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This page will introduce you to scholarly discussions of lived religion, religious practice, and American religious diversity.  We cannot offer a comprehensive survey of these literatures, but you’ll find links to essential reference works, provocative theoretical arguments, primary source collections, and much more.


American Religious History and Diversity

Catherine Albanese, America: Religions and Religion, Wadsworth Publishing, 2006. 

The standard scholarly introduction to the study of American religious traditions, this textbook has introduced thousands of students to the rich religious diversity of the American religious experience, from early Native American traditions up to the present day.

Diana Eck, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, Harper, 2001. 

Drawing on her work with Harvard’s Pluralism Project, Eck focuses on the dramatic growth of Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities in America since 1965, exploring how these communities have changed the American religious landscape, and how the religions themselves are changing in America.

Elinor Pierce, Pluralism in Practice: Case Studies of Leadership in a Religiously Diverse America, Orbis Books, 2023.

Drawing on the work of the Case Initiative at Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, this accessible collection of twelve case studies includes brief scenarios, framing questions, and updates on some of the key dilemmas and decisions we encounter in our multireligious encounters and lives.

David D. Hall (ed.), Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice, Princeton University Press, 1997. 

These essays paint a dynamic portrait of American religious traditions, by reconsidering American religious history in terms of practices that are linked to specific social contexts. The point of departure is the concept of “lived religion.” Discussing such topics as gift exchange, cremation, hymn-singing, and women’s spirituality, a group of leading sociologists and historians of religion explore the ways people live their religious beliefs on a daily basis.

Colleen McDannell (ed.), Religions of the United States in Practice, Vol. 1, Princeton University Press, 2001. 

This primary source collection explores faith through action from Colonial times through the nineteenth century.  The primary texts and accompanying essays consider the religious practices of average people — praying, singing, healing, teaching, imagining, and persuading. Some documents are formal liturgies while others describe spontaneous religious practice, and still others are drawn from dreams, visions, and fictional accounts.

Colleen McDannell (ed.), Religions of the United States in Practice, Vol. 2, Princeton University Press, 2001. 

Volume 2 of this remarkable primary source collection explores faith through action in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  See Volume 1, above, for more details.


Theories of Lived Religion, including Textbooks Focused on Religious Practice

Nancy T. Ammerman (ed.), Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives, Oxford University Press, 2007. 

These essays by leading sociologists explore contemporary religious phenomena that defy the binary opposition between secularization and orthodoxy.  The collection examines how religion functions on the ground in pluralistic societies, how it is experienced by individuals, and how it is expressed in social institutions.

Lee Bailey and Mary Pat Fisher, Living Religions: A Brief Introduction, Prentice Hall, 2010. 

This textbook provides a fresh and challenging insight into the histories and teachings of traditional faiths, indigenous religions, and new religious movements.  The authors consider how the beliefs and practices of these traditions have evolved, exploring the changing nature of each — and particularly the role of women; questions of fundamentalism, violence, and globalization; and interfaith initiatives.

Lee Bailey and Mary Pat Fisher, An Anthology of Living Religions, Prentice Hall, 2007. 

This anthology offers each of the major world religions an opportunity to explain itself in its own terms, creating a sensitive and accurate picture of its teachings and beliefs. It allows readers to gain an “inside” understanding of origins, founders, and practices — and presents the religions as living faiths. Selected extracts relate religion to such current issues such as gender, environment, and politics.

John R. Bowen, Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion, Routledge, 2017. 

This popular textbook analyses detailed case studies of various aspects of religious life, from magic and healing to pilgrimages and contemporary religious movements.  It discusses theories of religion as well as rites of passage, magic, witchcraft, sacrifice, taboos, images, sacred speech, religious movements, and the place of religion in today’s nation-states.

Paul Gwynne, World Religions in Practice: A Comparative Introduction, Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2008. 

This text introduces five religious traditions, exploring how they are lived and expressed in custom, ritual, and symbol.  By focusing on this “lived experience” it goes beyond traditional modes of religious study.  Each chapter engages with an individual theme, such as birth, death, food, pilgrimage and ethics, to illustrate how religious practices are expressed.

Meredith B. McGuire, Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life, Oxford University Press, 2008. 

The eclectic religious practices of individuals have often baffled scholars, whose research tends to start with the assumption that people of faith commit to a single, institutionally sanctioned package of beliefs and practices.  McGuire proposes a new way of understanding religion, arguing that scholars must study religion as it is actually lived in people’s everyday lives, examining their diverse, idiosyncratic, and creative practices.

Samuli Schielke and Liza Debevec (eds.), Ordinary Lives and Grand Schemes: An Anthropology of Everyday Religion, Berghahn Books, 2012. 

This edited volume of ethnographic research navigates the complexities and ambiguities of everyday religious life.  The authors argue that expressions of religious doctrine should be understood as aspects of lived religion and not treated as fundamentally distinct from religious practice.

Robert Wuthnow, What Happens When We Practice Religion?: Textures of Devotion in Everyday Life, Princeton University Press, 2020.

Religion is commonly viewed as something that people practice, whether in the presence of others or alone. But what exactly do we mean by "practice"?  What theoretical and methodological approaches help us understand religious activities?  Written by a leading sociologist, What Happens When We Practice Religion? provides new insights into the diverse ways that religion manifests in ordinary life.

Lived Religion in Specific Traditions, including Primary Source Collections

Sravana Borkataky-Varma and Aaron Michael Ullrey (eds.), Living Folk Religions, Routledge, 2023.


Borkataky-Varma and Ullrey present cutting-edge contributions from a range of disciplines to examine religious folkways across cultures. Topics include demons and ambivalent gods, nature spirits, oral lore, possession and exorcism, divination, midwestern American spiritualism, diaspora adaptations, unidentified flying objects (UFOs), music and sound experiences, death rituals, and body and wellness cultures.

Robert E. Buswell, Jr. (ed.), Religions of Korea in Practice, Princeton University Press, 2006. 

This primary source collection documents one of the most diverse religious cultures in the world today.  It includes texts drawn from shamanic rituals for the dead and songs to quiet newborns; Buddhist meditative practices and exorcisms; Confucian geomancy and ancestor rites; Catholic liturgy; Protestant devotional practices; alchemy training in new Korean religions; and the North Korean worship of Kim Il Sung.

Tony Carnes and Fenggang Yang (eds.), Asian American Religions: The Making and Remaking of Borders and Boundaries, New York University Press, 2004. 

This collection brings together current research on Asian American religions from a social science perspective.  It is organized around thematic issues, such as symbols and rituals, political boundaries, and generation gaps, in order to highlight the role of religion in negotiating, accepting, redefining, changing, and creating boundaries in Asian American social life.

Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger, Everyday Hinduism, Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

This innovative introductory textbook explores the central practices and beliefs of Hinduism through contemporary, everyday practice.  Flueckiger introduces and contextualizes the rituals, festivals and everyday lived experiences of Hinduism in text and images.  The text features coverage of Hindu diasporas, including a study of the Hindu community in Atlanta, Georgia.  

Harvey E. Goldberg (ed.), The Life of Judaism, University of California Press, 2001. 

The book’s attention to material culture offers a much-needed addition to more traditional, text-based views of Judaism.  The ethnographic and autobiographical essays introduce Judaism through daily activities, from food preparation to synagogue worship; Jewish attachment to specific communities, be they in Russia or Morocco; the impact of the Holocaust; the place of the State of Israel; and the role of women.

R. Marie Griffith and Barbara Dianne Savage (eds.), Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 

This collection explores how diverse women of African descent have practiced religion as part of their ordinary and sometimes extraordinary lives. By examining women from North America, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Africa, the contributors identify the patterns that emerge as women, religion, and diaspora intersect, mapping fresh approaches to this emergent field of inquiry.

John Stratton Hawley and Vasudha Narayanan (eds.), The Life of Hinduism, University of California Press, 2006. 

Celebrating the diversity of Hinduism, this volume begins in the “new India” of Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, where global connections and local traditions rub shoulders daily, before moving into the multifaceted world of Hindu worship, life-cycle rites, festivals, performances, gurus, and castes. The book’s final sections deal with the Hinduism that is emerging in diasporic North America.

Todd Lewis (ed.), Buddhists: Understanding Buddhism Through the Lives of Practitioners, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.


This text provides a series of case studies of Asian and Western Buddhists, spanning history, gender, and class, whose lives are representative of the ways in which Buddhists throughout time have embodied the tradition.  It portrays the foundational principles of Buddhist belief through the lives of believers, emphasizing the inherent diversity within Buddhist societies.

Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Buddhism in Practice, Princeton University Press, 1995. 

This anthology illustrates the vast scope and diversity of Buddhist practice in Asia, past and present, through a selection of thirty-five translated primary texts — each of which is preceded by a substantial introduction by its translator.

Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Religions of Asia in Practice: An Anthology, Princeton University Press, 2002. 

This volume brings together selections of primary materials — many of which had never before been translated into any Western language — including ritual manuals, autobiographical writings, popular commentaries, instructions to children, poetry, and folktales.  Each primary text is preceded by a substantial introduction by its translator.

Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Religions of China in Practice, Princeton University Press, 1996. 

This primary text collection demonstrates that the religions of China — Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, and folk religion — are not mutually exclusive, but interact with each other in many ways.  Each of the forty unusual selections, from ancient oracle bones to stirring accounts of mystic visions, is preceded by a substantial introduction.

Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Religions of India in Practice, Princeton University Press, 1996. 

This volume of primary sources and scholarly essays reshapes our understandings of the religions of India. The selections are drawn from ancient texts, medieval manuscripts, modern pamphlets, and contemporary fieldwork in rural and urban India. They represent every region in South Asia and include Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, and Muslim materials.

Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Religions of Tibet in Practice, Princeton University Press, 1997. 

This volume presents a stunning array of primary sources, including hagiographies, pilgrimage guides, prayers, accounts of visits to hell, epics, consecration manuals, sermons, and exorcism texts.  Taken together, this wealth of voices leads to a new and more nuanced understanding of the religions of Tibet.

Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp et al. (eds.), Practicing Protestants: Histories of Christian Life, 1630-1965, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 

This collection explores the significance of religious practice in American Protestant life.  Profiling practices that range from Puritan devotional writing to twentieth-century prayer, from missionary tactics to African American ritual performance, these essays provide a unique historical perspective on how Protestants have lived their faith within and outside of the church and how practice has formed their identities and beliefs.

Barbara D. Metcalf (ed.), Islam in South Asia in Practice, Princeton University Press, 2009. 

This anthology of primary texts explores the lived religious and cultural experiences of the world’s largest population of Muslims.  The thirty-four selections highlight a variety of genres, from oral narratives to elite guidance manuals, from devotional songs to judicial decisions, and from political posters to a discussion among college women affiliated with an “Islamist” organization.

Jacob K. Olupona and Regina Gemignani, African Immigrant Religions in America, New York University Press, 2007. 

This text develops new understandings of the presence and relevance of African immigrant religious communities in the United States. It explores the profound significance of religion in the lives of immigrants and the relevance of these growing communities for U.S. social life. It describes key social and historical aspects of African immigrant religion in the U.S. and builds a conceptual framework for theory and analysis.

Frank E. Reynolds and Jason A. Carbine (eds.), The Life of Buddhism, University of California Press, 2000. 

Bringing together fifteen essays by outstanding scholars of Buddhism, this book offers a distinctive portrayal of religious practices across the Buddhist world — from Sri Lanka to New York, Japan to Tibet. The essays highlight the actual behavior and lived experience of Buddhists, rather than Buddhist doctrine or sacred texts.

Robin Rinehart (ed.), Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice, ABC-CLIO, 2004. 

This collections illuminates the modern-day ritual, range, and reach of this ancient and internally diverse religion.  Unique to this work is the consistent attention given to the practice of Hinduism for both men and women.  Essays written by Indian and Western scholars introduce readers to the whole world of “living Hinduism” rather than the perspectives and traditions of a small elite.

Karen G. Ruffle, Everyday Shi'ism in South Asia: An Introduction, Wiley-Blackwell, 2021.

This volume is an introduction to the everyday life and cultural memory of Shi’i women and men, focusing on the religious worlds of both individuals and communities at particular historical moments and places in the Indian subcontinent.  Ruffle presents topical case studies offering broad snapshots of Shi'i life as well as analyses of ritual practices, material objects, architectural and artistic forms, and more.

George J. Tanabe (ed.), Religions of Japan in Practice, Princeton University Press, 1999. 

This anthology of primary sources reflects a range of Japanese religions in their complex, sometimes conflicting, diversity.  The collection presents legends and miracle tales, ritual prayers and ceremonies, sermons, reform treatises, doctrinal tracts, and other sources — most of which translated for the first time here — that illuminate the mosaic of Japanese religious practice.

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