Social Generation as a Lens

A Qualitative Take on Generational Theory


  • Frederique A. Demeijer Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Hijme C. Stoffels Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam



generational theory, qualitative research design, individual religious experiences, life narrative interviews


This article explores the utility of generational theory in conducting and analysing qualitative interviews investigating individual religious experiences. We used generational theory in three ways: first, to select respondents; second, to select the interview method; and third, to analyse and contextualize the interviews. We interviewed six members of the Apostolic Society, a Dutch religious denomination, each belonging to a different social generation, and the interviews used life narrative techniques. In line with generational theory, experiences during their formative years were discussed as being influential on their individual (religious) experiences within the Apostolic Society; these experiences were then related to larger societal developments. Our findings suggest that generational theory offers an additional lens through which to perform and analyse qualitative research on religion, which may complement other fieldwork research methods in religion.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Frederique A. Demeijer, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Frederique Demeijer is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Religion and Theology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She studied Cultural Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and at the University of Cape Town and graduated cum laude from the Master’s programme in Culture, Organization and Management at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Her research interests are in anthropology, lived religion and oral history.

Hijme C. Stoffels, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Hijme Stoffels is Emeritus Professor of Sociology of Religion at the Faculty of Religion and Theology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. His main areas of interest are religious communities and movements. He has published in the areas of evangelicalism, Orthodox Protestantism, new religious movements and immigrant churches. His current research concerns the role of religion in urban settings.


Apostolisch Genootschap 2019 Vind hier een gemeenschap bij jou in de buurt. Online: (accessed July 16, 2019).

Atkinson, Robert 2002 The Life Story Interview. In Handbook of Interview Research: Context and Method, edited by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein, 121–40. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications.

Becker, Henk A. 1992 Generaties en hun kansen. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff.

2008 Karl Mannheims “Problem der Generationen”—80 Jahre danach. Zeitschrift für Familienforschung 20(2): 203–221.

Bowie, Fiona 2006 [2000] Anthropology of Religion. In The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion, edited by Robert A. Segal, 3–24. Oxford: Blackwell.

Brand, Berry 2013 Nieuw licht op oude wegen. De wegen die de apostolische beweging volgde vanaf de oorsprong (circa 1830) tot het Apostolisch Genootschap anno 2011. Delft: Uitgeverij Eburon.

Bremmer, Jan N. 2005 Van zendelingen, zuilen en zapreligie. Tweehonderd jaar godsdienst in Nederland en het Apostolisch Genootschap. Zevende J.H. van Oosbreelezing. Delft: Uitgeverij Eburon.

Collins-Mayo, Sylvia, Bob Mayo, Sally Nash and Christopher Cocksworth 2010 The Faith of Generation Y. London: Church House Publishing.

Cornman, John M., and Eric R. Kingson 1996 Trends, Issues, Perspectives, and Values for the Aging of the Baby Boom Cohorts. The Gerontologist 36(1): 15–26.

Day, Abby 2013 The Problem of Generalizing Generation. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 4(1): 109–124.

Foster, Karen 2013 Generation and Discourse in Working Life Stories. British Journal of Sociology 64(2): 195–215.

Gubrium, Jaber F., and James A. Holstein 2009 Analyzing Narrative Reality. Thoasand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Horstmanshoff, Manfred 2011 Bewogen woorden: Klein Apostolisch woordenboek. Baarn: Het Apostolisch Genootschap.

Inglehart, Ronald 1990 Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jonte-Pace, Diane, and Willam B. Parsons 2001 Religion and Psychology. London: Routledge.

Jureit, Ulrike, and Michael Wildt 2005 Generationen: Zur Relevanz eines wissenschaftlichen Grundbegriffs. Hamburg: Verlag Hamburger Edition.

Lyons, Sean, and Lisa Kuron 2014 Generational Differences in the Workplace: A Review of the Evidence and Directions for Future Research. Journal of Organizational Behavior 35(S1): S139–S157.

Mannheim, Karl 1952 [1927] The Problem of Generations. In Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, edited by Paul Kecskemeti, 276–322. London and New York: Routledge.

Patton, Michael Q. 1990 Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Pilcher, Jane 1994 Mannheim’s Sociology of Generations: An Undervalued Legacy. British Journal of Sociology 45(3): 481–95.

Possamai, Adam 2009 Sociology of Religion for Generations X and Y. London: Equinox Publishing.

Purhonen, Semi 2015 Generations on Paper: Bourdieu and the Critique of “Generationalism”. Social Science Information 55(1): 1–21.

Riessman, Catherine K. 2008 Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Rubin, Herbert J., and Irene S. Rubin 2005 Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Saldaña, Johnny 2009 The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Stark, Rodney, and Charles Y. Glock 1968 American Piety: The Nature of Religious Commitment, vol. 1. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stoffels, Hijme 2006 Nieuwkomers en nazaten. Religie en Samenleving 1(3): 121–39.

White, Jonathan 2013 Thinking Generations. British Journal of Sociology 64(2): 216–47.



How to Cite

Demeijer, F. A., & Stoffels, H. C. (2019). Social Generation as a Lens: A Qualitative Take on Generational Theory. Fieldwork in Religion, 14(1), 53–69.