Contemporary Spirituality and the Making of Religious Experience

Studying the Social in an Individualized Religiosity


  • Peter Versteeg VU University
  • Johan Roeland VU University



contemporary spirituality, individualization, methodology, participant observation, religious authority, religious experience, subjectivization


The ‘turn to experience’ has been described as one of the most defining characteristics of contemporary religion. Research on religion, and in particular on spirituality, therefore increasingly concentrates on the description of its experiential dimensions. The turn to experience, however, asks for something more than just the observation that a particular dimension (experience) has become of greater value for practitioners of religion. Dimensions which have for a long time been central to the social-scientific study of religion, but are avoided in the practitioners’ discourse and, surprisingly, in the social-scientific discourse as well, such as authority and power, turn out to be of lasting significance in the mediation and construction of religious experience. In this contribution, the authors take the social construction of religious experience in contemporary spirituality as a starting point for a reflection and discussion on the methodological challenges of experiential religion for those engaged in the study of religion.


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Author Biographies

Peter Versteeg, VU University

Peter Versteeg is a cultural anthropologist and project coordinator at the VU Institute for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society (VISOR), VU University Amsterdam. In 2008 Versteeg was guest editor of a special issue on secularization and existential security in the Netherlands for Social Compass (2008, 55.1). His book The Ethnography of a Dutch Pentecostal Church: Vineyard Utrecht and the International Charismatic Movement will be published by Mellen Press in 2011. Versteeg’s research interests include the globalization of spiritualities, ecstatic religion, and religion and identity.

Johan Roeland, VU University

Johan Roeland is an associate professor at the Department of Theology, VU University Amsterdam. His research interests include religious changes in Northwestern Europe, Evangelicalism, popular culture, media and youth. His dissertation on subjectivization tendencies among evangelical youth in the Netherlands, entitled Selfation: Dutch Evangelical Youth between Subjectivization and Subjection, was published in 2009 by Amsterdam University Press.


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How to Cite

Versteeg, P., & Roeland, J. (2012). Contemporary Spirituality and the Making of Religious Experience: Studying the Social in an Individualized Religiosity. Fieldwork in Religion, 6(2), 120–133.




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