Studying Lived Religion is a much-needed addition to both religious studies research and the classroom. Clearly written and tightly organized, it is accessible and eminently referenceable, offering a variety of methodologies, historical contexts, and examples. Ammerman’s inclusive and synthetic thought touches and builds on many of the major players in the field while also foregrounding minority points of view and innovative current literature. At the same time, her sustained focus and organizational schema of the six dimensions of lived religion—“how religion happens in everyday life”—indeed offers a “foundation [that] will allow lived religion research to live up to the global scope of our work and…allow social scientists and other scholars and citizens to rediscover and better understand the religious phenomena we encounter all around us” (5, 8).

Part One gives the thousand-foot view of what people do (practice) and the contexts lived religion appears in. Beginning with a concept of practice as “a cluster of actions that is socially recognizable in ways that allow others to know how to respond” (15), Ammerman then argues that is through practice that religious identities are forged (19). She then tackles the relationship between religious social practice and spirituality, claiming that the former has a spiritual dimension inherent in it, “[t]hat is, it incorporates—either directly or indirectly—the presence of a reality beyond the ordinary” (20). As for the supposed conflict between the two, she writes, “[W]e will gain greater insight by studying both individual subjective experiences and socially enacted patterns” (22). The first chapter then ends with an introduction to the multidimensional approach to studying lived religious practice which structures the rest of the text. These dimensions include embodiment, materiality, emotion, aesthetics, morality, and narrative. The aforementioned spiritual dimension is what makes religious practice distinct from other social practices.

Chapter 2 looks for where religious practices occur, mostly at the macro level. Here Ammerman identifies a range of religious social contexts: entangled, established, institutional, interstitial, and postcolonial (a hybrid of entangled and established). These “identify differences in typical expectations for the fields within which religious practices will be found and the modes of regulation that will constrain (or encourage) religious action” (31). Together with the seven dimensions of religious practice, these ideal types aid in the generative and analytic task of systematically and dynamically examining lived religion, wherever in the world one may be working.

Part Two is divided into seven chapters that go through each of the dimensions. Chapter 3 focuses on the spiritual dimensions. Ammerman demonstrates through multiple examples what it might look like to run a case study through the contextual grid offered in chapter 2. Here and throughout the book, there are helpful case studies set off in gray boxes that are blended into that chapter’s particular discussion. While delineating and outlining the literature on “spirituality,” Ammerman offers a kind of updated compendium—something she repeats for each dimension, suggestively gesturing rather than exhaustively re-presenting. Chapters 4 and 5 examine embodied religious practice and materiality. Chapters 6 and 7 explore emotions and aesthetics, while 8 and 9 look at morality and narratives, respectively. The chapters on aesthetics and narratives are particularly interesting. For the former, simply giving language and conceptualizations is helpful. The inclusion of narratives, too, as crucial to the study of lived religion offers several points of entry for the researcher.

Ammerman concludes her work with scholarly gold, that is, a curated and annotated bibliography. In addition to the Ideas for Further Study endnotes that conclude each chapter, the close of the text reads almost like a how-to handbook on doing research on lived religion. This reviewer notes, however, that neither Rodney Stark nor William Sims Bainbridge—key sociologists of religion—is mentioned anywhere in the text. Given their status in the field, it would have been appropriate to interact with them in some way, even if to warn up-and-coming graduate students that their theories have fallen into disfavor.

Therefore, given its theoretical purchase, didactic approach, and valuable content, Studying Lived Religion would be an asset as a textbook for junior and senior undergraduates, graduates, and scholars in religious studies. It is one of those texts one wishes they could have had when writing a proposal.

Benjamin D. Crace
Independent Scholar