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Seminars 2008

Congregations and Religious Diversity in Contemporary America
June 23-July 18, 2008

Directed by R. Stephen Warner

Funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
Co-sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Seminar Description

This seminar focuses and capitalizes on the intersection of two recent trends in American religion and American religious studies, the rapidly growing new literature in "congregational studies" and the increasing diversification of local religious institutions in the U.S.   Religious institutions in the U.S. have become more diverse in the past generation in part because of the burgeoning of seeker congregations and the growing presence of non-Christian faiths in the U.S. but also because of the  rapidly growing presence of religious institutions serving Christian immigrants from non-European backgrounds.  Especially significant for Christian scholars is the extent to which social change is bringing about not the de-Christianization of American society but the de-Europeanization of American Christianity.

Coinciding with diversity in the phenomena, a "congregational studies" literature is maturing in American religious studies and related fields.  This literature stems from a variety of agendas but has a common focus on the congregation as a site of significant religious and social processes.  Participants will be assigned to read a sample of this literature prior to the seminar.  The methodological starting point of most qualitative studies is the public worship of congregations.  A consistent finding of quantitative studies is that worship is the most central activity of congregations, the point from which other activities flow.  Accordingly, the seminar will feature site visits to two or three occasions of congregational worship.

The object of the seminar is to equip participants to contribute to, learn from and/or teach this new literature.  Participants will study congregational studies literature, engage the ethnographic methods employed in the research, and produce and receive feedback on their written work.  Thus, the seminar has a reading component, a site visit component and a writing component, each of which will be facilitated by a distinguished guest participant.

About the Director

R. Stephen Warner is Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  A sociologist of religion, he is a past president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, the Section on Sociology of Religion of the American Sociological Association, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.  He has held Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, and his research has been supported by the Lilly Endowment and the Pew Charitable Trusts.   Among his publications are New Wine in Old Wineskins: Evangelicals and Liberals in a Small-Town Church (University of California Press, 1988); "Work in Progress Toward a New Paradigm for the Sociological Study of Religion in the United States" (American Journal of Sociology, 1993); Gatherings in Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration (with Judith Wittner; Temple University Press, 1998); Korean Americans and their Religions: Pilgrims and Missionaries From a Different Shore (with Ho-Youn Kwon and Kwang Chung Kim; Penn State University Press, 2001); and A Church of Our Own: Disestablishment and Diversity in American Religion (Rutgers University Press, 2005).  With Rhys H. Williams (University of Cincinnati), he is currently at work on Navigating To Faith: Forming American Youth as Christians, Muslims, and Hindus (under contract with Rutgers University Press), based on research for the Youth and Religion Project.  He is co-founder of the Chicago-Area Group for the Study of Religious Communities and a member of the Congregational Studies Project Team.  He is a resident of Evanston, Illinois, where he and his wife, the choral conductor Anne Heider, are members of Immanuel Lutheran Church (ELCA).  They have two grown children and four grandchildren.