Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age
Over the past decade, religious, secular, and spiritual distinctions have broken down, forcing scholars to rethink secularity and its relationship to society. Since classifying a person, activity, or experience as religious or otherwise is an important act of valuation, one that defines the characteristics of a group and its relation to others, scholars are struggling to recast these concepts in our increasingly ambiguous, pluralistic world.
This collection considers religious and secular categories and what they mean to those who seek valuable, ethical lives. As they investigate how individuals and groups determine significance, set goals, and attribute meaning, contributors illustrate the ways in which religious, secular, and spiritual designations serve as markers of value. Reflecting on recent ethnographic and historical research, chapters explore contemporary psychical research and liberal American homeschooling; the work of nineteenth and early-twentieth-century American psychologists and French archaeologists; the role of contemporary humanitarian and volunteer organizations based in Europe and India; and the prevalence of highly mediated and spiritualized publics, from international psy-trance festivals to Ghanaian national political contexts. Contributors particularly focus on the role of ambivalence, attachment, and disaffection in the formation of religious, secular, and spiritual identities, resetting research on secular society and contemporary religious life while illuminating what matters in the lives of ordinary individuals.
"A window onto how spirituality has functioned as a social category that bestows value on even 'secular' objects, What Matters? brilliantly demystifies spirituality without banishing spirits. With an embarrassment of riches at hand, including paranormal shadows in 'real' science, turns to 'tribalism' in psytrance festivals, and 'spiritual' motivations within secular humanitarianism, these essays are an original foray into how spirituality is used to account for contemporary human experience, with piety and irony in play." — Pamela Klassen, University of Toronto, author of Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity
"...a helpful classroom resource." — Ryan Harper, Sociology of Religion
"Scholarly discussions of religion have been increasingly unsettled about the meaning of such terms as secularization, secularity, secularist, and, for that matter, religion. Rather than arguing about the definitions of each term, Courtney Bender and Ann Taves move to transcend the religious secular binary, examining how these terms and their meanings are used in a range of cultural sites. They fill a void by moving beyond a theoretical discussion of what the terms mean, instead providing empirical evidence of how these terms are currently used." — Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University
Introduction: Things of Value
From a Materialist Ethic to the Spirit of Prehistory
Conquering Religious Contagions and Crowds: Nineteenth-Century Psychologists and the Unfinished Subjugation of Superstition and Irrationality
Religious and Secular, "Spiritual" and "Physical" in Ghana
Secular Humanitarianism and the Value of Life
Homeschooling the Enchanted Child: Ambivalent Attachments in the Domestic Southwest
Mind Matters: Esalen's Sursem Group and the Ethnography of Consciousness
Tribalism, Experience, and Remixology in Global Psytrance Culture