TEANECK, NJ – Christians and Jews will soon celebrate their most sacred annual
holidays with churches and synagogues closed, large gatherings banned, Seder meals and Easter pageants in peril as the nation struggles to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus.
Worshippers are examining their doctrines and traditions for creative ways they can safely adapt to remain faithful, to “live” their religion. The concept of “lived religion” has been largely academic to this point but takes on greater meaning in this global crisis.
“Lived religion isn’t about how we go to religion, but about how religion manifests in our lives,” said Dr. Khyati Joshi, a thought leader on the intersection of religion, race, and immigration and a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
For some, the challenge to find new ways to worship is invigorating. For others, the change is not so radical. Hindus, for example, who worship in temples, often have altars at home and their worship is more individual, private and personal than in congregational faiths.
“Many people adapting their holidays to COVID-19 will experience how to engage in prayer and ritual from their home, the way that other religions do already,” Dr. Joshi said. “People will also come to recognize the other ways in which they live religion that they may not be accustomed to thinking of as ‘religion.’”
Joshi gives the example of doing works of service to help provide food or sewing protective masks as a way many people will “live religion” rather than going to a house of worship. Others may try to create sacred space in their living room, watch worship on TV, or find other ways to express their faith within the constraints of “social distancing” and “sheltering in place.”
But for some, these restrictions create a struggle, because they are accustomed to “going to” religion, and not gathering for worship can be disorienting.
Some religious traditions cannot easily be replicated: How do you have a Palm Sunday procession when worshippers can’t be together? Is the Seder meal the same when the Haggadah is read over a video conference and not around a dinner table?
“We don’t yet know where people will find the sacred in new rituals, and that’s going to be interesting to see,” Dr. Joshi said, adding that some of these makeshift provisions – such as virtual Bible study – may be maintained even when restrictions have been lifted, because even in ordinary times they enable people who are mobility-impaired to participate.
“When people look back, they will see this as a time of ‘living religion’ and that their religion continued to thrive even when they couldn’t gather,” Dr. Joshi said.
According to Dr. Joshi, here are some basic concepts of “lived religion”:
- “Lived religion” is about how religion shapes the way people make meaning of their lives. It may or may not involve ritual practice.
- “Lived religion” emphasizes the real, practical and experiential over the theoretical or doctrinal.
- Religion is often thought of as rigid and static ideology or rule systems, but “lived religion” finds religious identity and faith practice in everyday activities.
- The scholarship on “lived religion,” including much of Joshi’s early work, goes beyond texts, traditions and rituals to examine what religion and spirituality look like in the everyday lives of Americans.
- Particularly relevant for religious minorities, “lived religion” deals in many facets with how they negotiate and navigate their lives as Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains in a Christian-dominated society.