What Matters? Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age

The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, in partnership with Columbia University Press, is announcing the recent release of What Matters? Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age, the newest title in the publication series Religion, Culture, and Public Life.

What Matters? Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age

Edited by Courtney Bender and Ann Taves
Published: May 2012

Over the past decade, religious, secular, and spiritual distinctions have broken down, forcing scholars to rethink secularity and its relationship to society. Since classifying a person, activity, or experience as religious or otherwise is an important act of valuation, one that defines the characteristics of a group and its relation to others, scholars are struggling to recast these concepts in our increasingly ambiguous, pluralistic world.

This collection considers religious and secular categories and what they mean to those who seek valuable, ethical lives. As they investigate how individuals and groups determine significance, set goals, and attribute meaning, contributors illustrate the ways in which religious, secular, and spiritual designations serve as markers of value. Reflecting on recent ethnographic and historical research, chapters explore contemporary psychical research and liberal American homeschooling; the work of nineteenth and early-twentieth-century American psychologists and French archaeologists; the role of contemporary humanitarian and volunteer organizations based in Europe and India; and the prevalence of highly mediated and spiritualized publics, from international psy-trance festivals to Ghanaian national political contexts. Contributors particularly focus on the role of ambivalence, attachment, and disaffection in the formation of religious, secular, and spiritual identities, resetting research on secular society and contemporary religious life while illuminating what matters in the lives of ordinary individuals.

Edited by co-directors Mark C. Taylor and Alfred Stepan, the Religion, Culture, and Public Life series focuses on issues related to questions of difference, identity and practice within local, national and international contexts.  Special attention is paid to the ways in which religious traditions encourage conflict, violence and intolerance as well as support human rights, ecumenical values and facilitate mutual understanding.  By mediating alternative methodologies and different religious, social and cultural traditions, works published in the series open channels of communication that facilitate critical analysis.

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