Lived Religion

Page author: Luke Burns

This page published on: 07/02/2020

Last modified: 10/11/2020


Table of Contents


The concept of ‘religion’ has been abstracted from observations of behaviour and experience, but no one can point to ‘religion’ as a real thing. Instead, scholars argue, we should talk about people religioning, doing religion, behaving religiously.

This attitude towards religion sees it as a process, not a static entity, and tries to counteract the tendency to bundle complex cultural phenomena into simple ideas - this tendency, when applied to foreign cultures and traditions can be particularly damaging for our understanding of religion, and has contributed to the world religions paradigm.

Another way of describing this approach is vernacular or lived religion: the real-world practices and beliefs of individuals, not necessarily the traditional answers that might come from people in positions of authority.

Sociologist of religion Nancy Ammerman argues in her 2013 Paul Hanly Furfey Lecture Finding Religion in Everyday Life:

…I want to begin with everyday practice; instead of taking the experts and official theology as definitive, I will join the lived religion scholars in arguing that we need a broader lens that includes but goes beyond those things.

Ammerman, 2014, p.190

We can see that understanding lived religion goes hand-in-hand with understanding religion as a western category that has a range of complex meanings.

By focusing on activity and individuals, we can avoid (or at least mitigate) the tendency to make generalisations about religious systems and traditions, and go some way towards dismantling the simple understanding of the world religions paradigm.