Public Religions and Civil Society

The Case of London Methodism


  • Matthew R. Wood University of Cambridge



Methodism, inner city, London, Secularization, Black church membership


Amendments to secularization theory have brought the issue of public religions to the fore in recent years. In particular, the work of Casanova and Beyer has maintained the importance of functional differentiation whilst pointing to the flow of religious discourses across social boundaries. These issues, however, have received little ethnographic attention, such that many of the problems associated with theories of differentiation and globalization have not been engaged in a sustained manner. Research within black majority London Methodist congregations is drawn upon to suggest ways in which these theories can be reconsidered. Three related issues are focused upon: the continued importance of the nation-state (including national stratifications); the importance of a practical approach to religion, such that discourses are understood as ?practical discourses?; and the importance of not privileging religion by reifying it in functional terms. These considerations have ramifications not only for secularization theory, but the general field of the sociological study of religion.


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Author Biography

Matthew R. Wood, University of Cambridge

Matthew Wood (PhD, University of Nottingham) is Lecturer in Sociology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge. He teaches and researches on religion, globalization and ethnicity, with a particular interest in social theories of power and practice. His doctoral research was an ethnographic study of a ‘nonformative’ religious network in Nottinghamshire (see Power, Possession and the New Age: Ambiguities of Authority in Neoliberal Societies, Ashgate, forthcoming). Postdoctoral research includes study of black majority Methodist congregations in London. He is the author of a number of articles and chapters, including ‘Capital Possession: A Comparative Approach to “New Age” and Control of the Means of Possession’,Culture and Religion 4(1) (2003): 159-82, and ‘Breaching Bleaching: Integrating Studies of “Race” and Ethnicity with the Sociology of Religion’, in James A. Beckford and John Walliss (eds.), Theorising Religion: Classical and Contemporary Debates(Ashgate, 2006).


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How to Cite

R. Wood, M. (2005). Public Religions and Civil Society: The Case of London Methodism. Fieldwork in Religion, 1(3), 235–251.