In its social dimensions, religion is a phenomenon of "place." Place has multiple dimensions, including both a physical space and a social space. As people move through physical space, such as through immigration and other forms of geographic mobility, their religious practices go with them. However, these practices are necessarily adapted to new settings, new cultures, and new generations. Similarly, when groups confront new or changing social spaces, their encounters with others, often of other religions, affects the social dimensions of their own religious practices and identity. This essay reviews recent books in sociology and history focused in one way or another on dimensions of religion, place, and community in the contemporary United States. Organizing the themes into those of "immigration," "community," and "geography," the essay highlights the interplay of physical and social space and its effect on religious identity and everyday religious practices.
In contrast to those accounts of contemporary religion that see the Internet as both metaphor and medium for a new disembodied religious consciousness, these books show how specific and situated religion is in social life. Immigrants practice familiar rites in new settings and give new meanings to familiar practices and rituals. Those who are not technically immigrants but socially and geographically mobile similarly re-construct their religious lives, shaping them to their new places as they change their new settings with their practices and institutions. These dimensions of mobility, community,and physical space come together in cities——where urban and pluralist landscapes often put religious communities side-by-side with those they consider religiously "other."
By thematizing, highlighting, and examining these books for accounts of religion and place, the essay concludes with some thoughts about promising areas for future research.
- ©© The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture