Bulletin for the Study of Religion, Vol 41, No 1 (2012)

The Possibilities of Change in a World of Constraint: Individual and Social Transformation in the Work of Pierre Bourdieu

Sean Patrick McCloud
Issued Date: 1 Mar 2012


In this essay I will suggest that the work of Pierre Bourdieu, a scholar whose work seldom focused on religion, offers tools for thinking about personal and social change that can aid us in understanding religious conversion and deconversion. In Bourdieu we find ways to conceptualize change that are materially grounded and embodied. As a post-structuralist, Bourdieu refuses to reduce individual change and stasis to the machinations of hardened social structures that stand apart from human activity. At the same time, Bourdieu is a social theorist who—in acknowledging the statistical regularities that demonstrate the reproduction of social inequalities—also avoids simplistic conceptions of human subjectivity that imagines autonomous individuals who possess some magical spark of free will to stand outside all external compulsions and rationally choose their life trajectories. For those interested in mapping the possibilities of change in a world of constraint, Bourdieu offers some useful starting points.

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DOI: 10.1558/bsor.v41i1.002


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