Studying Public Religion: Beyond the Beliefs-Driven Actor

Paul Lichterman

in Religion on the Edge

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199938629
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980758 | DOI:
Studying Public Religion: Beyond the Beliefs-Driven Actor

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This chapter shows that cultural norms of group life shape possibilities for public religious expression, whether interfaith or denominationally specific. When we relocate public religious expression from the edges to the center of our inquiry, we can learn a lot about how Americans negotiate religious pluralism in everyday life, as well as learning specifically where and how Americans do things with religion in public. This focus on settings for public religious expression, rather than public religious actors, spotlights two of the other “edges” that shape this volume. First, it invites criticism and revision of some of the more optimistic portraits of religion's social roles. It finds that religion's effects on social ties are setting specific and variable; religious identity does not necessarily promote social networking even with coreligionists. Second, the pragmatic perspective apprehends “religion” itself in a way that may be counterintuitive given an emphasis on deep personal beliefs that is common in Christian, especially Protestant Christian, understandings that frequently have informed previous, American social research on religion.

Keywords: cultural norms; group life; public religious expression; religious pluralism; Americans; religion; social roles

Chapter.  9542 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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