Learning to Practice, Becoming Spiritual: Spiritual Disciplines as Projects of the Self
In this project, I examine the dialectical relationship between practice and identity; between the process of acquisition and the process of becoming. To do so, I analyze the process spiritual formation in what Robert Wuthnow calls “practice-oriented spiritualities.” Despite a growing body of research documenting the deeply social nature of contemporary spirituality and spiritual practice, little has been written about processes socialization in this emerging field. My dissertation brings these processes into relief drawing on more than two years of fieldwork, forty-five in-depth interviews and participatory immersion in two spiritual communities: a Catholic prayer house and an Integral Yoga Institute. In addition to their growing popularity, these organizations share a commitment to helping members acquire and maintain disciplined spiritual practices – Centering Prayer and Hatha Yoga, respectively. My dissertation elucidates the social organization of apprenticeship in these seemingly personal practices, and examines the constitutive role of learning to practice in transmitting shared understandings of the self, of spirituality and of the ‘good life.’
University of Colorado, Boulder
Committee: Isaac Reed (chair), Janet Jacobs, Peter Simonson, Amy Wilkins, and Jennifer Bair
Angry Abolitionists and the Rhetoric of Slavery: Minding the Moral Emotions in Social Movements
My research investigates the mutually constitutive interrelations of emotion and status inequality, i.e., how status inequality feels as well as how unequal emotional distributions constrain variable practices of coping with, resisting, and/or reconstituting status structures. In the dissertation, Angry Abolitionists and the Rhetoric of Slavery: Minding the Moral Emotions in Social Movements, I demonstrate the centrality of status inequality and status claimsmaking in activating the moral emotions (e.g., anger, reciprocity, shame, pride, contempt) that condition the ‘hot cognitions’ of injustice. Using nineteenth century newspaper records of public antislavery meetings, I was able to reconstruct the social production of moral emotions in contentious contexts, including the collective-emotional experiences of protest audiences. My ultimate theoretical goal is to better incorporate a ‘human emotions’ perspective into historical sociology and contemporary critical/cultural theory.
Behavioral Variation during the Holocaust: The Case of the French Catholic Church
In August 1940, the French Catholic Church decided to formally endorse the Vichy regime’s first anti-Semitic legislation, the Statut des Juifs. Paving the way for increasing discrimination, French bishops’ decisions helped legitimize Vichy for civilians who looked to their religious leaders as moral authorities. However, two years later, in August 1942, a subset of bishops defected from this stance to protest on behalf of Jews. In turn, they delegitimized the Vichy regime and organized Catholic efforts to save Jews in France. My dissertation draws on a range of historical sources collected from 15 archives in 10 cities and 3 countries (France, USA, Israel) to analyze what motivated bishops’ original support for Vichy anti-Semitism, as well as their defections from this stance two years later. Theoretically, the findings so far call attention to critical events that triggered a shift in how French bishops’ thought about the war, to networks both inside and outside the Church that provided information and ideas about how to respond to unfolding events, and to the personal backgrounds of bishops who understood transformations in French political life through a lens shaped by their previous experiences. I combine process-tracing methods with network analysis and a prosopography to develop a theory of high-risk political defection.
Filling the Blank Pages of Group Culture: Book Purchasing Network Studies in the Sociology of Religion
My dissertation uses book co-purchasing networks from Amazon.com to study shared ideas and culture in US religious groups. Religion is chosen because of the centrality of popular expression and consumption to the ongoing development of cross-group conversations and ideas, such as interfaith movements. I draw on a field theoretic framework which is distinct from both Bourdieu and neo-institutionalists in its network orientation and its focus on ideas and cultural objects as bearers of potential overlap and collaboration. Data are collected from Amazon's 'Customers who Bought this also Bought' feature. I use a combination of node, subgroup, and macro-structural approaches to understand group similarity and difference, as well as the paths through which ties are made. Early exploratory analysis has shown promise in distinguishing between nominal topic, as defined by the publisher or retailer, of books and the effective relationships of books to others, improving understanding of distinct types of irreligious individuals. Overall, I seek to help fill an overall gap between the sociology of formal knowledge and the qualitative study of everyday life, while simultaneously proposing an alternative to the standard opposition of field and network theories.