CFP Rethinking Spirituality Through Gender and Youth

Panel coordinated by Mia Lövheim, Kristin Aune and Anna Fedele

at the Conference of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion (ISSR), July 2015, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium


Call for papers

This session aims to debate the conceptual distinction between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, which has been widely used in the sociology of religion. Drawing on the changing religious practices of the “Baby-boom generation” and the public interest in the “new age” phenomena in the 1980s, the concept of spirituality became crucial in describing a shift from institutional religion, characterized by adherence to traditional religious doctrines, to newer forms of flexible, individual and holistic religiosity. In previous research spirituality has, on the one side, been interpreted as a sign of religious decline through privatization and, on the other, hailed as a way for religion to accommodate to the new situations faced by late modern social actors. This session critically explores whether ‘spirituality’ is a useful concept for studying the ways in which people live out religio-spiritual lives in the twenty-first century. It does so through the lenses of gender and youth, two aspects of social identity that have received significant new attention from religion scholars since the late twentieth century. Scholars such as Woodhead (2012) have advocated ‘spirituality’ as better able to reflect the complex lives of women and young people, and as more open to material and emotional aspects of religious experience and practice. A new body of work, including Fedele and Knibbe’s (2013) collection of ethnographic studies of gender, critique the spirituality/religion distinction. Scholars such as McGuire (2008) and Ammerman (2013) have argued for the concept of ‘lived religion’ or ‘everyday religion’ as a better alternative. This session invites scholars conducting empirical studies of youth and gender to contribute their findings to help answer these questions: How, if at all, is the distinction between religion and spirituality helpful in interpreting the experiences of these social groups, especially through embodied and sensory encounters with the divine? How can the religio-spiritual practices of young people, women and gender-marginal men (e.g. men marginalised by ethnicity, sexuality or non-conformity to gender stereotypes) contribute to a development of concepts and theories about religion and spirituality?

Submit papers online through the ISSR website


Repenser la spiritualité à travers le genre et la jeunesse

Dans ce panel onla distinction entre « religion » et « spiritualité », largement utilisée dans la sociologie de la religion. S’appuyant sur les pratiques religieuses changeantes de la « génération du baby-boom » et l’intérêt public pour les phénomènes « new age » dans les années 1980, le concept de spiritualité devint crucial pour décrire le passage de la religion institutionnelle à des formes récentes de religiosité flexible, individuelle et holiste. Dans les recherches antérieures, la spiritualité a été interprétée comme un signe du déclin du religieux via la privatisation mais ausi comme un moyen pour la religion de s’accommoder aux nouvelles situations modernes.

On s’interroge si la « spiritualité » est un concept utile pour étudier les vécus religieux-spirituels des individus au XXIème siècle. Cela sera fait à travers les categories de genre et jeunesse, qui ont suscité une nouvelle attention de la part des chercheurs de la religion. Des penseurs comme Woodhead (2012) ont soutenu que la notion de « spiritualité » est mieux capable de refléter les vies complexes des femmes et des jeunes gens, et qu’ elle est plus ouverte aux aspects matériels et émotionnels de l’expérience religieuse. Un nouveau corpus de textes sur le genre tel que Fedele et Knibbe (2013), critique la distinction entre spiritualité et religion et McGuire (2008) et Ammerman (2013) ont affirmé que le concept de « religion vécue » ou de « religion quotidienne » est une meilleure alternative.

Nous invitons les chercheurs conduisant des études empiriques sur la jeunesse et le genre à répondre à ces questions : Comment, si c’est le cas, la distinction entre religion et spiritualité est-elle utile dans l’interprétation des expériences de ces groupes sociaux, surtout à travers des rencontres corporelles et sensorielles avec le divin? Comment les pratiques religieuses-spirituelles des jeunes, des femmes et des hommes marginalisés du point de vue du genre (ex. les hommes marginalisés à cause de leur appartenance ethnique, de leur sexualité ou de leur non-conformité aux stéréotypes de genre) peuvent-elles contribuer à un développement de théories sur la religion et de la spiritualité ?


NEW BOOK: Looking for Mary Magdalene

Looking for Mary Magdalene: Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France

 Looking for Mary Magdalene:

Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France

Anna Fedele offers a sensitive ethnography of alternative pilgrimages to French Catholic shrines dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. Drawing on more than three years of fieldwork, she describes how pilgrims from Italy, Spain, Britain, and the United States interpret Catholic figures, symbols, and sites according to theories derived from the international Neopagan movement. Fedele pays particular attention to the pilgrims’ life stories, rituals and reading. She examines how they devise their rituals, how anthropological literature has influenced them, and why this kind of spirituality is increasingly prevalent in the West. These pilgrims cultivate spirituality in interaction with each other and with textual sources: Jungian psychology, Goddess mythology, and “indigenous” traditions merge into a corpus of practices centered upon the worship of the Goddess and Mother Earth, and the sacralization of the reproductive cycle. Their rituals present a critique of Roman Catholicism and the medical establishment, and question contemporary discourse on gender.


“In this theoretically nuanced and ethnographically rich study, Anna Fedele carefully lays out the complex and imaginative worlds of Mary Magdalene’s contemporary spiritual pilgrims and their sacred landscapes of European forests, waters, caves, and rocks imbued with symbol and meaning. Immersing herself in their created ceremonies, she reports back to us with sensitivity and insight about their reinterpretations of gender, sexuality, community, and religion.”

Sarah M. Pike, author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community


“This is a rich, thoughtful, and quite startling account of the new spirituality around Mary Magdalene, and around menstruation, darkness and the creativity of loss.”

Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University

Oxford Ritual Studies Series, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press

336 pages; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4;ISBN13: 978-0-19-989842-8ISBN10: 0-19-989842-1