RN34 - Sociology of Religion

RN coordinator:

PD Dr. Heidemarie Winkel, Bielefeld University, Germany



Religion, Social Inequalities, Differences, and Sociological Imagination

After decades of critical discussion, the social significance of religion in Europe is an accepted and empirically grounded fact today. Whether it concerns political attitudes, economic orientation or other social fields of life like education, culture and the media or the private sphere, manifold empirical studies demonstrate the sustaining influence of religion on preferences, practices and identity formation. At large, it is undisputed that (structural) secularization does not diminish, but rather nourishes religious pluralization as well as the development of new spiritualities and popular forms of religion in Europe.

This development is – among other things – a consequence of global dynamics; they accelerate social, cultural and economic transformations, and more recently radical political changes. This raises questions about how religion is involved and affected by these changes in the neo-liberal era (whether on the local, the national or the supra-national level) and how religion reacts to these all-encompassing transformations and turmoil.

A particular interest concerns religion's social forms of organization and practice that respond to the increase of social inequalities and asymmetries; the latter are often trapped in power relations like in the case of neo-liberal economics and politics. Another concern is how religion is acting on the various forms of social difference and discrimination that are recently unfolding with new life. For example Islamophobia is one of the new ways in which racism is expressed in contemporary Europe next to older forms of discrimination like anti-semitism, sexism and the growth of right-wing extremism. This finally leads to the question how religion itself has become a (constant) source of social friction and exclusion, whether on a macro or on a micro scale, for example regarding access to political, economic and civil rights. This is intertwined with an interest in the social practices of religious actors and the ways they strive to strengthen their agency in European societies under the conditions of growing inequality and social discrimination.

All these questions concern politically and morally contested issues. This additionally centers the focus of interest towards how religious groups, organizations and individuals are included in civic debates about social discrimination and inequality, i.e. poverty and inequality of income, unemployment, the cutback of the welfare system, educational inequality, refugee and asylum policy, women's rights and gender inequality, homophobia, racism etc. From this perspective, social conflicts about inequality and social differences are increasingly religious conflicts, where religion is often invoked by various parties.

This situation calls for a critical sociological investigation that studies the social reality of religion and its relation to inequality and difference from various theoretical and analytical perspectives, questioning the multiple realities of discrimination and exclusion and the various forms of social legitimation and symbolic representations. Against this background, the ESA Research Network Sociology of Religion calls for papers on ‘Religion, Social Inequalities, Differences, and Sociological Imagination' for the 12th ESA Conference in Prague in August 2015. In particular papers are welcomed that discuss the following topics:


  • 01  RN34        Studies focusing on religion as a category of social inequality from a micro as well as from a macro-perspective, e.g. when religious belonging leads to social exclusion and discrimination, culturally, legally, politically and/or economically


  • 02  RN34        Studies focusing on the intersection of religion with other forms of social inequality and difference, like sex, ethnic belonging, sexual orientation, age etc. and their relation to asymmetry of power


  • 03  RN34        Studies dealing with how religions act on the vicissitudes of life in various social fields and how religion provides answers to social inequality and difference, i.e. how and why Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and other religious-spiritual groups formulate a critique of and alternatives to inequality and discrimination, e.g. in the welfare system, in the political system, the neo-liberal market, the (new) media, the pluralization of living forms in the private sphere etc.


  • 04  RN34        Studies focusing on the effects of inequality and discrimination for the religious individual, her/his self-understanding and conduct of life, and that reveal how religious actors struggle with inequality and discrimination and for agency


  • 05  RN34        Studies focusing on social structures and practices of inequality and social difference in the religious sphere


  • 06  RN34        Studies focusing on the social forms in which religious actors are responding to the various forms of social difference and discrimination, e.g. with social protest, creative forms of cooperation, new forms of dialogue, new theological approaches and forms of knowledge production etc.


  • 07  RN34        Studies focusing on the relationships between religion, inequality, difference and violence; and/or religion’s contribution to conflict transformation in divided societies


08  RN 34       For a special session, we invite PhD students working within the field of sociology of religion to submit their papers focusing on the issues highlighted in this CfP. The aim of this session is to provide an environment of intellectual exchange between young researchers wishing to share their work. Interdisciplinary approaches will also be encouraged, so researchers approaching the topic of religion from other perspectives (i.e. cultural studies, gender studies, media studies, etc.) are invited to submit their individual or joint proposals.

(Please take note: this session is organized for PhD students only.)

09  RN 34       As a follow-up to the PhD students’ session, we invite all young researchers participating in the RN’s sessions to join a networking meeting. It would be a great opportunity to find out more about your colleagues’ current projects and research interests, and to hear more about ESA RN 34 and other international associations or networks which you may be interested in joining. Specific time and date to be announced in due course.


Additionally, we invite papers for Joint Sessions with


03JS34          Joint Session with RN 3 Biographical Perspectives on European Societies on Biography, Religion and Social Differences and Inequalities:

Biography research is crucial to understand the effects of growing inequalities as well as the new shapes of discrimination and social difference in the social field of religion. And religion has become a relevant indicator of exclusion on a personal level. Religious belonging can shape the life course - across disruptions or as part of critical experiences, and it forms the individual self-understanding. Thus we invite papers that focus on the relation between biography, social experiences of difference and/or inequality and religion from various perspectives. 


11JS34          Joint Session with RN 11 Sociology of Emotions on Emotions, Religion and Social Differences and Inequalities:                    

In times of growing inequalities and the resurgence of newly shaped differences, like anti-Judaism, Islamophobia, homophobia, sexism etc., research on emotions is crucial for the understanding of religious life in Europe. This concerns the coexistence of different religious groups as well as their relation to non-religious groups. Thus we invite papers that consider the relevance of emotions for the social construction of religion and the understanding of religious life in Europe. What can be said about the shapes, characteristics and forms of relationships in these times? And what role do emotional regimes and feeling rules play with regard to the formation of emotional cultures in religious contexts on the macro- as well as on the micro-level?


13JS34          Joint Session with RN 13 Sociology of Family and Intimate Life on Religion, Family and Intimate Life:                     

Intimate living forms are undergoing epochal changes under the influence of different variables, among which are global migration and scientific advancements. Families, men and women as well as religious institutions and movements are constantly challenged to foster and adapt to modernity while preserving their own faith tradition and identities. The education of the new generation, the pluralization of living forms, interfaith marriages and the changing roles of mothers and fathers within the modern family are some of the issues facing those who belong to traditional religions. The scope of this joint session is to examine commonalities and differences between different religious traditions and conceptions of the modern family. Some questions arise from this issue: What is changing and what are the ever present features which make the family and religions changes a challenge for the contemporary society? How do global migrations impact the boundaries between faith traditions within interfaith marriages? In what ways do biotechnological developments challenge the idea of family and partnership? What is the role of education and value transmission of religious aspects?

33JS34          Joint Session with RN 33, Sociology of Gender on Gender and Religion in Times of Growing Social Inequalities and Differences:

In times of growing social inequalities and differences, not least due to transnationalization and migration, religion's analysis from a gender perspective is essential. Religion is predominantly characterized by a firm symbolization of gender based on hegemonic masculinity; consequently, the relation between women's and men's religious agency is asymmetric. This leads e.g. to the question how religion provides answers to its own regimes of inequality as well as in other social fields of life, how demands for gender justice are negotiated, and how far power and knowledge structures are challenged. Another question is how religious actors respond to gender inequality and develop dynamics of change, e.g. regarding the discrimination of sexual orientation, the various gender gaps in society and institutionalized gender asymmetry in the religious sphere.


20JS34           Joint Session with RN 20 on Qualitative Research on Religion from a Perspective of Social Inequality and Difference                       

We call for papers concerned with methodological insights and questions arising from the study of religions in a perspective of social inequality and difference. Related questions are e.g.: Are there field-specific problems pursuant to qualitative methods? Which methods can be recommended for the empirical analyses of micro-macro issues in understanding religion and religious inequality? We also welcome papers dealing with other topics related to qualitative research in the study of religion(s). We are especially interested in papers on empirical findings in the sociology of religion using qualitative research methods in combination with methodological reflections.


Notes for authors

Authors are invited to submit their abstract either to the general session or any specific session. Please submit only to one session. After abstract evaluation, coordinators will have the chance to transfer papers between sessions where applicable.

Abstracts should not exceed 250 words. Each paper session will have the duration of 1.5 hours. Normally sessions will include 4 papers.

Abstracts must be submitted online to the submission platform, see below. Abstracts sent by email cannot be accepted. Abstracts will be peer-reviewed and selected for presentation by the Research Network; the letter of notification will be sent by the conference software system in early April 2015.


Abstract submission deadline (extended):                                                                                                15th February 2015

Abstract submission platform:                    www.esa12thconference.eu

If you have further questions on the conference, please visit the conference website. For further information on the Research Network, please visit www.europeansociology.org.