INDIANAPOLIS — As more and more Americans define themselves as “spiritual” but not religious, and scholars talk about and study “lived religion,” is the once-familiar term “religion” now primarily a reference to institutions or denominations?
And how fares the debate over the existence of “civil religion” — patriotism as the true faith of Americans as opposed to what is practiced in churches, synagogues or mosques?
These questions and others are up for discussion next week when more than 100 scholars from across the country gather in Indianapolis for the fourth in a series of conferences on the role of religion in American life.
“As in the past, this conference will address many of the ‘big questions’ in the field,” said Philip Goff, executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, part of the IU School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “This conference will have something for everyone as we struggle together with the big questions behind our work.”
Answering the question “What does religion mean?” is relevant given the continuing changes across the entire field of American religion and the various disciplines that study it, including history and sociology.
“As the landscape of religion in America changes, we have to keep track of the way we are describing it,” said Arthur E. Farnsley II, associate director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. “What do different academic fields mean by religion when they talk about it? Do historians think about religion as sociologists do? It is not that we all have to agree, but we had better understand what everyone is saying.”
Other “big” questions for discussion during the conference are:
How does globalization affect our research and teaching about American religion?
In what ways do markets, class and labor shape religion, and how does religion shape them?
How has an era of constantly being at war influenced our thinking about civil religion and cults and sects?
And what do we make of the seemingly competing models of pluralism and secularization?
The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture and its Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation are conference sponsors.