Title

Science and the sacred: On the discourse of religion in occupational science

Start Time

19-10-2013 10:00 AM

End Time

19-10-2013 10:40 AM

Session Type

Theoretical Paper

Abstract

This paper explores notions of the sacred – religion, spirituality, and faith communities - within occupational science. The sacred is understudied and under-theorized within occupational science. Existing discourse of religion and occupation has most often focused on cultural competence, systems of belief, and faith communities as social supports; spirituality is most often discussed as a highly individual dimension of well-being. These approaches are limited, particularly in contrast with the way people really talk about their experiences as participants within religious communities. This theoretical paper explores conceptions of the sacred, and specifically of religious communities of practice. Theorization is supported by themes derived from a collaborative ethnographic case study with members and staff of Mercy Church, a large nondenominational church in North Carolina. Mercy was more than a place or a system of beliefs. The members of Mercy enacted church as a verb, something they came together to do not only in the formal spaces of the worship center and community building, but together in their homes and in the broader community. Church, to the members of Mercy, meant shared roles, understandings and practices. It also meant meaningful relationships, structured by belief and shared experiences. Mercy was the primary support for one couple considering adopting a child. For another woman, the church shaped her dating life, her work, and her family relationships. For all of the members of Mercy, church and social justice were inherently linked; the community shared and enacted deeply meaningful values surrounding social justice. Understanding the situated experiences of the Mercy congregation requires recognition that church wasn’t a static identity, or something to be experienced, or a chunk of time on Sundays and at Wednesday small group. Rather, being a church community was something they did, a community of practice continually transacting with all of the other parts of their lives (Wenger, 1999). Being a member of the church was an identity of practice, enacted through occupation (Holland et al, 2001). Highly individualized, generic discussions of ‘spirituality’ as a practice do not capture this, nor do discussions that disregard the sacred to describe religious groups as social supports. Religious communities are something distinct and worthy of study, which science should neither shy away from nor discuss in generics (equating faith, spirituality and religion, or categorizing all spiritual practices as alike). Rather, science should approach religions communities with the same rigor and openness to inquiry as any subject. Finally, this paper includes exploration of religious inquiry in other disciplines, and considers what resources we might incorporate into occupational science to better understand the relationship of the sacred to occupation.

Discussion Questions:

How do we distinguish between religion, spirituality and the sacred?

What methods lend themselves to the study of religious occupations?

Why is religion less present in our discourse than might be expected?

How can our discourse capture the complexity of religious experience?

Can the study of religious communities of practice help transcend the dualism of person and environment?

Key words: spirituality, religion, community

References

Dickie, V., Cutchin, M., & Humphry, R. (2006). Occupation as transactional experience: a critique of individualism in occupational science. Journal of Occupational Science, 13, 83-93.

Holland, D., Lachicotte, W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (2001). Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge University Press.

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Oct 19th, 10:00 AM Oct 19th, 10:40 AM

Science and the sacred: On the discourse of religion in occupational science

This paper explores notions of the sacred – religion, spirituality, and faith communities - within occupational science. The sacred is understudied and under-theorized within occupational science. Existing discourse of religion and occupation has most often focused on cultural competence, systems of belief, and faith communities as social supports; spirituality is most often discussed as a highly individual dimension of well-being. These approaches are limited, particularly in contrast with the way people really talk about their experiences as participants within religious communities. This theoretical paper explores conceptions of the sacred, and specifically of religious communities of practice. Theorization is supported by themes derived from a collaborative ethnographic case study with members and staff of Mercy Church, a large nondenominational church in North Carolina. Mercy was more than a place or a system of beliefs. The members of Mercy enacted church as a verb, something they came together to do not only in the formal spaces of the worship center and community building, but together in their homes and in the broader community. Church, to the members of Mercy, meant shared roles, understandings and practices. It also meant meaningful relationships, structured by belief and shared experiences. Mercy was the primary support for one couple considering adopting a child. For another woman, the church shaped her dating life, her work, and her family relationships. For all of the members of Mercy, church and social justice were inherently linked; the community shared and enacted deeply meaningful values surrounding social justice. Understanding the situated experiences of the Mercy congregation requires recognition that church wasn’t a static identity, or something to be experienced, or a chunk of time on Sundays and at Wednesday small group. Rather, being a church community was something they did, a community of practice continually transacting with all of the other parts of their lives (Wenger, 1999). Being a member of the church was an identity of practice, enacted through occupation (Holland et al, 2001). Highly individualized, generic discussions of ‘spirituality’ as a practice do not capture this, nor do discussions that disregard the sacred to describe religious groups as social supports. Religious communities are something distinct and worthy of study, which science should neither shy away from nor discuss in generics (equating faith, spirituality and religion, or categorizing all spiritual practices as alike). Rather, science should approach religions communities with the same rigor and openness to inquiry as any subject. Finally, this paper includes exploration of religious inquiry in other disciplines, and considers what resources we might incorporate into occupational science to better understand the relationship of the sacred to occupation.

Discussion Questions:

How do we distinguish between religion, spirituality and the sacred?

What methods lend themselves to the study of religious occupations?

Why is religion less present in our discourse than might be expected?

How can our discourse capture the complexity of religious experience?

Can the study of religious communities of practice help transcend the dualism of person and environment?

Key words: spirituality, religion, community