Sociology and Anthropology


This article explores the epistemological consequences for the sociology of religion of the reflexive turn that has swept social science in the last two decades. Building on similar reflexivities in the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce and H. Richard Niebuhr, it argues that social science, like religion, is grounded in practical faith. A communal enterprise, social science can never justify its knowledge foundationally, nor can it find secure knowledge in the present. Instead, it lives in eschatological hope of increasingly ‘getting the story right’—either in the sense of painting a tentatively accurate picture of the social world or by demonstrating the objective limits of such picture-making. That hope serves as a regulative ideal, which adjusts scholarly practice in service of these ends. Like all action toward ideals, scholarly practice is not self-justifying, but rather depends on a faith in the eschatological positive culmination of its communal activity.

This approach throws new and useful light on recent controversies about foundationalism and relativism, objectivity and subjectivity, and on the role that social standpoints play in the sociological research process. It also has consequences for the sociology of religion in par-ticular, as it points to a more fruitful way of defining our subject matter.

Document Type


Publication Title

Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion

Publication Date






Document Version