Spiritual Narratives in Everyday Life

The “Spiritual Narratives in Everyday Life” project was directed by Nancy Ammerman, Professor of Sociology of Religion in the School of Theology and the Department of Sociology at Boston University.  The project was hosted by BU’s Institute on Religion, Culture, and World Affairs, in partnership with the Center on Myth and Ritual in American Life, at Emory University.

The project seeks to generate data with which to think more creatively about the way religion works in American society.  When do people frame their action as part of a religious story, and when do they not — and what difference does that make?  How do religious beliefs and experiences relate to the stories of everyday life?  What role do religious institutions and friendships play in supplying and shaping those stories?  By gathering and analyzing religious life histories and everyday life stories, this project examined the prevalence, variations, and forms of religious consciousness and action.

The project paid special attention to how spiritual narratives vary across social sectors — from stories about work and family to stories about politics and social concerns.  Are “secular” arenas really secular?  It will examine how religious traditions themselves influence everyday spiritual stories.  Those studied came from across a wide spectrum of religious and spiritual traditions, as well as some who claim no religious affiliation at all.  The project attends to the role of the larger culture by gathering data in two different cultural locations – Boston and Atlanta.  What kinds of stories and modes of story-telling are present in these very different places?

Methodologically, the project developed and deployed innovative approaches to these questions by analyzing spirituality in its narrative form.  Who are the actors, what are they doing, where is the action set, and what motivations and emotions shape the mix of sacred and secular strands in each story?  Data gathering will combine interviewing, on-site observations in religious communities of which subjects are a part, photographic documentation of significant sites in the subject’s life, and daily guided oral diaries.

Data collection will involve a team of researchers in each location and will extend from 2006, through 2007, with early reports of results expected in 2008.

Publications resulting from this project

Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Everyday Life