Abstract: Religion has been conceptualised as personal belief in the transcendent. Anthropologists of religion have critiqued such a construct for decades for being based on a Christian Protestant model and one that reflected subsequently modern rationalist Western culture. This construct has increasingly been shown to fail to account for the religiosity of contemporary Christians. Drawing on the sociology of Georg Simmel and based on ethnographic research in a Christian evangelical church, the article proposes a reconceptualisation of religious belief that is experiential and relational. Evangelicals in this case study show that propositional belief plays increasingly a secondary role to belief intended as trust in God and forming a relationship with God and others. Relationships mediate personal religious experience and are shown to be essential to the conversion process, the life of faith, and Christian identity. The study thus bridges the separation between theoretical and empirical works by operationalising Simmel’s sociology.
Publisher’s Description: In this work of qualitative sociology, Anna Strhan offers an in-depth study of the everyday lives of members of a conservative evangelical Anglican church in London. “St John’s” is a vibrant church, with a congregation of young and middle-aged members, one in which the life of the mind is important, and faith is both a comfort and a struggle – a way of questioning the order of things within society and for themselves. The congregants of St John’s see themselves as increasingly counter-cultural, moving against the grain of wider culture in London and in British society, yet they take pride in this, and see it as a central element of being Christian. This book reveals the processes through which the congregants of St John’s learn to understand themselves as “aliens and strangers” in the world, demonstrating the precariousness of projects of staking out boundaries of moral distinctiveness. Through focusing on their interactions within and outside the church, Strhan shows how the everyday experiences of members of St John’s are simultaneously shaped by the secular norms of their workplaces and other city spaces and by moral and temporal orientations of their faith that rub against these. Thus their self-identification as “aliens and strangers” both articulates and constructs an ambition to be different from others around them in the city, rooted in a consciousness of the extent to which their hopes, concerns, and longings are simultaneously shaped by their being in the world.
Abstract: This article examines the growing scholarly interest in urban religion, situating the topic in relation to the contemporary analytical significance of cities as sites where processes of social change, such as globalization, transnationalism, and the influence of new media technologies, materialize in interrelated ways. I argue that Georg Simmel’s writing on cities offers resources to draw out further the significance of “the urban” in this emerging field. I bring together Simmel’s urban analysis with his approach to religion, focusing on Christianities and individuals’ relations with sacred figures, and suggest this perspective opens up how forms of religious practice respond to experiences of cultural fragmentation in complex urban environments. Drawing on his analysis of individuals’ engagement with the coherence of God, I explore conservative evangelicals’ systems of religious intersubjectivity to show how attention to the social effects of relations with sacred figures can deepen understanding of the formation of urban religious subjectivities.
Abstract: This article examines the interplay of different processes of cultural and subjective fragmentation experienced by conservative evangelical Anglicans, based on an ethnographic study of a congregation in central London. The author focuses on the evangelistic speaking practices of members of this church to explore how individuals negotiate contradictory norms of interaction as they move through different city spaces, and considers their response to tensions created by the demands of their workplace and their religious lives. Drawing on Georg Simmel’s ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’, the author argues that their faith provides a sense of coherence and unity that responds to experiences of cultural fragmentation characteristic of everyday life in the city, while simultaneously leading to a specific consciousness of moral fragmentation that is inherent to conservative evangelicalism.