Sacralising the secular: Constructing 'religion' in social movement scholarship


This article investigates how social movement scholars construct the category of ‘religion’ within the discipline. Using some of the conceptual tools from the critical study of religion – namely, pro-blematising the distinction between the ‘secular’ and the ‘reli-gious’ – it analyzes a sample of articles within the journals Social Movement Studies and Mobilization between 2010 and 2020 that deal with a broad range of religious, spiritual, and ‘religion-like’ or ‘secular sacred’ phenomena. I find three key trends within the data: social movements literature has a narrow construction of what constitutes ‘religion’; those things designated ‘religious’ are often instrumentalized in service to ‘political’ ends; and social movement scholars are more likely to study conservative and extreme politics where it intersects with groups considered ‘religious’ than with those considered ‘secular.’ The article invites scholars of social movements to consider how particular conceptions of both ‘reli-gion’ and ‘politics’ are naturalised within the field.


religion, social movement theory, secular sacred, politics

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