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The Varieties of Sacred Experience: Finding the Sacred in a Secular Grove

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Abstract:

This paper contends that the social scientific study of religion has long labored under a chafing constraint and a misleading premise. It suggests that our primary focus should be on the sacred, and that religion is just one among many possible sources of the sacred. Defining religion “substantively” but the sacred “functionally” helps toresolve a long-standing tension in the field. Broadened conceptions of the sacred and of “sacralization” help to defuse the conflict among the two very different versions of secularization theory: the “all-or-nothing” versus the “middle range.” Meanwhile, a conceptual typology of the sacred pivots around the intersections of two distinctions (compensatory vs. confirmatory and marginal vs. institutional). This generatesfour distinct scenarios: the sacred as integrative, the sacred as quest, the sacred as collectivity, and the sacred as counter-culture. The paper concludes with three admonitions for research in the area.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/0021-8294.00001

Affiliations: Department of Sociology; University of Massachusetts; Amherst, MA

Publication date: March 1, 2000

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