Telling Congregational Stories

Ammerman, Nancy T. “Telling Congregational Stories.” Review of Religious Research 35(4):289-301.

Nancy Ammerman challenges the myths of secularization and culture wars as ways of describing religion in society by calling on sociologists to pay more attention to the stories congregations and other “marginalized” voices are telling about “private” faith and “public” action. Listening only to the well-rehearsed grand theories from culture’s “center” which try to define religion for everyone distorts the fact that in congregations religion often—though not always—provides meaningful resources for practical living and helps translate religious faith into community response. Ammerman does not think it wise to listen only to the “marginal” at the expense of the established “center,” but she does suggest that “the theories and institutions of culture’s elite” are not capable of explaining universal social and religious patterns. Reading religion in society from the “bottom up” requires a “both-and” approach: on the one hand, it means seeing that society throughout history has evidenced a mixture of both the sacred and the profane; and on the other, while congregations may continue to draw ideological lines between “liberal” and “conservative” positions, it requires taking note of the large middle ground of cultural and religious elements from which both sides draw in shaping and practicing their faith.