? I think the other primary point I would
wanna make here is that it has been transformed by our wholesale appropriation
of what I will call a neo-liberal emphasis
on individual choice. And that emphasis on individual
choice when it comes to everything about our
religion and spirituality means that as we disconnect ourselves from religious communities, we’re also disconnecting ourselves from the kind of potential
for critique that is present in those religious traditions, and in the power of those
gathered communities. Something of the social capitol question that Casper pointed to. So as much as we may have questions and critique to bring to bear about the religious communities and traditions themselves, there are tools within those traditions and communities that we’re losing and are disconnecting. That’s especially true as it turns out for people from within the
black church tradition. And I can talk some more about
that later if you want to. So how are we going to define and understand religion in the future? Here I’m gonna put on my scholar hat in terms of the how do we study religion. First of all I think we
are increasingly aware that to really understand religion we need to expand the range of the kinds of settings in which we’re paying attention to religion. That’s part of what the Lived Religion tradition has given us. It’s part of what people like Anna have brought to us is a recognition that just looking at religion defined the way from within a kind of Western, Protestant way of thinking about what religion is, where it’s belief, and belonging, and membership, and attending
church on Sunday morning, that that doesn’t give us the
kind of full picture we need. And that once we start looking at lots of different settings, we’re also gonna recognize
the degree to which those settings are really different, not just because the cultures and religious traditions
are different in them, but also because the history of how religion is understood and regulated is different in those places. And that in turn makes us think differently about our own system. How is government in the state involved in our understanding of what’s proper and what’s not proper, what’s permitted and not permitted. And the second thing
about studying religion in addition to expanding the settings is a focus increasingly,
I think, on practices. This is where my own
work is at the moment, on really trying to understand religion as a social practice. And looking at those social practices in terms of a range of the
dimensions of experience that are a part of a practice. I’m naming embodiment, materiality, emotion, aesthetics, moral judgment, spirituality, and narrative, as the dimensions of
lived religious practice that I’m pointing to as ways to orient our study of what people are doing when they do religion. And I think those are
perhaps important to mention not just for scholars of religion, but also for people who are leaders of religious communities,
gatherings of various sorts, who are thinking about what is a practice that has a kind of
resonance and staying power. That multidimensional
aspect of what’s going on I think can be useful as
a way of thinking about what leaders are up to. How’d I do? – Wow. Not only a great scholar
but also great at timing. Thank you. (light laughter) Anna, how about you? Same three questions. – I will try. I just have to say that it
is such a great privilege and honor to be in the same room with Professor Hall and Professor Ammerman. Really pioneers in this important feud of the study of lived religion. So I’m truly honored, and thank you Casper and Angie for making this happen. And I think Chris and I, if
I may speak for both of us, we’re the next generation scholars taking this approach into
new fuse new frontiers. So thank you for having
made this possible for us. And I’m glad to see a couple of students from my seminar this semester. (laughing) You didn’t see my– – You didn’t even offer ’em extra credit? (laughing) – I should have. – You should’ve required it. – From my women in lived religion class. So glad you’re here. So let me say first that how much I appreciate
Nancy’s opening comments because you’re setting the rise of the American none’s in a political context. We’re sociologists. We have to think contextually, we have to think about society as a whole. So if I were to tell you about religiosity or lived religion in China today, I have to set political context first. So many of you know the history
of contemporary China. From 1949 to 1976 those were the years of strict socialist rule in China. After the and of the
Cultural Revolution in 1976, China gradually opened
up culturally, socially, economically, and politically
to a certain degree. And religion really saw a kind of revival starting in the 1980’s and 90’s. And by the year 2000, we are seeing a full scale
revival of ritual life in Chinese society. So many of you here are
in your 20’s or 30’s, and I can just try to imagine generation in China were in their 20’s. They were born in the
1990’s, is that right? I feel very old. (laughing) But if you were born in 1990’s in China, you don’t think of religion as something that you have to do underground. You don’t have to hide your religious activities for the most part. Many young people found Christian churches as a great place to think about religion and spirituality in the 1980’s and 90’s, in
urban China, especially. So although there is still, of course, really rigorous religious
regulation in China today, what we think of as repression really is targeted. So the so called evil
cult such as Falun Gong is very strictly regulated. Islam in the Shin-Jung region is strictly
monitored and controlled. And, of course, Tibet and Buddhism has been under a lot of strain as well. But other than those
targeted regions and cases, if you look at Chinese
population as a whole, based on two surveys I have been fortunate to be a part of. About 75 to 80 percent of the Chinese conduct rituals regularly in recent years. So in the latest survey,
was conducted about 2016, about 80 percent of the Chinese conducted ancestral
rituals in the past year. So I’ll say it is safe to say that we’re seeing a great
revival of ritual life. Neo-liberalism has indeed
taken hold in China as well. So when you really think about China as part of this global, religious,
and political landscape. So I’ve been thinking
about this notion of the Chinese happiness of the heart, for those of you who have
read Bella and his teams work on happiness of the heart in America, you know he speaks of
the full moral languages that are dear to our
hearts in American society. There is civic republicanism. There is a biblical language of morality. This a language of
expressive individualism, kind of this therapeutic
language of the self. And there is the language
of recession new liberal, unitary individualism. I think one can model on those four dimensions and say China is it’s own moral languages. Today moral discourses. So I would say, yes, there’s a new liberal unitary individualism as well, in fact it is on the rise. And that is partly what people speak of when they speak of the
spiritual crisis in China today. So after 1976 the kind
of socialist ideology of morality has really lost it’s hold on the Chinese society. So very few people believe
in communist values anymore so that’s where the vacuum
which people speak of, the spiritual vacuum started. And the new liberal
unitarian individualism is not a language of
morality or ethical behavior, at least not the way it
is used in China today. So we also have the socialist language of the common good. It is still there but it is not really taken into it is not really something that people feel as a natural expression of morality and ethical values. So it is a kind of official
discourse of the common good, and people pay lip service to it but not many people follow
that in their every day life. So we have the new liberal discourse, you have the socialist
language of the common good, we also have the Confucian ethical frame that emphasizes a kind of
unity of Confucian virtues of benevolence, of
kindness, of thelial piety, or thelial love, of justice and courage. So that Confucian ethical discourse from my interviews I can see
that it has never gone away even during the harshest
years of the socialist rule, and it is very much what people want to hold on to today when
the center no longer holds when everything seems to be falling apart ethically in China. The last moral discourse is what I call the religious reason to be. So this refers to the kind of religious discourse people refer to, especially the ones who practice rituals from various religious traditions. Be they Confucian, or
Buddhist, or even Daoist. So people speak of this
religious reason to be as a way to give their lives meaning. So this set of moral languages, I really discovered through
my interview in China. So I’ve been researching China for about 15 years at least. Really starting from 2000. And I’ve conduct many interviews, ethnographic observations, I’ve seen a lot of changes
in the past 15 years. So I want to then conclude by speaking of the changes as
in the rise of ritual life is also I think in some ways connected to the return to an ethical discourse drawing on traditional
Chinese culture sources. Most of it is Confucian, but a lot of this is Buddhist as well, and in fact, I’ve also heard a lot of Christian discourses in my interviews, and Islamic discourses. So I want you to think of China as a place of great cultural
and ritual diversity. If I can give you a breakdown in terms of religious distribution, 80 percent of the Chinese
do ancestral rights which I call Confucian rights, but about 25 percent of the Chinese today have a religious identity and I would say about five percent of them are Christians, Protestants as well as Catholics. Two percent also Muslims, 15 to 18 percent Buddhists. But if you think about
the Chinese populations, 25 percent is a very small percentage. The majority of the Chinese otherwise who practice ritual life will make use of and really rely on
religious ethical framework for meaning in their every day life, yet they do not have a religious identity. So now I’m going into
the next set of questions about how we should think about the Chinese case as lived religion. So we really have to expand the definition of religion. We have to look beyond
the definition of religion as self evolved identity, or self evolved belief. So for the Chinese who practice rituals, who follow ethical frameworks related to specific religious traditions, when they don’t have a
clear religious identity, we have to be able to say it is not, they’re not religious, but we have to expand
what we mean by religion or someone living a religious life. So Casper mentioned Dean
Hampton’s phrase braided. I actually didn’t know that. It’s really wonderful. I’m working on an article right now that talks about a new
way of thinking about religious identity in China not as either or, but as and and. So it has to be a composite identity. So the Chinese person is a Confucian and they’re often a Buddhist and sometimes a Confucian and a Christian, or a Catholic and a Confucian. Or a Confucian and Daoist and Buddhist. We were reading this book
about a Chinese empress. Empress was 18 in the seventh
century in our seminar, and she makes use of Confucian
and Buddhist and Daoist mythologies to construct
her own religious identity. It is a long tradition in China not to make those clear distinctions
between religions. So it’s sort of saying are you Confucian, are you Buddhist, which let me tell you
people often say to me, “What do you mean? “That doesn’t make sense. “That’s not how we think
about such things.” Then if we go beyond
those kind of religions, separate from another religion, if we think about religions as an ecological system, kind of a ecological interactive set of practices, then the kind of Chinese fluid form of religious life really allows us to see better and thinking this may be used for our case in America today as well. In other words we may begin by thinking of the Chinese
case as an abnormal case, as an outlier, exceptional case. But if you open up our definition of what it means to be religious, then the Chinese case will no
longer be that exceptional. We may be finding a lot of finities and this is why I benefited so much from Professor Ammerman’s work. – It’s mutual. (laughing) – It’s really true
because then we can see, I love how you were
using ancestral rights– – Yeah.
– In your analysis of religious practice. So we’re just talking about this just now because this analytical categories in fact are deeply comparative. – Wonderful. Thank you so much Anna. Yes, and this exactly the crux ’cause when we have done interviews with all sorts of communities that might look secular or non-religious in some way, and we’ve learned to talk in slashes. So rather than saying,
“Do you believe in God?”, asking questions like,
“Well, do you experience “the transcended/ the sacred/ “something bigger than yourself,” because there’s this
kind of bigger reality that we miss if we just
hone in on those categories. So thank you so much. Chris, how about you? – Yeah, okay. I don’t wanna be too subversive, but I’m gonna make four points and I think they speak
to your three questions. – Great. – And then the future
of religion in America I have idea about. (laughing) I’m a historian. I don’t have about the future. Just the past. The past is hard enough to figure out. So I like the ecological set of practices. I guess with my work I would also add an ecological set of practices and ways of being, and ways of thinking, and ways of imagining. I try to think a lot about the imagination and the popular imagination
of people’s mentalities and what structures people’s beliefs and what structures
people’s ways of thinking. And so four points I would make about this. One is I think that how is religion and spirituality changing? I think it’s places and
it’s sites are changing. So we’re already talking
about churches for sure but I think we need to
talk about podcasts. I think we need to talk
about yoga studios, and meditation centers, and catholic retreat centers, meditation retreat centers, burning man, the livable festival culture, and then something I’m interested
in working on right now which is sort of electronic technologies, how is sort of religion mediated through Star Trek, through twilight zone, through Trekkies, through fandom of various types, right? How do we sort of change our categories in ways of thinking about what religion and spirituality are, you know, or just start thinking about those things and I think that your work, Nancy, and your work, Anna, really helps with that. It’s a pleasure to be on this panel. Thank you. Thank you, you two, for including me. I’m the only non-sociologist here but I feel like I’m a historian trying to do contemporary things and you’re a sociologist
also interested in the past so it sort of works out. So yeah, so I think we
have to think about place, maybe, in new kinds of ways. I didn’t mention book clubs, but boy, whenever I go home
to San Francisco Bay area, it’s like all my friends and my parents are in a book clubs. And they’re like, spiritual book clubs. So I’m trying to get them to do Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. But they’re not like my students. I can’t require the reading for that. So that would be one thing. Another one is just that I think we have to think about the ways that individuals relationships to religion and to I guess we would
call spiritual groups is now mediated electronically. How do we think about that, right? And fortunately there are lots of people who are thinking about that, and communication studies
and media studies, and religion in digital culture, so that’s something I’m
really interested in. My book with the cool cover
that Casper mentioned, you gotta read the ideas too, the ideas. (laughing) Yeah. It had nothing to do with the cover. The end of my book sort of
takes up this question of electronically mediated
religious experiences, what happens when people do seances that are electronically mediated, what happens when religious services get mediated certain ways. The issue of electronic mediation raises all kinds of considerations, like how does it re figure community, how does it re figure identity, what about authenticity, right? Authenticity is a big one. Is the ritual authentic if it’s mediated in certain kinds of ways? I remember talking about this
in my religion and media class and a student in the back
of class raised his hand, an he said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. “The question of authenticity
is really important.” He said, “‘Cause my grandpa who’s Catholic “and lives in Pennsylvania, you know, “he watches Mass on T.V. “He can sit at home, he’s
not able to get out anymore. “So he sits at home and he watches Mass, “but he can’t do communion “unless the consecrated bread and wine “is brought in a delivery
van from the church.” So it’s a fascinating example of what can be mediated and what can’t be, what’s authentic. The service seems to be authentic when it’s mediated electronically, but the communion wafer is not. So, right, something special
is done with the ritual aide. So then it contains the real
presence in a way, right, and for whatever reason
in the catholic church, the real presence can not
be mediated electronically, it has to be brought physically. So there’s a lot of interesting questions about electronic mediation and whether these rituals are authentic. This also reminds me of
American televangelists and Pentecostal televangels
around the world who televise their services and televise healings, and even asking of viewers to come up and put their hands on the screen when they’re at home to get
the spirit through the screen. And there was even this
American televangelist too that I think his name was from Texas who said that the Holy Spirit was even transmitted through reruns (laughing) which is very cool. So you can put your hand on the screen even if it wasn’t live. So again, it raises these
issues of mediation, authenticity, and I think this stuff is
super important, right, and when we talk about, whether we’re talking about
religious congregations or spiritual groups, they all are mediated, right? I mean they’re all online, there are all of these apps, and it raises these kinds of
questions about mediation. So that would be a second point. Okay and then third point
would be pop culture. I think that pop culture is gonna really continue to provide
inspiration for people. New sacred narratives. I mentioned earlier Trekkies but there’s all kinds of fan clubs and fandoms and cons. I do think that these types of things are coming to replace
religious identities, or maybe we could say like reconstruct religious identities for people. I think it’s interesting to
keep your eyes on the ball about who goes to or who
participates in alternatives. Why are people leaving
religion, some people, right? Why are people not checking
the box that says religion. There are reasons for that. There’s a politics there. People don’t feel welcomed. People don’t like the politics. They don’t like the ways
that those groups are social, or dogmatic, or misogynist, or racist, or whatever it is, right? So there’s a kind of a politics
to those religious changes and I think that you
see that, for instance, when you look at Trekkies. You hear the language of not-religion, not religion, not religion, I’m not this. I was raised this, I’m not this now. And you hear a kind of
embrace of something that’s liberating. There’s often that language. There’s liberation, liberating, accepts me as I am, so I think pop culture is real important. Harry Potter is, you know,
my shout out to Casper. But Harry Potter is the
new sacred narrative for so many people including my kids. (laughs) A great example, I
remember explaining to my, my daughter’s 10 now but she was probably eight when I was talking to her, and I was talking about prayer. “What’s prayer? “How does that work, exactly?” And, “well it’s sort of like you sit “and you talk to God, and God listens, “and you can say anything you want, “and God is really close to you.” And she said, “Oh, okay, okay.” So she says, “Okay so sort of like “magic in Harry Potter, then?” (laughs) So you can kinda, like, this gets back to my point of imagination. You can see the ways that literature is functioning not just for kids either, as a way of kind of
enchanting the imagination, providing new ways to think
about how prayer works, new ways to think about
how religion works, and so on. So I think pop culture
is really important, even in structuring people’s imaginations and structuring the ways
that people think about the supernatural. Okay, I think that was
three, three points. I’m reminded of being a student and sitting in one of David Hall’s classes when he’d come to the board and he’d say, “Okay, these are the “five points about Puritanism. “These are the five points
Puritans as we know.” He’s laughing ’cause
he probably remembers, but, you know, we were graduate students. We were writing everything down, and he’d go, “One.” And he’d put it on the board. And then he’d go, “Two.” And he’d talk for a while
about two, you know, and then he goes, “Three.” And he’d put that in a while. And then he’d keep
talking, talking, talking, and then there’d never be four, or five. (all laughing) And we would all be changing
our notes, you know. So I won’t do that to you. I do do that to my students. So I think this is the fourth question. But I think that one thing
that sometimes people say, “Oh spiritual but not religious, spiritual people,” how am I doing on time, by the way? – You’ve got a couple minutes. – Okay. Spiritual but not religious, that’s a really incoherent thing. It doesn’t hold together, it’s sort of fuzzy, it’s sort of weak, and I think that there are things that actually hold it together and I think that there would be categories and ways of thinking about it. And one category I think
we wanna think about is self expressive spirituality, or self expression. And I think that that, in some ways, that kind of shapes many of these different types of spiritual groups. Kind of a spirituality of self expression. And I think part of that comes from the ways in which the transcend or the divine gets relocated in the self. My first book, which was
a moral historical book, talks about that. What’s the arc of the last century and the ways in which people
talk about the transcended? And as existing outside of the self, and a transcended god and how does that in some ways move inside the self and how does the 20th century become psychologized in that way, right, where the sacred or whatever
is an internal thing. And sometimes a lot of
spiritual people today use words like consciousness, right, to talk about that spiritual thing inside. Or they might talk about the mind or they might talk about the unconscious or the subconscious. These are all sort of
places inside us, right, that are the location now
of the spiritual thing. So I think that gives
rise to a new interest in spiritual self expression, whether you’re religious
in a religious community or you’re spiritual in
a spiritual community. Another word that I use in
my new book is imagination. That’s also kind of naming a
spiritual part of the self. And I would love for us to I don’t know, to do justice to the range of imaginative ways that
people are spiritual today. I think that does also require a way of developing a new vocabulary, and how do we talk about the imagination, whether it’s with people’s
appropriations of quantum physics and their imaginative
ways of talking about quantum healing or energy
fields that affect me. Or whether it’s Harry Potter, right, and their imaginative
ways of incorporating that like my daughter did
into her spirituality. So maybe a more robust
sense of the imagination and the ingredients that are going into the religious and spiritual imagination. I think that’s pretty important. In other worlds in my book I talk a lot about the imagination. And my argument there is that the modern sort of spiritual imagination is actually fashioned out of
some unexpected materials, including secular discourses, secular scientific discourses, and I talk about a couple of fantastic scientific ideas in particular like the idea that the universe
has hidden dimensions to it or parallel worlds to it. And that’s just a fascinating
kind of scientific idea and an idea in math. The thing gets mobilized
by spiritual people who say, “Aha, wait a minute. “Science and mathematicians are sort of “talking about these
kind of invisible spaces? “Why can’t I talk about
a heavenly space, then?” It’s a kind of a move that they sort of appropriate the popular science and the symbol from popular science and tropes and ideas from popular science and they bring into their
ways of being spiritual. It’s also, I think, important because I think science is sort of, I dunno, is this controversial to say science is sort of the
authoritative discourse in modern society? I think science is sort of the authoritative discourse in modern society. I’ll say it, there I said it. (laughing) And people want to borrow that as a way of bringing in a kind of power and legitimacy to their ways of talking about spiritual
energy fields, right, or spiritual dimensions
like heavenly place. So I think that the imagination and new imaginative discourses are hard to grasp but I think we could do better in thinking about that. I didn’t say anything
about the future, did I? – I’ll give you a chance in just a moment. – Okay.
– So that’s great. Thank you so much, Chris. And for those of you who don’t know, I host this podcast called
Harry Potter and the Sacred Text where we have found very, very similar things to what Chris was just describing, especially how the imagination of what life can be like
is so informed by the text. So whether it’s people turning to the text in times of trial, maybe after a breakup or the death of a loved one, the kind of ritual pilgrimage of going to these theme parks, or course mediated by capitalism and then all sorts of questions that are really uncomfortable. And this sense that you can identify. If you can’t identify
with a spiritual identity but I’m a Bravenclore, I’m a Gryffendor, that’s not even a conversation and yet those things
have such deep meanings of what that says about you, what is important to you. – Identity.
– Yes. So then you’re actually
willing to construct an identity from this imagined world. So yeah. – And if I may
– Please. – Just provide a footnote. The Harry Potter and the Sacred Book group is not just a podcast phenomenon. There is a chapel service
in the divinity school for the Harry Potter and
the Sacred Book group. – They’re taking over the world. – So there’s a ritual dimension, and I just wanted to shout out to the wonderful chapel service
here at the divinity school. This is the open ended
definition of divinity. There’s a service for the religious none’s and there’s a service for
the Harry Potter group and so on. – Yes. And we have Carrie Malone to thank, our community chaplain. So great thanks to Carrie, indeed. (applause) Which is not to say that anything goes. You will be interrogated if you want to want to host a service. Carrie will have questions
for you, as she should. Angie, share your thoughts on our three questions, if you will. – I wanted to see if I could move this, but I can’t see you all very well. Thank you, thank you all. And to Casper, and to Chris, you outed yourself as a historian. I will open by just be outing myself and Casper along with me just to say that the two of us have MDIVs from HDS. We do not have PhDs and we, I guess, in terms of the extent to which we’ve done research you could say it’s been in service of attempting to be a practitioner. Sort of ministerial
practitioners in this field. So a lot of what I will offer by way of insight from that work is really from that practitioner angle. And we’ve been engaged in that for about six years now together. First as students, and now as
ministry invocation fellows. So that means when we came here we both came right after
that big pew study in 2012 about the rise of the none’s. And at that time I can say for myself that it was a discovery to me that I was an unaffiliated millennial, right? Those categories as labels
arrived in my consciousness but not had not been self
selected, as it were. It was a discovery and I think that is part of what’s at play. It’s some of these identities
and labels are chosen, and some of them are ascribed. And particularly, of
course, in this conversation there’s negative identities
ascribed by virtue of not falling into any of
the categories offered. So that’s part of the tender moment, I think, that we find ourselves in as what is awaiting us in
the realm of what is being created and being
born in the midst of such a growing population who are not necessarily aligning themselves or affiliating themselves with what they’ve inherited. And so I think for our part there’s a sense and perhaps in some way we’re unofficially in the lineage of Diana Eck and the pluralism project in the sense of all the work that has been done in mapping a religious landscape that up until that point, perhaps, had not been sufficiently recognized by the academy or given
voice to in academic spaces. And so I think Casper
in I, to some extent, fell into work along those lines because in the midst of all of this disaffiliation and these labels like spiritual but not religious, we just had an intuitive
sense from our own experience and from looking about
in this landscape that there was more to the story than millennials not going to
church, or what have you. And so it’s because of that that we ended up getting to know all of these extraordinary leaders of
innovative communities all over the United States who were gathering people around fitness and around the arts and around justice and around gaming and many of the things
that Chris mentioned, yoga, and what have you. And finding in those spaces a sort of DNA that was pulsing through the communities that had to do with people engaged in personal transformation and social change and holding each other
accountable to their own growth, and activating of their creativity and things like this. And so that has been
a big part of our work and a big part of I
guess attending to this question of what’s changing, what kind of innovation is happening, but as it relates to these questions about both the porousness of boundaries and also what’s coming, I’ll just share a little bit about some of where it’s lead us now, and I think a pivot for us has been around pivoting from looking at how
community life is changing and how some of these new
communities are emerging and might be called religious to really looking at the individual and what’s happening in the
lives of the participants in these communities and
also other individuals around the United States. Whether they are technically affiliated with a religious identity or not. But along the lines of what Dean Hampton might call braiding, what is going on in
the way that people are coupling together as spiritual life. So I’ll share a little bit about a pilot project that we’re doing right now called The Formation Project because I think it speaks to the ways that we’re trying to attend
to a lot of the questions that I hear being raised on this panel, which Casper alluded to in the kind of association of the lack
of religious identity being part of both the rise of experiences
of isolation and loneliness, but also a decline in pro-social behaviors and all the negative implications of what happens when you
don’t have an identity. And I can use just an anecdotal example to talk about one of
these community leaders who we’ve gotten to know. Extraordinary person who we brought to a gathering that we had here at HDS where it was full of all
kinds of meaning making and spiritual practice and what not, and we were interviewing
these leaders about anything that had happened as a result of being part of this
gathering in their own life like a few months later. And this person said,
“Well I started going “for walks by the lake near where I live, “and intentionally looking
at people lovingly.” And she said, “I did this.” And we said, “Oh how is it going?” And she said, “Well I did
it for about three weeks.” And were like, “Wow, three
weeks, what changed?” And she was like, “Well
then I stopped doing it. “I feel kind of strange
talking about it with you. “I haven’t talked about it with anyone “and I started to feel
awkward about doing it.” And anyway, this is one way of getting at something that we’ve experienced over and over again which is a
kind of spiritual insecurity. ‘Cause I might sit over here and say, “well that’s a spiritual
practice, what you’re doing.” But without a community around it, a way to make meaning of it, or any kind of container
in which to deepen or look at this process, it was something that just fell away. And so this formation
project is really an effort to create a container
for spiritual deepening with two design challenges. The first being that we have participants from not only all over the United States, but seven participants
from other countries, so all over the place. So hence mediated online is
a big factor here for us. And the second design challenge is they come from all different
religious persuasions, and many of them in
our demographic survey, the most commonly used word was spiritual but it was accompanied by other words and in some cases not used at all. So we have all kinds of identities
we’re trying to attend to so then it becomes a question of okay if in this tender moment we don’t wanna veer into
spiritual narcissism or we wanna kind of combat
not only this kind of social and spiritual disconnection, but also some of our polarization. If we’re listening to all
these big questions, then, what can we do to bring people together in a way that will help them grow deeper and yet also accommodate, and not just accommodate temporarily, but actually be about the fact that we’re going to be seeking a
kind of a spiritual unity without at any point
anticipating uniformity when it comes to belief or practice or language that we might
use to talk about it. So the first thing that we
asked these participants was to name what’s on their line. And the way that we kinda
talked about that was what is it that is ultimately calling you, or what is your highest loyalty? And in reading some of your work, Anna, it was making me think about well we did kind of position that in the singular and there are some
interesting questions about what would it look like to use more plurality even in that invitation, but amongst the
participants on their line, you have everything from
Christ consciousness to primordial awareness, to Buddha nature, to God, to divine mother, to, right, you have all kinds of different language that people are using. And some, you know, justice,
or love, or emptiness. And then we’re inviting them
over the course of the year to explore that first within themselves, then in others, and then beyond. So it’s that kind of inner outer mystery, inner outer transcendent
that is forming the arc, the principles of this
year they spend together. We’re half way through this pilot but I’m struck by one of the
things we felt was necessary in order to invite people
into that kind of journey which was the creation of something called wisdom wells, which at this
moment is totally underdeveloped but is basically just a kind of curated beginning list of practices and resources from across traditions that
might be of service to you in exploring that blank within yourself and in others and beyond, right? And so it’s this kind of
design challenge where in practice we’re attempting to respond to some of the trends that I
hear you all talking about in a way that actually allows people to have a feeling of agency in their own spiritual lives, and then to accompany
each other in the process. So they’re meeting in small
groups online for a year that meet every week for 90 minutes. So it’s a robust kind of
deeply committed experience. So I think there’s there’s a lot around this question around what it is to construct
your own religious identity and the extent to which that is something that we can do for ourselves versus the extent to
which that is given to us. And that’s part of the experiment that we have in this project is will people begin to name
themselves in some way as associated with this work, or this effort, or that there be a legitimacy that starts to emerge in them that says this part of my
life is worthy of attention and even something that
I could call myself in relation to. – Wonderful. Thank you Angie. So we will open up in just a minute but I wanna give each of you just a chance to respond
to what you’ve heard, and in particular I want to press you on this last question of
where are we going next. Just to add one provocative statement, I think Anna you were talking about before about this spiritual vacuum which is just such a wonderful phrase, which reminded me of a
report from VICE News that came out last summer that talked about as brands are engaging more and more with politics that spirituality is the next
white space for brands. And so I happen to be at
Calvin Klein yesterday morning in New York City and talking about this, and they are as one brand, interested in spirituality. They make clothing, especially intimates, as they use to describe underwear, which I thought was fascinating, kind of old fashioned to me, intimates. But anyway so we started
talking about this idea of if you’re
putting something on your physical body that is so close, there’s such an intimacy
to this material object, could they as a brand engage
bigger questions of intimacy, not just to your body, but to your heart, to
your mind, to your soul. – Has anybody told them
about Mormon undergarments? (laughter)
– Well it’s. That’s what I should’ve
done, oh my goodness. (laughing) Yes indeed. – It’s a new product opportunity. – Really. – So we joke but really this, I think, is one of the key
questions to think about. As you were saying, Chris, that the places where
spirituality and religion happens, the work place or certainly the kind of brands that we engage with, whether we want to or not is one of them. So I say that merely to provoke any responses that you have as you think about where is religion
and spirituality going. – You know you just gave
me an opening, don’t you? (all laughing) Which is of course the critique that of course businesses want their workers to explore their inner spirituality so they will be content and
not ask for higher wages. (light laughter) – Say more about the future then. (laughing) – The future. Well I think one thing
I want to respond to in what we’ve heard is
one of the ways that Angie, you constructed
this sort of either or of people constructing
a spiritual identity for themselves as opposed to having it imposed on them. And I think in fact what
your project is attempting is to offer people ways
to collectively construct the spiritual identity that is yes, theirs, but not imposed, but that engages at a level that
is not simply the self. – Right. – And one of the other things
I will say about the future is that I think Chris, you’re pushing us to think about imagination
and enchantment, and Anna you’re pushing us to think about the importance of ritual and the extent to which people are engaged in these kinds of ritual practices. All of them I think really emphasizes the degree to which whatever it is that is emerging those dimensions of thinking imaginatively recognizing the magic
and mystery around us, naming that magic and mystery, and finding ways to engage in ritual acts that reaffirm that name what it is what we’ve experienced and reaffirm that and in so doing also connect us to the the people and the places and the traditions that can give our lives some shape. – I loved your presentations, if I may, and I just want to say I just started watching the OA. – There we go.
– Do we know about that one? So that counts as research now. (laughing) It’s amazing. I had to stop myself from clicking next. So and I love the phrase
spiritual narcissism. That’s really wonderful. So going back to the collective reconstruction of the narcissistic. So Nancy, or course
you’ve been talking about the change of institutional structure of religious life but we are seeing that really happening on a very large scale. And that’s what I hear
from Chris and from Angie. From churches to retreat centers, from fee, paying, church tax paying, to commercial activities, and you’ve got Chinese religious sites are very much commercial entities as well. And then from commitment as per a financial commitment to commitment of of faith to pain per visit and commitment only really
just to your own preference. From church attendance to acts. Many people use acts these days for reputation, for sacred tax, and so on. – For generating their ancestors. – From ancestral generation as well. And also from going from seeking out theological authority and
respect in theological authority, that still happens or still in place but I’ve been looking
at Yelp church reviews. So if you’re moving to a new place even though you go to church, you can go to Yelp which is
a commercial greeting site. So all of this hinges are really changing the substance of our religious experience. So where do I see in the future. The Chinese case is interesting because here you can see
that people are saying, “I don’t have to go to church anymore.” People stop going to church
after they go to college. We just heard about this latest survey that students becoming none’s, I can’t remember the percentage, but many young people become none’s after they go to college. So without the constraints
of family obligations they just stop going
to church, for example. So there’s this kind of freedom and we can try all kinds of new things available online and on iPhones, and in commercial centers. China has been seeing that
for quite a few decades now because the socialist state essentially eliminated the public presence of religious organizations,
institutions for 40 years until they made a return in the 1980s, 90s, and up to today. But where do people go? They go back to tradition. So if I’ve never, I’ve never been asked that question, “what do you see in the future?” I’ve never been given
that crystal ball before. I’m trying to stare hard into it, but I think trust the
resilience of tradition. So when people have all
kinds of opportunities to seek out new religious
expressions in China today, we see a return to very
traditional way to practice, to ancient ethical systems, to relearning and
reinvention of tradition. So what’s a tradition here? We have a pluralistic tradition, plural tradition as well. It is judo-Christian but there
are other things as well. Buddhism is also part of
American tradition for example. And Harry Potter is
becoming American tradition. But there’s this sense that
in order to see the future we have to look back into the past. – That’s a perfect segue
to what I wanna say. In order to see into the future we have to think about the past. So I just wanted to say that in terms of, well I don’t usually predict the future, but since Casper is forcing us, I will say that a lot of
people see things in the future and we’ve even talked about
these things like loneliness. A lot of people say, “oh more loneliness, “more religious decline, “and more dangerous technology.” And those are the three sort
of narratives I would point to and I guess I would say,
speaking as a historian, I don’t see that happening. The trope of American
individuals among loneliness goes back to the American founding. The lonely crowd, there’s a
long 20 century literature about how lonely we are, how terrible it is. That literature sorta continues today. We’re so lonely. The same thing with religious decline. I mean the Puritans
were banging their heads on their tables about religious
decline in the late 1600s. So religious decline
is a historical trope. We’re repeating it again today, right, and then of course this
utopian technological visions. The dangers of new technologies, right? I was just reading in
the 50s what people were writing in popular magazines
about the new televisions. Literally articles about
television causing psychosis. There’s a great book in 1978 about how television viewing causes psychosis. So these are pretty common narratives in American life about loneliness, about the decline of religion, and I guess I’d just say that people always need other people. And people will always need
religion and spirituality. That’s kinda what I think. So they’re gonna find it. And then the question for us as scholars is how do we find new ways of finding how they’re defining it? We don’t wanna use the old categories, we need to sorta think about new ways that people are finding other people, new ways that people are finding sort of religious connection, and ritual, and belonging, and spirituality, right, and new ways people are using technology. There’s so much hand writing
about technology today. That’s my prediction. – Yeah I would just build on that, Chris, in a sense of, if to make claims about the way people are in addition to needing each other I think there is some kind of fundamental creativity that individuals
have in terms of the way they live their lives and so that’s part of where my interest in hope about the
future comes from, too, is just even in the six years that Casper and I have
been really asking about and looking at innovation
in the realm of community and spirituality, the sheer proliferation that has happened in that short window is astonishing. And what’s kind of burgeoning
is also remarkable. So I guess part of it is there is that element of it is impossible to predict by virtue of the fact that it will come from that kind of generative energy that is in response to
these phenomenon we see, but I definitely would echo that some of the most exciting efforts are the ones that are really actively in conversation with some of our most ancient wisdom about being human and that also I really hope that as religious scholars and practitioners, I would say we need to
be there, as it were, in what is unfolding in the sense that, like, my friend, Sarah Cost, who’s a graduate of HDS who she did the thing going to Instagram and just looking at #spiritual and seeing what was there, and the extent to which it was disheartening just how much of it was selling stuff and all this. But to her credit, she was like, “So I need
to be there,” you know? I’m gonna go be on Instagram as a platform for what I’m trying to do that she sees as ministry, right? And there are a lot of
other venues like that that I hope that there’s
just active engagement with ’cause it’s gonna be
necessary to help in this kind of inflection point where I am. – Wonderful. Well thank you so much
for your paying attention. Now it is over to you. And so I would love if
you would be willing to turn to someone next to you, perhaps you know them,
even better if you don’t, and just share something that resonates from the conversation. Something that has you thinking, something that you wanna
challenge or interrogate, and after just a few
minutes of conversation, we’ll then engage in some Q and O as I’ve recently heard it. Questions and opinions. Because we’re not claiming
we have the answer. – You didn’t tell us that. (laughing) So please talk to your
neighbor or someone nearby and we’ll be back together
in just a few minutes. Friends, I know you’re
only just getting started but remember there is wine and cheese. It’s just 40 minutes. So what questions, reflections do we have? I’m so curious to hear you on. Yes? – [Audience Member 1] So thank you all for your contributions. My name is Collin, I’m a
PhD student up the street at the Fletcher School. And Nicole who’s a
visiting potential student here at HDS and we’re
talking first about the idea that you brought up, Casper, of the commodification
or commercialization of religion, belonging, and what have you. So if you wanna go down that rabbit hole further that would be great. My question to you all is to concretize the future of religion
by speaking about the longstanding tradition of obligation or discipline or what have you in addition to, or sort
of in opposition to the neo-liberal cafeteria approach. Because I think eventually as we deal with community we’re gonna have to dance with community expectation and I think many religions have lost a lot of wasta when it comes to having the moral high ground to be able to
enforce discipline on people and yet I think we daily get a lesson on what happens when there is no objective norm for behavior to appeal to. – What, you read the
President’s Twitter feed? (laughter) – So let’s have two of us
respond to each question so we don’t get overwhelmed. So if this question of
discipline really speaks to you then you can take it. – I just, I’ll say really quickly that I mean I think it is true that religious identity is chosen now more than it is ascribed, as
it was more 100 years ago, but I think that that individualism, if we wanna call it that, people do then choose to submit to a system of rules and obligations. So you see that in a number of new groups, you see that in people who
convert to religious groups, so it’s not just all individualism, and autonomy, and locating
authority in the self. Authority is given to bodies that are larger than themselves. – Yeah, I would just say amen to that. And add that it’s not just sort of spiritual seekers who often fall prey to this. I don’t want anybody
telling me what to do. It’s also liberal Protestants. – Have you met unitarian universalists? (laughing) – Yeah, I’ve you’ve been
to my church lately. – Yeah, right, yeah. – We wouldn’t want you to even fill out a visitors card if you
didn’t really want to. (laughing) – Optional visitors card? Oh yeah. – And now see that’s an
American baptist congregation. – No it’s a UCC Presbyterian. (laughing) – You can’t even decide which one. (laughing) – Wonderful. Other questions, reflections? Yes, over here? – [Audience Member 2] Hi, I’m
interested in this idea of, did you call it mediation? The electronic mediation? I have an intuitive sense. Well not just an intuitive sense, but from an education standpoint, I think it’s 95 percent of Mooks and online classes fail because there is no social accountability or social capital to that end person. As we mediate these things I feel like the church or religious institutions and the traditions have
kept people coming back. Do you guys have any intuition, research, ideas on what are trends or things
we need to do for that IRL sustenance in order to create that accountability? – [Casper] IRL being in real life, yes. – So that’s a great question. So Chris mentioned a lot of the rituals, things that people are doing online also raises a question
of authenticity, right? So in the Chinese context there have been online ritual activities, acts for rituals, but they don’t really take off. So my own thinking about this is that ritual life has to be analog. And in fact there’s an
extraction in our digital world. So you may connect to the people you are gonna do rituals with
such as family members and Twitter and on text on your phone, but you have to be there together. And a lot of the ritual work is done in that shared physical activity, embodied activity, emotional activity of
doing rituals together. So I actually think for
rituals to be effective it needs to be analog. – Yeah, I mean my understanding of people lik Heidi Campbell who did this research on digital culture and digital religion
say, they say just that. That it’s sort of a hybrid, what’s happening is sort of a hybrid. People have their online
religious communities but they connect them to their in personal religious communities and people use religious apps all the time but they’re connected to
in person groups and stuff. So a lot of the online goes along with, goes along with the communities. – Yeah I think the hybridity
is really important. I’m thinking, Margie, of that kind of the sabbath blessing. Jewish families who grew up having a parent bless their
children on a Friday night who then still have a phone call, right, when Shabbat arrives. And so how physical ritual can then become mediated through in that case, a phone, rather than a screen, but that it’s anchored
in something that’s real and before it becomes
this kind of digital– – I mean having said that there are the examples that I mentioned like televangelism in our world where there is the end televangelism America where it does seem to be
replacing going to church. People do watch the screen
and get the transmission, and some of them believe literally the Holy Spirit comes
through the transmission. So I think in some context, there are other contexts with
sort of pagans in America and in Europe who do rituals that are sort of screen based. So there is a way in
which some digital culture is replacing in person. – [Audience Member 2] Is there like a a critical mass of efficaciousness where is like every three months you need to get to get together IRL? (laughing) I know that’s so clinical but I’m like you can’t do it once a year. – Yeah. – Yeah, that’s my, I’m
a community organizer. You can’t. – Yeah and Margie, it’s been fascinating, and this relates to Collin’s
question of discipline as well. With the formation project
which is the actual project, architecture is online and the participants in small
groups, in many cases, have never met each other. They’ve met through this project and their groups are
meeting every week online. The number one criterion for participation in the project was desire and it had to be for their commitment to that which calls them. Not to us or this project
or in the beginning even to each other ’cause
they had never met. Their relationships are
developing in that container but it’s really, I think,
in a context of some pretty significant desperation, which is just to say it’s either do this online or don’t do it. And be still alone and
not prioritizing this thing that you know is the most meaningful part of your life but you
can’t get around to it because of all the other
obligations you have. And so it’s, and we
have some portion of the perspective participants drop off specifically because thy were like, “the last thing I need is
more screen time in my life,” you know, and I am a participant and I feel that way broadly
but it’s worth it to me because what is offered as a result is too meaningful to not do. And I have hope that as
our technology evolves, it will feel less and less like a screen and more and more like an
experience of interaction. And of course that’s to be TBD. – May I add one more thing to it? You just said a magic word to me, to us, which is efficacious. So I think we also need to think about a kind of sociology of efficacy. A colleague and I are thinking about actually starting a project on the sociology of efficacy, not as in whether something
actually efficacious, but what we mean by efficacy. When does it work? What is our perceived sense of efficacy and how that effects our
religious ritual activities. So I think that’s an important component. – [Casper] Nancy, I’m
thinking of your work with Sacred Stories, Sacred Tribes, I can never get the right way around. – I can’t remember either. (laughing) – [Casper] And so much
of your study there was asking people to take photographs of moments of their spiritual and seeing the breadth of spiritual things that people were doing that we might not traditionally recognize as religious. Were there anythings
in there that had that electronically mediated component? – Hmm, good question. I actually don’t think so. – That’s interesting. – Now there are, yeah. Hmm. I remember one person took
a picture of her desk, of her sort of with her computer, but what she was what she was signaling there was both all of the other material objects around the computer that she had there as sort of reminders of who she is and what she does and why it’s important. The computer, though, was part of her, in her case, writing stories for children that embody pagan themes. So in that sense the
computer was important because it’s helping her to produce the spiritual product. – That’s fascinating. – Yeah. – I wonder ’cause that was 2010. – Well the research was done in, like, 2006, 7, and 8. – Well so I’m thinking already the changes in technology. – Oh yeah, I mean, we didn’t
have iPhones to give people or they didn’t have
iPhones to take pictures. – And especially the kind of multi-player gaming things that we see. – Oh yeah. – Other questions, reflections? Yes, over here, and then I’ll come to you. – [Audience Member 3] Thank you. My name is Alban who is
a second year student here at HDS and I’m wondering how you guys or how you see the possibility then where the spirituality may enforce inclusionary social boundaries and
would that be surveyed be in sort of political equality and undermine a rather collective identity because when it comes
to our current discourse of mere spirituality or
experiences with spirituality we tend to over emphasize the positive x factor a bit. And I also see the potential danger of it because sometimes or right now I’m thinking about growing association of mindfulness practice and
consumer culture head space. So more and more students in HDS are talking about how it may be dangerous to see to weakness that we
are in association between mindfulness practice or spirituality and consumer culture and male liberalism with work ethic whether as a compliment of neo-liberalism that justifies or we kind of legitimize some kind of authoritative economic and full system. Which is not how they knew because some sociologists, like Paul, he was, and Kimberly talked about
new age catholicism. How new age practice has been worked as counting towards a supplement
of capitalism so I’m wondering how do you see the possibility that this modern spirituality in practice can work as reinforced work, even more kind of have more in having, I’m rambling, but I’m (laughing) legitimate boundaries, yeah. – [Casper] That’s a great question, yes. – Can I respond with a couple of things that occur to me? One is that many of the things that we’ve been pointing to as people experimenting
with alternative ways of being spiritual, even
alternative gatherings, are not the kinds of things that people without economic
resources have access to. I’m not sure how many people without economic resources would show up at a Star Wars convention or Harry Potter. You know, have an iPhone to get your Harry Potter podcast, whatever. So I think that’s one of the things to really think hard about when we talk about where the alternatives are and how people are gathering, what are resources that
are available to people. And related to that, I eluded earlier to what we are learning about the consequences of disengagement in the African American church. And I heard a really powerful presentation a couple of weeks ago at a conference that looks at the people who are the African American non-affiliates and they are less likely to vote, they are less likely to be involved in any other kind of community activism, they are less likely to think about race in structural terms, they’re more likely to think it’s an up by your boot straps
kind of phenomenon. So they are getting disconnected from a tradition and a community that has given them a way of, a critical edge and a way of
being in American society. And that has real consequences. So there are some, I
think, really important critical questions to ask about the potential downsides. And yes, some of them are about what does it mean to
have mindful employees? – Mm hmm. – [Casper] Do you have anything? Oh sorry, Anna, please off to you. – I just want to just say that that is such an important question, and something that is very much on my mind when I do research in China as well because you do see a lot
of the ritual activities that are really limited
to the unit of the family. So you don’t have a community
doing things together. You’re not caring for strangers. But what I can say about Confucian rituals is that it is not completely decoupled from ethics in action. So there’s great, at least historically, a great connection and demand almost to connect ritual activities
with ethical action outside of the ritual context. So in this form of self
constructed spiritual identity that we’ve been talking about, how can we bring ethics in action into it I think is key. And I don’t have the answer to it but I can see there’s a connection in China’s case between ritual and ethics. – [Casper] I see excited faces. Angie if you wanna say something. – Well just I mean to follow on one place to look at it
is within the workplace as was just being mentioned. And if we take that humans need connection as much as water and air, or something like that, then if one is not
affiliated in community then the workplace becomes, often, a site that people bring their whole
lives to in some sense. So then you have that potentially insidious possibility in which something like mindfulness is
being offered in that space in part in response to the sense that this needs to be a space of meaning. And Rev Eric Martinez Resley which is another HDS grad talks about on the one hand if you have your mindfulness that’s gonna make you a more stress free
employee or what have you versus if you take the
riches of mindfulness to its natural end in where you will probably leave that job, right? That that’s a very different kind of. And so I think that part of it at least in relationship between commodified environment
and spiritual practice has to do with the source of that offering and the extent to which it is allowed to take the
individual practitioner to where it leads them. And that there’s a lot of kind of in this particular moment
where all of this is unfolding, there are a lot of different versions of how that’s being offered and how it’s being received. But I think that’s one of the most interesting spaces to ask
these kinds of questions ’cause it’s something so much in progress. – I was just gonna just add to that. Yeah I think this is a
pretty common complaint in the scholar literature about spiritual but not religious people, that they’re sort of unmatched
in the capitalist world. They’re sort of unmatched
in consumer culture and I guess I’m a little
bit suspicious of that. And I had a conversation
with a friend of mine who was actually a church member, whatever, and this is sort of his complaint about spiritual but not religious, that they’re kind of, that’s a spirituality or religiousness that’s kind of unmatched
in consumer capitalism and therefore I don’t like it. And I just wonder a little bit if like older theological, Christian
theological categories that are structured in
that critique a little bit, sort of like, there’s the church and then there’s the world. The church should be separate and then there’s all the worldly stuff. And then I start to think
about examples like, okay well there’s
catholic retreat centers, for example, and then there’s Esalen, the new age retreat center. And there’s a whole book
about Esalen for instance called, like, the Spiritual Gold Rush, and about how awful it is. But are we making the same
sort of comments about how other sorts of religious communities are also unmatched in consumer capitals. So I just wonder a little bit about how we’re thinking about those categories. – Chris, you took the words
right out of my mouth. Beautiful. We had a question over here then we’ll go over there and then we’ll come to you. – [Audience Member 4] Thank you for that very enlightening talk. I’m a member of the public
so my question will be in lay persons terms. So the first part of my question is about the study that’s been
done about the none’s. So I’m wondering if we wait long enough where there’s some of these none’s will go back to their traditions which is what some of us
did after 10, 20, 30 years. So that’s one thing. But the second part of my question has to do with tradition, with culture, and with actually what it
means to be a Christian, how it fits into the American
culture, so to speak. I grew up in the old countries. I grew up in the Middle
East in a Muslim country. As a Christian we used to pray when the Imam started praying so there was not division between the secular and the mundane. We wanted to do science class, we came out, went into religious class, there was no schizophrenic
approach to life. But here I find there is some kind of schizophrenic approach because everything is very compartmentalized. So maybe, just maybe Christianity is no longer a valued
religion for this culture, and maybe we need a new myth. So my question to you is what kind of myth do you think would
fit the American culture? Because the way Christianity
is being marketed, it’s very hard to recognize actually for somebody who comes
from the old country. So that’s my question. Thank you. – Hmm. I’m gonna give a really quick
response to your first point. Increasingly the people
who are non-affiliated actually grew up in households where they were brought up as non-affiliated. So they don’t have anything to go back to. We used to joke back in the 90s that people who were non-affiliated didn’t stay that way, that none’s weren’t very good
at reproducing themselves. (light laughter) – [Casper] It got said, yup. (laughing) – But increasingly they
are reproducing themselves which means it’s a much
more stable identity. – [Casper] What about this
question of a new myth. – I’m not touching that. (laughing) It’s a great question. – Yeah it’s funny. My husband just helped to create a week long event at Esalen on what is the new myth
for the new coming century. And I have to say that gathering kind of it ended up with people taking the opportunity
to express in the space the ways that they felt excluded from the myths that we have. That was the most important thing that was felt to be necessary by the participants to get across in the space that was open there which is to say it seems that if we’re gonna get toward
something there’s a lot of healing and repair. There’s so much work that’s not done. It feels like it would be, what do they call it, it would be like spiritual
bypassing or something to just try to create a new shiny myth. It feels like that to me would be one of the first steps, is to actually contend with the reality of what so many are grieving and wounded by. – And I just want to say I wish I were there for that conference. That’s fascinating. But I think when we speak of new myth it has to be plural. We’re really creating multiple new myths everywhere all the time. I’m not a fan of Game of Thrones. Is that a new myth for
those of you who watch it? Maybe. But I’ve interviewed teenagers who would tell me very excitedly about a new myth based on games. So multiple new myths have
been created all the time but it’s not gonna be
that one big shiny myth. That’s gonna take centuries. – Indeed and what I would add to that is that the most effective stories that we see in popular culture now build on tropes that have been established and kind of mind meaning that has been there for many years. So I think it’s about
I’m waiting for someone to reinvent Easter. I feel like Easter has this
kind of moment in our culture, certainly for kind of
Christian dominant culture has increasingly lost its meaning as people go to services less and less. And so but it’s ultimately this incredibly meaningful
thing of life out of death. And so it could have real resonance. I think there’s some
liturgical invitation there to create something entirely new. Well, sorry, not entirely–
– Well I don’t think that the myth we need is necessarily a cosmic, big explanation for everything. I think people need
lots of little stories. – And I would just say too just picking up on your point, Casper, that don’t underestimate
the elasticity of tradition, and of Christianity in particular. Look at American history. The ways it’s ebbed and flowed and changed over time in response to, your Christianity when you grew up was one thing and but it’s
different all over the world and it changes so there
is a kind of power to it. It keeps coming back, you know. – That’s a great tagline. It keeps coming back. (laughing) Over here. – [Audience Member 5] So
this is sort of in some ways to kind of complicate the vision I got drawn earlier between
the church and the world because I think there’s a broader chasm between the spiritual and the mundane. And for a number of years,
I’m a minister but I was in a clinical setting
for a number of years and then administrative,
and then academic, and now I’m back in parish ministry. And it’s interesting
being in the messy thick of congregational life. You know, all the ways the theories don’t hold up in practice is destructive in and of itself. But that’s where the practice is, is where the theories break down. And so what I’m struck by with a lot of the spiritual bypassing is how our culture needs
a chaplaincy, right, and it doesn’t know how
to access the chaplaincy. And also how embodiment is a a cure for anthropology (laughing) so that when things need to be embodied I think it’s harder to hold on to these
high-minded anthropologies about our perfectibility, whereas if it’s just you and your app and your phone, and I think this gets this sort of spiritual narcissism, and you don’t have to deal with the tragic faux-pa that happens in a fellowship hour after service where someone’s world view actually gets shattered over their coffee, then it’s easy to think that we just need a certain set up formula to run. And that it’s not relational. So it’s interesting
when it’s sort of things are relational and what it
means to be human myths. It’s humbling in a way that I think is more spiritual than we give credit for. – Well this is, if I could
just give a shout out to my advisor, David Hall, this is where David Hall’s
work on lived religion is so powerful, right, because he showed just that. That’s it’s sort of in
the moments of practice which is where people perform in the gaps where the mythology and the
theology is breaking down and they’re piecing it back together and there’s so much more that’s in there that you don’t see and when you look at it closely then you see all kinds of things about what’s happening on the ground
and in religious America. – I’m going to perform and Anna I’m going to bypass you to honor the ancestors and go
straight to the man himself. (laughter) – [David] I have no answers. In the 90s when I was reading in the sociology of religion, and in religiously inflected
histories of the past, one of the sort of overwhelming
points that came home was that there had never
been a true golden age. So that in the middle ages I know a lot about France, the middle ages, very few french people were actually taking part in communion and highly patronized Scotland
I think came once a year for communion that was mucky. So we can very very easily exaggerate how much aneity or persistence of any
practice in the past. They are all in some measure tempered or use Chris’ word, mediated, by the circumstances. It does not mean that they could not retain a high
symbolic importance as articulated by our leadership class, our coherent leadership class, but just to create an example, the Presbyterian church in
Scotland in the 17th century prided itself on guarding the Lord’s supper from the unworthy, when in the Westminster assembly, which most of you know nothing about, but in the Westminster assembly of 1644, one of the English
anti-Presbyterians said, “Well do you actually
really exclude anybody?” The leading Presbyterians there said, “Well actually sheepishly
we actually don’t “really exclude anybody.” The rhetoric was phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. Off the charts. The practice was something else because for various reasons. One is the emotional, political price of excluding people was higher than the religious cost of them. (laughing) So those kinds of compromises is what you’re really pointing to, Chris, is that these are curved wherever. I just wanna brush on to two more things. It’s tremendously poignant. I have to say it’s this is a very depressing panel. (everyone laughing) It’s depressing. I’ll come to why I said
depressing in two ways. It’s poignant that the Chinese have something to fall back on. In the midst of their
neo-liberal transformation, they have Confucianism to fall back on. So one of the ways of
understanding American culture is that we don’t have
anything to fall back on. We have nothing to fall back on. Our Christianity was
left wing Protestantism from the start. Highly therefore their for local sender, participatory center, and a sense freedom center, and whatever it’s great
strengths have been and were, and evangelicalism does promote a certain kind of individualistic practice. There’s no two ways about it despite its regulating capacities. So we don’t have a resource, a well, a deep well, and I feel this when I go to Japan for all of the horrible
spiritual crises in Japan, the vacuum in Japan. None of us, there is a Canipita family
that’s unlike anything we have in this cultured talk. It’s just there. You don’t question it. It’s just there. So then in terms of myth, I think one of the myths that this is not a national myth, it’s a myth among
students who are religion, and prophets of religion, is that there is some
great new age dawning. And so if there was no
golden age in the past and I just suggested there’s no golden age (laughing) in the future, and Nancy’s very very appropriate and
often overlooked comment on the situation of the black church is hugely relevant. The collapse of male
participation in the black church for various reasons, the collapse of the authority
of the black church, absolutely no moral authority any longer, the collapse of its role as
a social cohesive figure, we had Martin Luther King and that’s it. And Martin Luther King, himself, was certainly a neo-liberal figure. So it’s really I just
wanna underscore that the normative, what may seem
like a normative possibility that there will be a
robust new spirituality overcoming the very severe realities
of people in distress, suicides, addictions, poverty, lives without moral significance, which I see something of
in the great state of Maine where I spend some of the year, a lot ’cause it’s right there in your face around the corner. It’s not gonna be overcome by some new form of spirituality. – Well as a Brit I’ve booked
my one-way ticket back home. (laughing) Where at least we have the queen. (laughing) I’ll invite Adam just to
offer our final question and then I’ll ask each of you just to respond with any final comments. – That is a tough act to follow. (laughing) But maybe it relates to my question. There’s so much richness here that I sort of have a consolation of questions and I’m gonna try to turn it into one. So there’s this term called VUCA which might be a military term. Volatility uncertainty
complexity and ambiguity. And some people have sort of noted how there’s a rise in the sort of culture experience of VUCA, at least in certain pockets. Certainly seen it so in our country. And part of what we’re hearing here is kind of the dominant
religious structures are ceasing to work. They’re ceasing to be compelling which I’m sure contributes to the VUCA and also I wonder if
some of what is happening is sort of a response to this increasing uncertainty
and ambiguity that we feel that we need something to
help gt us through that. And so we see some sort of turning to more like concrete fundamentalist ways of thinking like I think there’s been sort of a surprise that that’s increasing in so many ways. So I guess my question is what is my question? It’s something with the tension here sort of and I mean you kinda
gave an answer to what there’s not something that’s
gonna pull us out of this. So maybe my question is followed up with what does it mean if we don’t have something to pull us out of, pull us out of these trends? What does this mean for our
society and our country? Somebody maybe give us some hope or (laughing) pull us out of the ditch. – Okay. I’ll give you the answer first. Here’s a hopeful angle. Very few Americans are true atheists. So theism has very long
tradition in this country. Very few people in surveys, in interviews will come out as Richard Dawkins. So I think that means there’s
always gonna be this desire to reconstruct not personal spirituality, but religious tradition. So I’m going to refer to a concept that may not be directly
related to your question but may be useful which is the counsel of civil religion. Which is not a religion per say, it is a kind of political theology. But the idea of civil religion is that it is something a people construct in a democracy based on the religious ethical traditions we share. And this traditions are plural traditions. So what if we are going to collectively realize this need for us to put together
our religious traditions shared by the American people which is a very diverse people? So we will going to have elements from judo-Christianity, maybe American Buddhism, maybe other religious traditions to really find a way for us to have a narrative of the people that has the sacred at the center. So that’s my hopeful thinking but I think the fact
that very few Americans are true atheists gives one the sense that we won’t need this collective narrative no matter what happens to our individual practice. – Yeah I guess I would just point to again, elasticity of Christianity and the elasticity of tradition and the ways that changes over time. And I’d also point to other
periods in American history, like have any of you seen this whatever seven-part documentary in the Vietnam and the late 1960s? And talk bout despair and social unrest. I mean it blew me away. It’s before my time but blew me away to watch it. – I was gonna say some of us didn’t need to see the documentary. (laughing) – I mean you know, what a time of talk about suicide and despair and then after World War II
and during the Civil War, and so I mean I think that there’s been times of crisis before in this country. And there’s been an ebb and flow of different forms of what we’re calling religion and spirituality. So there may be no
golden age in the future but there may be similar things that we see in the past in the future. – I guess I will inject some pessimism along with the optimism (laughter) in that I think it’s not at all surprising that we find people in fundamentalist type religious communities, and that that’s not gonna go away any time soon and that those communities are going to be by definition pretty high bounded and pretty exclusionary, at the same time that
they recruit people in. But part of what gives them that sense of assurance and focus and we know the rules and we know the truth, and we also know that
therefore you don’t have it. So there are those tendencies and I don’t think that’s going to go away any time real soon. But I think Anna’s point is really interesting that there is somehow still a there’s still our elements of stories within American traditions
that can conceivably be drawn on by people who want to
help us move together to do things together for the common good. That those two can
actually be quite powerful. – Well since I already
invoked my husband once, I’ll just share a story which is to say we got married last year
and he’s Indian from Kerola and his family is Hindu. And I needed to be converted to Hinduism. And I had taken courses with him. Moni is here that had taught me that Hinduism is largely a colonial construct to which one could not be converted and what I learned in this process is where there’s a will there’s a way. And some priests were
paid and I was converted and there’s now a certificate
with my face on it that says I’ve renounced
my religion of Christianity and taken up the religion of Aria and it’s a fascinating document but what I actually, well two things I’ll say about it. The first is in the
actual conversion process there were a series of gestures that I did and I dint know what they were at the time and I was repeating Sanskrit words, and afterward I learned that was I was doing was consecrating different parts of my body to the divine. And I kinda said well if I had known that was what was on offer, I could’ve had my own response to that. So I think part of what that points to and has ended up being a huge part of my work with Casper to both of our surprise is relationships to
elders as wisdom keepers and the possibilities that are opened when those lineages stay in tact, even if they run across
what might have been the previous boundaries to hold them. Someone who could’ve shared with me some more about the meaning behind the rituals I was engaging with, even if I would not maybe
in some other context be a recipient of that
particular set of wisdom. And so there’s a real opportunity to creatively unlock the ways that we’re sharing and transmitting
what we’ve learned about meaning making through the centuries and across different
geographies and times. So that’s one piece, is a real hope in the kind of eldering relationships. And then the second piece is just that I was not Christian before
and I’m not Hindu now by many standards, but I did that because I love my husband and I cared about his family, right? And there’s something that seems to be awfully compelling to us, still, in the midst of all of this change about our connection to others and those kinds of bonds of love that sure haven’t gone anywhere. So I think in the midst of that we will be called to creativity to move forward, whatever that looks like. – Well friends thank you
so much for being with us, and can I just have a show of hands anyone who knows where the CSWR is and is planning to go? Okay we have some hand up, excellent. These are the people to follow if you would like to join. The drinks and nibbles. It’s just across the road in a rather stunningly 1950s 60s building. The entrance is to the
side through a little gate. A huge thanks to Angie
Thurston, Nancy Ammerman, Anna Sun, and Chris White. I’m so. (applause drowns out speaking) (acoustic guitar music)

1 Reply to “Lived Religion and Spirituality in 2019”

  1. It’s not good to believe in anything, right now because the soul is being possessed. When you say you believe in something, it connect’s you with concept out of yourself. Being independent of everything, is key to disconnect from sources that may be out of control. That way, you can respect yourself, and protect yourself from being’s who may be destructive.

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