Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


Usually refers to customs of an overtly religious character that are practiced, with predominantly lay momentum, at particular places and times, in relatively densely populated areas (urban or rural). Examples include the "official birthday" (to use a monarchical term) of saints in Sicily or gods in India. It represents an "incomplete" social differentiation of religion from other facets of culture, such as the arts, entertainment, and commerce.

Tailor-made for touristic photography, it is typified in open-air festivals with Third World warmth, both climatic and cultural. Thus it is sometimes seen as a "survival." However, popular religion should no more be isolated in the abstract, from its context in the rest of popular life and culture, than it is on the ground. So popular religion, like popular music, survives, and indeed thrives, in contemporary societies and culture, albeit in new ways. Examples include the liturgical appearances of Billy Graham or Pope John Paul II, the fan-ship of Cliff Richard or Mother Teresa, the "commercialization of Christmas" or the tabloid publication of prayers and "obituaries." To these examples of the popular appeal of explicit religious phenomena might be added that religiosity that is to be found within secular life (as suggested by the Network for the Study of Implicit Religion).

Today, its creators are more likely to be named (as "stars"). Its production, or reproduction, is not merely planned but more likely to be costed, massified, and profitable to its originators. Its consumption tends to be indoor (whether domestic, communal, or crowd), private, and subjective. The width and depth of its appeal, however, continues to be underestimated, by both students and leaders of both society and religion.

See also Folk Religion, Implicit Religion

Edward I. Bailey


E. Bailey, Implicit Religion in Contemporary Society (Kampen, Neth.: Kok Pharos, 1997)

C. Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London , vols. 7 and 9 (London: Macmillan, 1903)

W. A. Christian, Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981)

S. Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1972)

C. Lippy, Modern American Popular Religion (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996)

P. A. Vrijhof and J. Waardenburg (eds.), Official and Popular Religion (The Hague: Mouton, 1979)

W. L. Warner, The Family of God (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961)

P. Williams, Popular Religion in America (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1980).

return to Encyclopedia Table of Contents

Hartford Institute for Religion Research   hirr@hartsem.edu
Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105  860-509-9500