chapter  6
22 Pages

Performing Social Normativity: Religious Rituals in Secular Lives

The 2008 European Values Study (EVS) has yielded a paradoxical finding: while the levels of belief are not high in most European countries and church attendance is even lower, the share of respondents who think that religious services are appropriate at life transitions is significant everywhere (Table 6.1). In this chapter I try to explain this paradox by looking into the importance that religious rituals could possibly have for non-religious individuals. I start with two findings of the RASC project that seemed surprising: that participants did not talk much about the rituals they went through or witnessed; and that, according to what they said, rituals had not really changed in the course of their lives. I will discuss these findings first in the context of the interview situation. Then I link them to broader social contexts, paying close attention to how interviewees explained their own motivations to participate in or organise rites of passage. I focus on three cases drawn from the interviews illustrating different ways of relating to religious ritual. From this I go on to suggest a hypothesis about the importance that religious and non-religious self-identifications and symbolic practices might have had for the interviewees.