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Believing in Belonging Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World



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Oxford University Press
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  • Believing in Belonging Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World
    Believing in Belonging Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World


Believing in Belonging draws on empirical research exploring mainstream religious belief and identity in Euro-American countries. Starting from a qualitative study based in northern England, and then broadening the data to include other parts of Europe and North America, Abby Day explores how people "believe in belonging," choosing religious identifications to complement other social and emotional experiences of "belongings." The concept of "performative belief" helps explain how otherwise non-religious people can bring into being a Christian identity related to social belongings.

What is often dismissed as "nominal" religious affiliation is far from an empty category, but one loaded with cultural "stuff" and meaning. Day introduces an original typology of natal, ethnic and aspirational nominalism that challenges established disciplinary theory in both the European and North American schools of the sociology of religion that assert that most people are "unchurched" or "believe without belonging" while privately maintaining beliefs in God and other "spiritual" phenomena.

This study provides a unique analysis and synthesis of anthropological and sociological understandings of belief and proposes a holistic, organic, multidimensional analytical framework to allow rich cross cultural comparisons. Chapters focus in particular on: the genealogies of "belief" in anthropology and sociology, methods for researching belief without asking religious questions, the acts of claiming cultural identity, youth, gender, the "social" supernatural, fate and agency, morality and a development of anthropocentric and theocentric orientations that provides a richer understanding of belief than conventional religious/secular distinctions.

Author Biography

Dr Abby Day, Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex, is an internationally recognised scholar in the social scientific study of religion. She has conducted several inter-disciplinary research projects focusing on contemporary belief and belonging in Euro American contexts and is a sought-after speaker at international conference and workshops. Previous publications include an edited volume, Religion and the Individual, several academic papers and book chapters focusing on youth, gender, the 'social supernatural', cultural identity and the nature of 'nominal belief'.

Table of Contents

1: Methods and theoretical frameworks
1. Genealogies of belief in sociology and anthropology: transcending disciplinary boundaries
2. A research journey begins
2: Cosmologies of the mainstream
3. Believing in belonging: the cultural act of claiming identity
4. Youth and belief: belonging to connected selves
5. The sensuous social supernatural
6. Believing in fate: covering the cracks in belonging
7. Boundaries of belonging: doing unto ourselves
3: Relocating belief and belonging
8. Theorising belief: an holistic, organic, seven-dimensional model
9. Understanding Christian nominalism: rethinking Christian identity
10. Conclusion: relocating belief to the social

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