Religion and Social Inequality

Bild: Pfingstbewegung Ever since Max Weber's text on “status groups, classes and religion” it is found that there is a close relation between a person's social status and his or her religious dispositions. This relation does not only engender social differentiation within national societies. It also manifests itself in different strategic attitudes toward transnational processes and globalization. This is particularly clear when it comes to Pentecostalism in the Third World, which constitutes the most dynamic religious movement of our times. At this research center, several projects on Pentecostalism shed light on the relation between social positions and religious dispositions and attempt to contribute to a better understanding of the religious and social meanings, identity politics and transnational strategies of religious actors in transforming societies of the Third World. While this work genuinely is sociology of religion, it also provides several stimuli for theology: For fundamental theology and hermeneutics, there is the confrontation with radically different approaches to doing theology and with radically different theological contents; for dogmatics, there is Pentecostal pneumatology; and for ethics, there is the reflection on global and local inequality as a problem of justice, for instance in the context of a praxeological approach to ethics.

  1. Religious Faith and Social Presence: The Identity Politics of Religious Actors in Guatemala and Nicaragua
    Over the last decades, Pentecostalism and the Catholic movement for charismatic renewal have claimed an increasing social relevance. At the same time, it can be observed that religion has become an important resource within the field of politics. These developments are at the center of a research project that we conduct in Guatemala and Nicaragua. This project, which is financed by the German Research Fund (DFG), is the first of two installments. It is based on empirical research and aims at a comparison of religious actors in these two equally dynamic, yet very different countries. Whereas the first installment focuses on the present state of affairs, the second installment will draw on research that the project director has conducted in both countries during the years of 1985 and 1986, to analyze changes that have occurred through time. The original research, as well as the current project are predicated on a method for the analysis of religion that Heinrich Wilhem Schäfer has developed on the basis of Bourdieu's sociology. This method describes and explains the relation of the objective position of social actors within the social space and their subjective religious identities, or their ?theologies in context.? On this basis, relationships can be drawn between specific capabilities, political action, the acquisition of transnational competences, etc., and the religious convictions held by specific Pentecostal groups. On aggregate, the two installments will achieve empirical knowledge on the practice of current religious actors, a methodologically controlled diachronic comparison across 25 years, and a significant step toward a multiply tested theory of religion and a concomitant research methodology.

    Researcher: Tobias Reu, Adrián Tovar

  2. Religious [Re]Sources of the Self: Popular Religion and Modern Identity in Metropolitan Mexico
    While in late modern societies all-pervasive laws of consumption shape those forms of individuality which bear upon us simultaneously as a promise and as a prescription, creative forms of responding to the late modern imperative of individualization are emerging in Latin America. Here, popular religion, even though largely excluded from the circuits of consumption as a result of its social position has come to constitute a productive field of symbolic resources for alternative forms of individuation in highly pluralized urban settings. Such is the main thesis of this dissertation project, which draws upon empirical research in the colonia (neighborhood) of El Ajusco situated in Mexico City's southern delegación (borough) of Coyoacán.

    This study relies predominantly on qualitative analysis and thus uses Habitus Analysis as its methodological centerpiece. Using this method it is possible to reconstruct religious identities as a network of dispositions. This, in turn, allows for an operationalization of socially differentiated logics of individuation as creative forms of situative reflexivity. The analysis is further enriched by statistical data capturing the correspondence between modes of individuation and positions in the social space as well as in the religious field.

    Researcher: Adrián Tovar Simoncic


  • Argentina: Religious Taste, Religious Conversion and Social Structure
    Contrary to the assumptions of theories of religious individualization, decisions about religious conversion are not independent of socio-structural influences on the actor’s religious tastes. Aspects of social positioning (class habitus), as well as the dynamics of the religious field itself (heterodoxy vs. orthodoxy, erosion of religious monopolies), influence individuals’ decisions to change their religious affiliation and thus emerge as orientations and limitations for religious strategies of status. This doctoral project examines these issues using the example of Catholic and Pentecostal Christians in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires.

    Researcher: Jens Köhrsen

  • E Pluribus Unum? – Identity Politics in the Americas: ZiF Research Group
    The research group “E Pluribus Unum?” at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research arose out of our research and teaching partnership with the Bielefeld InterAmerican Studies. The project examines the individual, local, and transnationalizing identity-based strategies of social movements and cultural actors who articulate themselves parallel to the quickly growing transnational networks between North and South America. Religious as well as ethnic identity politics play an increasingly important role in this development. The primary methodological interest of our cooperative project lies in the methodological and theoretical development of the Bourdieuian field terminology in order to conceptualize a 'field of identity politics'.

    Associated Fellows: Heinrich Schäfer, Adrián Tovar

  • Pentecostalism Worldwide and Religion in Latin America: Bertelsmann Religion Monitor
    Within the framework of the quantitative surveys on religiosity in twenty-one countries, we were responsible for the areas of Pentecostalism and Latin America. Although the Monitor did not take any socio-structural variables into account, it is nevertheless possible, with the data on religious practices, to carry out interesting analyses of religious habitus and the transformation of the religious field.

    Researcher: Heinrich Schäfer