SORAAAD BookNotes with the Bulletin: Terry Rey, Bourdieu on Religion: Imposing Faith and Legitimacy

By Matt Sheedy

In Bourdieu on Religion: Imposing Faith and Legitimacy (Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2007), Terry Rey accomplishes precisely what this this type of book is meant to achieve: to convince readers why the thinker in question is important for the study of religion, by showing the ways that s/he can be usefully deployed for scholarly interests.

Specifically, Rey sets out to demonstrate the potential and limitations that Bourdieu’s “theory of practice” holds for studies in religion, especially, as he notes, for ‘those with sociological and political concerns.” (58) After introducing such key concepts as “habitus,” “field,” and “capital,” Rey provides several examples of how thinkers like  Catherine Bell, Thomas Csordas, and Joan Martin have deployed Bourdieu’s theory of practice in their own work on religion, as with Csordas’ use of the notion habitus in religious rituals, which focuses on the connections between bodily experience and human subjectivity (115), or with Martin’s critical appropriation of Bourdieu in her book More Than Chains and Toil (2000), which looks at how enslaved women in the US where able to draw on their traditional African and Christian habitus in order to resist domination. (117)

While noting that Bourdieu often fell prey to a “structuralist determinism” (122) by characterizing the relationship between institutional authorities like the church and the laity as one of domination, Rey usefully demonstrates how his emphasis on religion’s “essential social function” (73) works well when concrete distinctions based on race, class, language or denomination” feature prominently in a given society,” (85) and is therefore most fitting
when dealing with questions of religion and social class, the body, and perception. (128) In short, for those interested in thinking about the ways in which the world and religion is “prestructured” by forces of power (capital), filtered through various spaces in society (field), and shaped through both an individual’s and/or a group’s “matrix of perception” (habitus), then Rey’s book comes highly recommended.

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One Response to SORAAAD BookNotes with the Bulletin: Terry Rey, Bourdieu on Religion: Imposing Faith and Legitimacy

  1. Philip L. Tite says:

    Thanks for this book note, Matt. For readers interested in pursuing Bourdieu’s work on religion (and by religious studies scholars), I want to point out that the most recent issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion (41.1, February 2012) is dedicated to Bourdieu and religion (see And for those looking for further bibliographic information on this topic, Jody Caldwell (Drew University) has a comprehensive bibliographic listing of book on, by, and about Bourdieu and religion in that issue.

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