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The Humanities Conference 2003

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The Sociology of Religion and Religious Faith: A Personal and Biographical Exploration

Prof. Joseph Tharamangalam.

In this paper I explore the trajectory of my personal transformation from a young Jesuit scholastic of intense faith and missionary zeal in the 1960s to an unbelieving academic sociologist today. Locating the source of this transformation in the relativising and critical impulse embedded in the sociological imagination, I reflect upon both my brief "pre-sociological" involvement in the movement to inculturate the Catholic faith in India by Indianizing its liturgy and theology and my subsequent academic exploration of the sociology of religion as a student, teacher and researcher during the past three decades. If my initial relativising impulse saw catholic liturgy and aspects of theology as culturally specific and in need of inculturation to make the Christian message relevant to Indians, the deeper implications of this impulse were to grow gradually bringing in its wake a far more radical transformation of my understanding. Not only language, music and ritual, but the church and the Christian message, even Jesus and Jehovah became relativised and historicised. My exposure to Marx, Weber and Durkheim and the study of the ideological and utopian aspects of religion, the Durkheimian notion of efflorescence emanating from the collective conscience- all pointed to a deep and primordial connection between the needs of the socialized self and religion. From this standpoint only Buddhism may stand out as an anti-religion in the Durkheimian self in making the self (including the social self) the very source of all "dukha". The most remarkable thing about the sociological critique, however, seems to be its current impasse. For all its promise of enlightenment and wisdom, sociology seems ill equipped to explain the current upsurge of religion in the shrinking global village.


Prof. Joseph Tharamangalam  (Canada)
Professor and Chair
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Mount Saint Vincent University

Born in Kerala, India into an sncient St. Thomas Christian family, I spent 6 years as a scholastic in the Jesuit order. Post-graduate education was completed in the delhi School of Economics and York University in Canada from where I obtained a Ph.D. in Sociology in 1977. Since 1977 I have been a member of the sociology department at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax specializing in the areas of Development and Religion.

  • Sociology of religion
  • Sociological imagination
  • Critique
  • Secularization
  • Unbelief
  • Post-modern religious upsurge
  • Inadequacy of explanation

(30 min Conference Paper, English)