Department/School

Sociology and Anthropology

Abstract

The sociology of religion has, by and large, treated religious experiences as personal, having in themselves little social relevance. To this line of thought, experiences become social only when they are so defined by beliefs and/or institutions. This article outlines a sociology of religious experience that erodes the experience-is-private/belief-is-social dichotomy. It is based on the work of Alfred Schutz, who argues, in brief, that there are several kinds of sociality, of which sharing ideas and sharing institutions are only two. Sharing ideas and institutions do indeed distance one from experience, as the standard paradigm suggests. But in certain “life-worlds” experiences themselves may be social, not private. There, social actors share “inner time”: a vivid present in which they “tune-in” to one another. The world of musical performance, to use Schutz's example, involves a polythetic sharing of consciousness that unites composers, musicians, and audiences across the generations. Religious experience, I argue, parallels making music: it is, in its nature, a social act. The second half of this paper applies this perspective to traditional Navajo religion. It shows how Navajo “chants” reorient their participants' inner time to create the experience of the harmony between self, society, and world that lies at the core of Navajo philosophy.

Document Type

Article

Publication Title

Sociology of Religion (continues Sociological Analysis)

Publication Date

1991

Volume

52

Issue

2

Pages

191-204

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

10.2307/3710963