Constructionism and Its Critics

John Kloos

in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Emotion

Published in print December 2007 | ISBN: 9780195170214
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780199892150 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

Constructionism and Its Critics

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  • Sociology of Religion
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Religious Studies


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Since the 1970s, social scientists increasingly have cast human emotions in the arenas of culturally or linguistically constructed expression. A wide spectrum of theoretical terminology has been employed, including “constructionism” and “constructivist.” This essay reviews constructionist theories that bear on the study of religion and emotion. It analyzes constructionist theories as both determinist and relativist. It focuses on the recent historical ethnographic work of an important anthropologist of emotion, William M. Reddy. It also examines how religious emotions get constructed and what forms serve to give them expression. Generally, religious ritual is a form that can function in such a way so that the emotional lows of loss and grief are made less low. Conversely, ritual can heighten the feelings of joy and happiness at times of celebration. The construction of ritual form reflects specific religious traditions, yet cultures also share more broadly emotional forms for handling death, birth, marriage, and personal formation.

Keywords: Reddy; constructionism; determinism; relativism; religious ritual; loss; celebration

Article.  7827 words. 

Subjects: Sociology of Religion ; Philosophy of Religion ; Religious Studies

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