The Possibilities of Change in a World of Constraint

Individual and Social Transformation in the Work of Pierre Bourdieu


  • Sean Patrick McCloud The University of North Carolina at Charlotte



Pierre Bourdieu, change, habitus, prophets, social reproduction


In this essay I will suggest that the work of Pierre Bourdieu, a scholar whose work seldom focused on religion, offers tools for thinking about personal and social change that can aid us in understanding religious conversion and deconversion. In Bourdieu we find ways to conceptualize change that are materially grounded and embodied. As a post-structuralist, Bourdieu refuses to reduce individual change and stasis to the machinations of hardened social structures that stand apart from human activity. At the same time, Bourdieu is a social theorist who—in acknowledging the statistical regularities that demonstrate the reproduction of social inequalities—also avoids simplistic conceptions of human subjectivity that imagines autonomous individuals who possess some magical spark of free will to stand outside all external compulsions and rationally choose their life trajectories. For those interested in mapping the possibilities of change in a world of constraint, Bourdieu offers some useful starting points.

Author Biography

Sean Patrick McCloud, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Sean McCloud is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the author of Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, and Journalists, 1955-1993 (2004); Divine Hierarchies: Class in American Religion and Religious Studies (2007); and co-editor of Religion and Class in America: Culture, History, and Politics (2009).


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How to Cite

McCloud, S. (2012). The Possibilities of Change in a World of Constraint: Individual and Social Transformation in the Work of Pierre Bourdieu. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 41(1), 2–8.