Religious Studies and the Spiritual Turn

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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  • 1 Assistant Professor, School of Religion, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada
  • | 2 Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Sociological Research, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
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This article surveys the range of positions from which religious studies scholars have generally responded to the spiritual turn. We classify these as: the sociology of religion approach, the critical religion approach, and the practical study for spirituality by professional fields like business, education, and healthcare. In light of recent cultural sociological and historical scholarship on the emic folk category “spirituality” we argue that, given their foundational assumptions, each of these approaches is inadequate for achieving an accurate empirical account of the spiritual turn. We argue that for sociology of religion and critical religion to adequately respond to the professional study for spirituality, they must begin to reckon with the minority consensus developed by cultural sociologists about the spiritual turn. The minority consensus holds that the spiritual turn comprises two components: first, a semantic shift from “religion” to “spirituality,” and second, the crystallization and spread of a shared cultural structure. Coming to terms with this approach will require scholars of religion to reconsider both their assumptions about the category “religion” as well as the limits of their discipline.

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