Jacques Lacan and the Theory of the Religious Subject

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Jacques Lacan’s theory of the subject is put forward in order to correct what the author calls “the naïve theory of the subject,” which sociologists of religion tend to utilize by default in numerous quantitative sociological studies based on mass surveys and oriented towards obtaining exact, scientific, positivistic knowledge. This article applies Lacan’s three registers—Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real—to the religious sphere and demonstrates their potential implications for the sociological analysis of religion. An analysis of the empirical research on Russia’s post-Soviet religious situation reinforces the author’s argument that an uncritical theory of the subject attends only to the superficial layers of the subject, which end up being devoid of actual subjectivity, according to Lacanian logic. The more fundamental layers of the subject, capable of making it “the subject” in the full sense of the word, seem to be completely outside of sociologists’ current field of vision. This critique directs the reader’s attention to the shortcomings of sociological surveys, and the author argues that a more robust understanding of the subject could enrich the sociology of religion, particularly by further developing certain conceptions, such as Grace Davie’s “vicarious religion.”

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    For example Robert Pfaller’s (2014) theoretical elaboration of interpassivity reminds the author of this concept of vicariousness.

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