Journal Article

Maria of the Oak: Society and the Problem of Divine Intervention*

Daniel B. Lee

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 70, issue 3, pages 213-231
Published in print January 2009 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 2009 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI:
Maria of the Oak: Society and the Problem of Divine Intervention*

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Maria of the Oak is a religious shrine located within an ancient grove of oaks in Germany. Thousands of religious pilgrims visit the site each year because of the “healing and helping power” of a legendary oak tree. This paper analyzes the content of written documents left by visitors and discusses the religious function and form of society that is reproduced. From the perspective of social system theory, religion appears to use this specific location to structure personal expressions of the sacred into a relatively organized but freely developing chain of communication that is devoted to solving the problem of recognizing and steering divine intervention. Maria of the Oak functions when the social system of religion successfully shifts responsibility for experiencing divine intervention from itself to individual believers. This shifting creates the opportunity for religion to inform itself with the other-reference of cooperating pilgrims, without breeching its own operational closure.

Keywords: communication; system theory; folk religion; pilgrimage; operational closure; interpenetration

Journal Article.  8477 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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