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.
Abstract: Many scholars have debated the potential results of pilgrimage, but few have tracked how pre-trip goals actually relate to post-trip outcomes. Based on research with US evangelicals, this article argues that, despite being confronted with the possibility of disrupted meaning, nearly every pilgrim comes to see the trip as a success. To understand why, I draw on studies that frame Christian rituals as processes that are partial and in flux. Firstly, I explore how gendered notions of relationality affect perceptions of efficacy and lead to multiple goal-setting. Secondly, I show how the journey is couched within broader epistemologies that define a Christian life as incremental improvements, where one ‘grows’ with God. Thus the meaning making associated with pilgrimage is never fully complete, but is compelled into a future where further interpretations and presumed successes are inchoate. Ultimately, the belief in future meaning is as important—perhaps more so—than immediate ritual success.