Bourdieu’s Field Theory As General Theory of Religion

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Andre ARMBRUSTER, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany
Gregor BONGAERTS, University Duisburg-Essen, Germany
The sociology of religion is still divided between approaches of secularization (Weber) and market structures (Stark, Bainbridge, Iannaccone), because both present themselves as opposed to each other. In our paper we propose Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory as a general theory of religion. By conceptualizing religion as a social field, we can integrate the two paradigms and solve some of the key theoretical problems of the sociology of religion. First, we locate the religious field in relation to other social fields, in particular the political field and the field of power. With illustrations from Germany and Lebanon, we provide a theoretical framework to answer ongoing debates of secularization and how to capture power relations between politics and religion. Secondly, the religious field is an arena of competition, where the professional agents struggle for specific social groups or individuals as potential religious consumers. Therefore, Bourdieu speaks of an economy of symbolic (i.e. religious) goods. However, while the theory of religious market structures reduces the religious meaning to solely economical motives of the supply-side (Iannaccone), field theory provides a comprehensive framework to reconstruct the motives of the competition as specific religious motives of the producers and the consumers as well. Thus, the competitive struggles can be understood as processes of a specific symbolic economy, with specific social structures of professional agents and religious capital as media of exchange. Both market structures of religion and religious meaning can be linked to each other. Within our contribution we will consequently show how Bourdieu’s theory of fields resolves the theoretical problem of combining religious meaning and the market structures of religion. Furthermore, by analyzing secularization and religious competition with the same theoretical approach, we demonstrate field theory’s capability to integrate different and until now opposed theoretical concepts of the sociology of religion.