Approaches to the study of religion in Pierre Bourdieu’s social theory

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The article considers Pierre Bourdieu’s approaches to the study of religion: the author analyzes basic concepts of Bourdieu’s sociology of religion and identifies religious spheres and traditions to which his ideas can be applied. The methods developed by Bourdieu, despite their limitations, successfully work in the contemporary studies. Bourdieu’s theory of religion became the starting point for some new approaches, in particular, for the study of ritual practices. His concept of religious habitus allows to analyze the mechanisms by which the religion generates certain practices, conventions, life styles, meanings and values according to its doctrine and experience. Representatives of one denomination usually not only follow the same rules and rituals, but also have a similar taste, life style and perception of religious leaders. The habitus embodies traditions and history of a denomination; it is a means of keeping up practices and their transfer to next generations. At the same time, Bourdieu’s approaches to the study of religion have some weaknesses: his theoretical model is too dependent on the French context and describes mainly the catholic church; his techniques aim to analyze the relationship between the state and the dominant church with its hierarchical structure. Another limitation of Bourdieu’s approach is that he attributes economic logic of supply and demand to the religious activities, and defines religion as determined exclusively to legalize and reproduce unequal and unjust social order. Bourdieu believed that the church was always linked with the mechanisms of social domination, exercise of power and consecration of the ruling classes’ privileges, i.e. with the merits of maintaining social order and legitimizing the power. Thus, Bourdieu credits the producers of religious capital with too much power and capabilities, which they do not really have. In Bourdieu’s theory, religion is an instrument of the struggle for power responsible for social deficiencies and injustices. That is why his theory misses many important aspects of religion.

About the authors

A V Sitnikov

Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration

Author for correspondence.
Vernadskogo Prosp., 84, Moscow, 119606, Russia


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