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Theme: Modes of Digital Religion: Research Methods, Christian Traditionalism on Twitter, and Online Worship during Covid-19

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM (In Person)

This panel examines two aspects of digital religion: the use of Twitter by Christian traditionalists and the use of digital modes of worship during the Covid-19 pandemic. Authors utilize a range of research methods, from qualitative digital research and personal interviews to big data and machine learning approaches. The first paper analyzes the discourse of Brazilian radical traditionalist Catholics on Twitter regarding environmental, economic, and theological concerns. The second paper examines how Orthodox Christian Twitter users focus on physiognomy as a tool of visual verification to determine racial and religious identities, a practice that reinvigorates scientific racism through popular discourse. The third paper relies on interviews with Boston-area Catholics to show divergences in lay perceptions of the authenticity of online worship. The fourth paper explores how the Burning Man festival sought to recreate ecstatic moments when it transitioned its rituals and communal experience to a virtual context.   

  • Abstract

    This presentation analyzes the hashtag #RadTrad (specifically, the discussion of radical traditionalist Catholics) on Twitter as an example of the ways in which identities are created in discourse and, moreover, how it is precisely the flexibility, not the rigid orthodoxy, of ideas of “tradition” that render it an influential tool of this algorithmic culture. I focus here on just one topic in the Twitter data, Brazilian traditionalist Catholic discussions of climate change, to demonstrate the variety of purposes for which #RadTrad is mobilized. My data lays bare some of the lesser-discussed social and economic forces that inspire these contemporary debates in Brazil, and I hope it disrupts analyses that continue to view a “religion” as static and determinative of behavior. This talk will be of interest to those curious about computational text analysis, discourse on climate change, religion and social media, or how ideas of technology shape culture. 

  • Abstract

    Drawing on qualitative digital research, in conversation with the histories of American racism and European fascism, this paper explores a renewed focus on physiognomy among religiously conservative white men in the United States who are self-proclaimed radicals and fascists. In doing so, it teases out how these intolerant conceptions of the body and personhood, often formulated and mobilized through technological mobilized digital propaganda, are intimately tied to philosophies of traditionalism, the history of biologically focused racism, and the disciplinary structures of political authority. By looking at how the language of political authority and race are mobilized among Christian online surveillance collectives, we can better understand of how the religious far right is shifting the American political substrata through technological means.

  • Abstract

    COVID-19 measures required many Catholics to watch mass digitally and scholars are studying how Catholics experienced this. Thus, I utilized grounded theory to conduct unstructured and semi-structured interviews with Catholics to understand their experiences and if virtual mass is authentic. I stratified analysis by an inductive theme: what participants said was the most important part of the mass. Participants who placed emphasis on the Liturgy of the Eucharist felt that digital mass was not fully authentic and longed to return to in-person mass. Participants who placed emphasis on the Liturgy of the Word felt like digital mass was authentic and saw it as an attractive option for attending mass, even after COVID-19 measures end. This qualitative research adds to discussions of digital religion among Catholics and can help sociologists of religion contextualize and understand Catholic mass attendance, particularly when service attendance is a prominent variable in quantitative studies.

  • Abstract

    Since its inception in 1986, Burning Man has attracted hundreds of thousands of people to the Nevada desert for a psychedelic bacchanal. Many attendees consider their participation in the ritual gathering as a spiritual pilgrimage for an experience of communal creative ecstasy. With the onset of COVID-19, however, Burning Man organizers faced the problem of moving a fundamentally in-person communal experience to a virtual environment. This paper explores how in 2020 and 2021, the Burning Man project transitioned its rituals and worship experience to recreate ecstatic moments in a virtual context. Drawing from literature in affect studies, new religious movements, entheogenic esotericism, and the burgeoning area of psychedelic studies, we explore how Burners sought to inhabit the extreme conditions of the hot and dust-stormy desert remotely, to experience psychedelic sacraments in VR, and to generate the collective ecstatic religious affects of a “transformational festival” through a digital-virtual network.


Theme: New Works in the Sociology of Asian American Religions

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

In this roundtable, three sociologists of religion discuss their recent books and how each provides important new insights for the study of Asian American religions. Carolyn Chen’s Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley (2022) explores how tech companies in Silicon Valley bring religious practices such as yoga and meditation into the workplace and end up spiritualizing work itself. Stephen Cherry’s Importing Care, Faithful Service: Filipino and Indian American Nurses at a Veterans Hospital (2022) investigates how immigrant Filipino and Indian Catholic nurses navigate xenophobia and church-state separation at a government hospital in Houston. Chenxing Han’s Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists (2021) critiques stereotypes of Asian American Buddhists while highlighting nuance among young, socially engaged Buddhists of diverse backgrounds. These works chart new territories in the sociology of religion, Asian American religions, globalization of religion, and religious studies.


Theme: Robert Wuthnow and the Sociology of Religion in America

Sunday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This roundtable panel considers the work and legacy of Robert Wuthnow, one of the foremost sociologists of religion in America. Wuthnow is the author of more than forty books and numerous articles about religion, spirituality, civil society, faith communities, and American culture. His scholarship has reshaped several fields in the study of religion and in cultural sociology, including on themes such as religious diversity, spiritual seeking, socio-political fracturing, immigration, experimentation in religion, the religious lives of young adults, spirituality and the arts, faith-based services, religion in small towns, civil society, and public religion. In this panel, several eminent sociologists of religion discuss Wuthnow’s influence and continuing relevance in the sociology of American religions. After the panelists present their reflections, Robert Wuthnow will respond.


Theme: Secular Ambivalence and Secular Misfits: A Roundtable on Joseph Blankholm’s The Secular Paradox (New York University Press, 2022)

Sunday, 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM (In Person)

In this roundtable, scholars of secularism from several disciplines respond to Joseph Blankholm’s *The Secular Paradox: On the Religiosity of the Not Religious* (2022), an ethnography of secular activists and organized nonbelievers in the United States. Blankholm merges the critique of secularism, which has largely taken place in anthropology, and the study of secular people, which is largely in sociology. Blankholm argues that, despite their desire to avoid religion, nonbelievers often seem religious because Christianity influences the culture around them so deeply. The book also explores how very secular people are ambivalent toward belief, community, ritual, conversion, and tradition. Blankholm highlights the experiences of “secular misfits,” such as women, people of color, and people who have left non-Christian religions, who do not conform to normative conceptions of secularism in the U.S. The book draws from and is a major contribution to sociology, anthropology, religious studies, secular studies, and continental philosophy.


Theme: Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations: Insights from Churches Across the US

Monday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

Since March of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has caused every facet of social life to change and religious life in the United States has been far from exempt. Technological advances like Zoom have allowed congregations to adapt quickly, but questions remain as to how and whether churches will be able to pivot out of the pandemic landscape in the long-term. At the same time, American religious congregations have grappled not only with the logistical and ideological challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the polarization of the 2020 presidential election and the societal reckoning over structural racism following the high-profile police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. This panel presents findings on the lived experience of religious life and congregational innovation during the pandemic through the collection of over 50 congregational case studies across the US as part of the “Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations” study.

  • Abstract

    Religious congregations usually approach social change with great caution.  Over the past two decades, some have exploited virtual and digital communication strategies vigorously, but most have been slow to move online.  A few have made systemic understanding of racism a primary concern, but most have focused on individual character.  A minority of congregations have fully embraced evolving understandings of gender and sexuality, but the majority have limited leadership opportunities for some members, even while gradually becoming more open to change.  This paper will consider the factors that lead congregations in Indianapolis, IN, toward rapid adaptation to social change, especially as the pandemic accelerated many changes already underway.  The paper will also consider factors that make such adaptation much slower and more difficult.  Variables considered include theological tradition, race, ethnicity, social and economic class, political polarization, and the influence (or lack thereof) of local culture exerted on broader cultural assumptions.

  • Abstract

    In the Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations study through the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, we are exploring twelve distinct, racially and denominationally diverse congregations in the Denver greater metro area and their responses to the ongoing COVID-19 Global Pandemic. The study focuses on the following guiding questions: How did congregations respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?  What are the long-term consequences of COVID-19 on congregational life in the United States? What does congregational life look like post-pandemic? Through participant observations of several service attendances, interviews with church leadership, and member focus groups, we will begin to form a detailed picture of these congregations and their responses to the pandemic. Ultimately, we will share our findings with congregational and denominational leaders, providing helpful case studies and resources as we move forward in these spatially transformative times in religious practice.

  • Abstract

    Sociological theory and empirical evidence have long demonstrated the importance in physical co-presence and emotional energy for the successful creation of collective effervescence and social solidarity in religious rituals. Amidst the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, many congregations have adjusted their traditional modes of worship and gathering. The role that innovations such as remote participation, social distancing, and other safety precautions play in shaping the individual religious experience and congregational identity is so far unexamined. In this paper, we examine in-depth congregational case studies of churches in the Hartford, Connecticut area to understand how these variations on in-person, virtual, and hybrid worship services unfold and how they are experienced both by individual attenders themselves and across congregational profiles.   


  • Abstract

    The Minneapolis team presents initial patterns from twelve protestant congregations in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Using qualitative methods, they focus on churches’ responses to two exogenous shocks: the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. They consider the congregations’ divergent responses to these “catastrophes” and their impacts on the local religious and denominational ecology and understandings of racial injustice. They present three themes present in churches’ responses: withdrawal, introspection, and mobilization. For many members of conservative congregations, frustrations with pandemic restrictions and institutional attention to racial injustice fueled exodus from churches with progressive politics and/or strict pandemic protocols. In contrast, in some mainline, progressive congregations the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests and legal proceedings alongside the COVID-19 pandemic sparked an ongoing process of race-centered introspection and learning that endures today. Other progressive congregations responded by mobilizing politically in the local community.


Theme: A Joyfully Serious Man: The Life of Robert Bellah (Princeton University Press, 2021): A Conversation with Author, Matteo Bortolini

Monday, 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM (In Person)

The recent publication of Bellah’s biography provides the AAR with a window into the scientific study of religious life from the early 1950’s when Bellah was student of Talcott Parsons at Harvard through the publication of his magnum opus, *Religion in Human Evolution*. 


The book has been highly acclaimed.  As stated by one of the nominators of the AAR book award for *A Joyfully Serious Man*, the book is ultimately “about the study of religion. In all his writing, as well as in his private life, Bellah was searching for an understanding of what religion was, and how it both shapes and is shaped by the social forces around him.


Three scholars will comment the biography of Bellah and engage the author in a conversation based upon their disciplines.


Theme: Religion and Social Justice: Navigating Race, Sexuality, and Politics in Faith Communities

Monday, 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM (In Person)

This panel explores how diverse faith communities navigate issues of race, sexuality, and politics in the Unites States, Canada, and Uganda. The first paper relies on personal interviews with racialized and LGBTQIA+ seminary students to show how institutional anti-Blackness and heteronormativity create negative experiences for these students. Drawing on a large survey and personal interviews, the second paper examines how members of the Alliance of Baptists perceive the denomination’s efforts to confront whiteness and improve inclusivity. The third paper relies on personal interviews and digital media analysis to examine how Native American activists and allies have utilized spiritual and scientific frames to oppose the construction of an oil pipeline on indigenous territory. Based on interviews and analysis of recent political events in Uganda, the fourth paper explores the tensions between accommodationist Christian and Muslim leaders and younger generations who are pushing them to support political change.

  • Abstract

    Many North American seminaries and theological schools are focused on expanding their student base to include more diverse populations, in part as a response to declines in White Protestant membership and training institutions. As a result, many schools now have large numbers of racialized and LGBTQIA+ students. As part of their organizational aims, these schools also include curricula designed to form students spiritually to prepare them for diverse ministry- or service-oriented vocations. Yet it is unclear whether existing spiritual formation programs are adequately serving the needs of new student populations; or whether they could retain elements of anti-Blackness and heteronormativity that cause additional harm to racialized and LGBTQIA+ students. This study uses in-depth interviews with 30 students at seminaries and theological schools of different traditions to identify how institutional religious education affects diverse students’ spiritual wellbeing, specifically in a moment of rapid organizational change.

  • Abstract

    Since 2019, the Alliance of Baptists committed to aggressive work targeting long-term structures of racial exclusion stemming from whiteness. Using extensive data collected in 2021 from a survey of 1,629 denominational participants and 125 semi-structured interviews with pastors, lay leaders, and attendees, we report several provocative and generative key findings that: 1) illustrate how Black and white participants significantly differ in their assessment of the health of their congregation’s racial climate, 2) explain how Black clergy and Black congregants view themselves as a distinct minority in their churches and wonder if the new project of addressing whiteness is “their” project, and 3) demonstrate how both leaders and members of these progressive churches experience profound, unanticipated, and largely unacknowledged tensions between their actions in relation to LGBTQ+ issues and newer initiatives focused on racial justice issues. Empirical evidence and their implications will be discussed, and feedback will be welcomed.

  • Abstract

    Since 2013, a collective of indigenous women and two-spirit persons have led a resistance movement of American Indian activists and allies against the construction of an oil pipeline through Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) territory in northern Minnesota. Their resistance is fueled by a mixture of indigenous and Western perspectives on science and spirituality, providing an ideal empirical context in which to explore how actors of varying social and spiritual identities combine scientific and religious perspectives to form meaningful individual and collective action. Drawing on over a dozen in-depth interviews and digital content analysis of social media, mainstream and alternative media, and seven leading activist organizations involved in the Stop Line 3 movement, this paper investigates how scientific and spiritual beliefs and identities are mobilized to guide action across different types of social actors and settings, particularly in marginalized religious and ethnic minority group contexts. 

  • Abstract

    This paper, which is based on interviews with 43 community-based religious and para-religious leaders in Uganda, as well as analysis of political events throughout 2020 and 2021, explores the complexities of religious politics in the current moment in Uganda, and the sources of political ambiguity within the Christian and Muslim communities. It argues that Christian and Muslim leadership are being increasingly pressed by their constituents—especially those of younger generations, who do not recall the civil war period of the 1970s and 1980s—to throw their weight behind the collective push for political change. It also argues, however, that the immediate threats posed by the regime to their sovereignty as providers of spiritual and material care, motivate them to take an accommodationist approach and prioritize nonpartisan calls for peace.


Theme: Framing and Mobilizing Religion: National Contexts, Social Values, and the Meaning of Religion

Tuesday, 8:30 AM - 10:00 AM (In Person)

This panel investigates how religion is framed and mobilized across national and local contexts. The first paper relies on ethnographic interviews with members of a “liberal observant” Jewish prayer group in the U.S. to reveal divergent views about cultural narratives of personal choice in religious identity and practice. The second paper draws on a Canadian survey and personal interviews to show how the term “religion” has become coded as anti-modern, unfree, American, and colonial since the 1960s. The third paper analyzes data from the World Values Survey to show that, while religiosity is generally associated with patriarchy, in some national contexts liberal gender ideologies are positively associated with religiosity. The fourth paper uses archival material and interviews to investigate how the U.S. federal government hires and trains chaplains for service in federal organizations where chaplaincy roles are mandated.

  • Abstract

    How do people engage narratives of choice in a religious community that one participant described as “the space that lives in between untethered progressive Judaism on the one hand and calcified Orthodoxy on the other?” This paper draws on ethnographic interviews to examine narratives of personal choice in a traditionally observant, but socially liberal, Jewish community.  This paper will disentangle different aspects of voluntarism to better analyze the ways that my interlocutors engage with ethics of choice. I argue that my interlocutors understand respect for individual authority as a basic moral principle, but have varied and complex relationships to the ideal of pluralism and the concept of obligation. Some embrace pluralism and reject external obligation. Many, however, are ambivalent about divergent Jewish practices, or defend the value of religious obligation against unrestricted personal freedom, intentionally resisting certain forms of voluntarism even while they affirm others.

  • Abstract

    How to explain the dramatic rise in "religious nones" in Canada? The secularization paradigm holds that modernization is the culprit. While we do not deny that secularization has taken place, the secularization paradigm, as classically conceived, cannot adequately explain this shift. Using Canada as a case study, we propose a way to think about secularization – guided by the discursive study of religion and neo-Durkheimian cultural sociology – which gives less attention to the three “b’s” – belief, belonging, and behavior – than to a fourth “b” – branding. Drawing from a nationally representative survey and interviews with fifty “spiritual but not religious” Canadians, we argue the country has seen such a rapid rise in religious disaffiliation because in the wake of the 1960s, the term “religion” became deeply polluted – widely coded as anti-modernunfreeAmerican, and colonial. In turn, we propose a novel and generative way to think about processes of religious decline.

  • Abstract

    How does religiosity shape the views of men and women in their social spheres of work, politics, and education? How does it vary across national contexts? Drawing on data from the World Values Survey (Wave 7), we examine the association between religiosity, religious affiliation, and a country’s religious culture on gender prioritizing across forty-two countries. We find that while religiosity is generally associated with prioritizing men over women, it does not apply to all countries. The study’s findings indicate that, in some countries, in each social sphere, religiosity is sometimes negatively associated with prioritizing men over women. We also find that, in some cases, religiosity has the strongest positive association with gender prioritizing in Anglophone countries. Our findings have implications for understanding the association between gender and religiosity across national contexts.


  • Abstract

    Scholars have paid little attention to the relationship between religion and organizational hiring and training practices, in spite of an extensive literature on labor market stratification. Through this case study of federally mandated chaplain hiring and training, we examine this relationship and explore how tensions between the church and state, along with recent secularization trends, are being reconciled through the work of the chaplain in federally mandated roles in the U.S. military branches, law enforcement, the Bureau of Prisons and Veterans Affairs. Unlike people hired into professional positions based on education, knowledge and skills to date, chaplains are hired–by design–without some of the skills required for the job. We examine the hiring and training process to illuminate the gaps for practitioners and employers, and we identify the strategies employers implement in a process of acculturation, or teaching new hires “the organizational culture” of their respective workplace context.


Theme: Global Circulations of Asian Catholics and the Making of 21st Century Catholicism

Tuesday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM (In Person)

This session explores ways through which Asian Catholics directly participate in or indirectly intersect with the making of global Catholicism. Based on anthropological and sociological approaches, presenters explore issues located at the intersection of Asian Catholic migrations, religious practices, public engagement, and ethnic identities. They investigate the ways Asian Catholics are not limited to their local or national belongings – nor to a static, universal, and homogenous expression of their religious belonging. Rather, presenters shed light on the various modes through which Asian Catholics, their religious symbols, or their political awareness circulate and evolve across borders. Ultimately, the session reveals that Asian Catholic circulations that occur at different levels and through various modalities question how Catholics perceive themselves and enact a “global” Catholic economy that shapes the many locales of 21st century Catholicism.

  • Abstract

    This paper is a consideration of the role of queer affect and sexuality the spiritual education of Chinese Catholic nuns who travel to Manila for religious training. Beginning in the late 1990s, Chinese clergy started arriving in Manila for education to minister to growing Catholic communities in the Mainland. For many Chinese nuns, this exposure was filled with hybrid encounters—they at once were immersed in a Catholic dominant society and also surrounded by visions of life outside the bounds of their ascetic expectations. A major point of religious reckoning was their encounter with sexualities both inside and outside of the classroom. Thinking through two cases: the discussion of sexuality beyond physical intimacy in a seminary and the recognition of queer Catholics in Filipino Church settings, this paper highlights how queer affect served the Church’s mission to form cosmopolitan Catholic nuns ready to address China’s changing religious landscape.

  • Abstract

    If you visit Caholic parishes in any Western European capital, you are likely to encounter Asian and African clergy at work. Clergy from India currently account for 30% of priests in Germany, and given the aging profile of European clergy, it is likely that most pastoral work is conducted by priests raised and trained in very different cultural contexts. This paper examines the case of Sri Lankan priests working in Italy, to reflect on how they engage with social problematics of the youth in Europe. In particular, I explore the work that priests and young parishioners do to bridge the cultural divide that separates them, and the unlikely points of convergence that they find. Sri Lankan clergy who actively organize youth groups, catechism courses and other pastoral activities for local youths are creatively developing new forms of religious engagement in European communities.

  • Abstract

    The People’s Republic of China and the Holy See have long engaged in diplomatic conversations to frame the status of Catholicism in China and establish formal diplomatic relationships. But the two sovereign entities have quite different and changing views on religion. Furthermore, the question of Taiwan adds another layer of complexity in their dialogue. While the White House has recently increased its interference in their dialogue, the ups and downs of the Sino-Vatican negotiations have attracted large media coverage. Thus, I argue that this international attention reflects the importance of the geopolitical issues that are at stake – i.e. defining sovereignty, religious autonomy, state-church relationships, human dignity, and the territorializing of Catholicism. As fieldwork in China confirms, Chinese Catholics are well-aware that they are not a mere national question but an international one with highly political ramifications.

  • Abstract

    Since her first apparition in 1798 in Vietnam, Our Lady of Lavang has been associated with miracles within the contexts of martyrdom and other life-threatening experiences. In 1901, a French Bishop used a French model of Our Lady of Victories to (incongruously) represent the Virgin Mary with her Vietnamese name -- “Our Lady of Lavang.” It was not until 1998, that this statue was replaced. This time, the Virgin Mary was represented as a Vietnamese woman, an image created by a Vietnamese American Catholic sculptor and funded by the Vietnamese Catholic community in California. Although this Vietnamese image is a recent creation and the Vatican has not confirmed the historical accuracy of Our Lady of Lavang’s apparition, it has become popular throughout the world. This paper traces the globalization and transplantation of the Vietnamese-looking Our Lady of Lavang in the U.S., Germany, and Israel. 

  • Abstract

    How do religious institutions shape the civic participation of corporate professionals in rapidly developing contexts? Drawing on data from participant observation and in-depth interviews (n=135), this paper compares Indian Roman Catholic corporate professionals in two rapidly globalizing cities, Dubai, UAE, and Bangalore, India. The findings of this study reveal a paradox: Indian professionals in Dubai, though expatriates in a non-democratic nation, are actively involved in providing forms of economic, human, and social capital through the Church; meanwhile, their counterparts in Bangalore, despite being citizens in a democracy, are intentionally disengaged from such activities. I discuss three key factors that explain this variation—legal frameworks, authority structures, and institutional priorities—and conclude with implications for understanding the role of religious institutions in both facilitating and inhibiting the civic engagement of professionals in contexts of rapid development.