As historians of religion are currently diagnosing a need to find new shared frameworks and new narratives enabling interdisciplinary and trans-epochal exchange, the article suggests a closer historical engagement with theories of the “religious field”, originally formulated by Pierre Bourdieu on the basis of Max Weber’s work, as this theory has the potential to serve as a meta-language for interdisciplinary communication. The article sets out the most important elements of the theory of the religious field, and evaluates them critically by way of a historicization of important concepts, drawing on recent discussions in sociology and Religious Studies. After discussing the concept of the religious field itself, the article discusses several internal dynamics of the field (as suggested by Bourdieu and by more recent research) as well as several typical dynamics between fields. It concludes with suggestions for historical adaptations, including an updated approach to religious plurality and to the different types of religious actors envisaged by Weber and Bourdieu.
Introducing a thematic section, this article presents an overview and some of the theoretical considerations resulting from COST Action IS1301, an international research network devoted to the study of lay religious culture during the long fifteenth century. A particular aim of this network was to discuss new European narratives framing the important transformations of lay religious culture during the period c. 1350–1550—a complex historical process that is still often obscured by the competing older narratives of Reformation, humanism, and Renaissance which shape the historiographical heritage. To get beyond the “methodological nationalism” and “methodological modernism” inherent in older paradigms, the article suggests viewing the transformation of lay religious culture as a long-term process of cultural evolution. It closes with an overview of the most important aspects of this evolutionary process during the long fifteenth century.