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Sociology of Religion article
Sociology of Religion article

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Published by: emissaryofyhvh on May 09, 2014
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Not Just Individualism: Studying American Culture and Religion after "Habits of the Heart"Author(s): Kelly BeseckeSource:
Sociology of Religion,
Vol. 68, No. 2 (Summer, 2007), pp. 195-200Published by:
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Accessed: 15/04/2013 04:20
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Sociology f Religion 007, 68:2 195-200
Not Just Individualism: Studying American Culture and Religion after Habits of the Hearr
Kelly Besecke
Kenyon ollege How do people construct eligious meaning in their onversations ith each other? What kinds of religious ulture xist in American society? ow do people draw connections between their religion nd their ocial context? hese are the kinds of questions I work on answering n my research. study merican religious culture, nd I focus my attention n talk nd communication; t would be impos sible for me to avoid engaging with Habits of the eart, even if I wanted to Everything 've written has engaged the ideas in Habits, and I assign ll or part of the book in four f the classes I teach at Kenyon College. Here I offer y reflec tions n its egacy-the good, the bad, and the ways forward. THE GOOD: GIFTS FROM HABITS OF THE HEART Socially ngaged ociology. abits of the eart defies conventional discipline centered sociology and aims instead for sociology that engages society. ong before there was a name for hat is now called public sociology, he authors of Habits articulated and successfully cted upon a commitment to engaging the general public in sociological reflection. heir success reminds s all that sociol ogy does not have to be a closed profession, ependent on expertise nd jargon, but is our best and perhaps only institutionalized ystem or ocietal self-reflec
The white middle class. Habits is sometimes faulted for focusing ts ttention on white middle class Americans, but this ttention s very necessary. hite mid dle class Americans are an extraordinary owerful social group-and getting more powerful ll the time. abits' attention to this roup makes it lear that ul ture sn't ust something hat other" people have. More importantly, his tten tion begins to help us understand how hegemonic meanings and practices get
*Direct correspondence o: Kelly Besecke, Department of Sociology, Ralston House 203, Kenyon
College, ambier H 43022 (beseckek@kenyon.edu).
This content downloaded from on Mon, 15 Apr 2013 04:20:42 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
developed and perpetuated through he ordinary alk and behavior of this pow
erful roup f people.
Talk. Anthropologists have long recognized that language is the essence of culture. Jurgen abermas (1987:124) has argued more recently hat anguage has "a certain transcendental tatus" with regard o social life. ore than any other work in sociology, abits opened the way to talk-based mpirical studies, to rec ognizing the central importance f communication to social life. n approaching individualism s a set of languages, t focuses readers' ttention on the empirical dimension of public culture, the shared meanings we can understand y studying
Everyday life nd the "unmarked." s Wayne Brekhus (1998) has argued, much sociology engages with culturally marked" ategories of social phenome na-things that have been constructed s standing ut in some way, as particu larly nusual or problematic. Habits engages the terms f ordinary ife, he cul tural atterns ithin which the unmarked undanities of everyday ife re expe rienced as meaningful. ts interrogation f these taken-for-granted atterns helps readers nderstand the power of the ordinary. Individualism nd the ties that ind. Habits' critique of individualism, nd its driving concern with the cultural obstacles to recognizing he ties that bind us together, s just as relevant today as it was in 1985. Twenty-plus years later, American society still has trouble with togetherness, nd the questions Habits asks are perhaps even more important ow. Do Americans have the cultural resources o effectively nvision, plan, and act as a collective? Are shared proj ects culturally ossible? Can Americans see themselves s responsible for ach other, as necessarily onnected to and dependent upon each other? Hegemonic
individualism akes recognizing hese onnections ifficult; t makes t ifficult
to think n terms f "we." The question, then, s where will the "we" come from? he authors f Habits suggest einvigorating eligious nd civic individualism. ut where will this rein vigoration come from? erhaps the angry nd belatedly organizing religious eft, with its brand new collective identity nd its mphasis on love and caretaking, will reinvigorate eligious ndividualism. don't see a similar move by the domi nant part of the secular political left o reinvigorate ivic individualism, lthough the Greens and other third arties are trying. t is worth considering, owever, the potential social role of the discipline of sociology. he discipline itself s soci ety's rimary nstitutionalized ource of alternatives o hegemonic individualism. Consider the introductory ociology classes taught n colleges and universities, and the fact that 27% of American adults have a college education (Stoops 2004). As writers, s well as teachers, ociologists ave the potential to commu nicate a sociological imagination, o offer erms or n alternative iscourse, nd to raise public consciousness about the mutual interdependence f individuals and the social systems hat bind them.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 15 Apr 2013 04:20:42 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

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