The Sacramental Thought-World of Implicit Religion


  • William J. F. Keenan Independent Writer and Researcher



Edward Bailey, Implicit Religion, Liminality, Sacramentalism, Thought-style


For a generation, “implicit religion” has played a seminal role in the study of “secular faith.” This key contribution to research and scholarship on “the everyday sacred” owes an incalculable intellectual debt to the founder of the concept and mainstay of the subject field of implicit religious studies, Edward Bailey (1935-2015). In the light and shade of his recent passing, it is important to set Edward’s “big idea” in its larger context of significance. Lest we forget! In what kind of “world” of ideas and imaginings does “implicit religion” have its provenance? Where do we locate it on the map of knowledge and, for that matter, of faith itself? In this tribute article, with a view to contextualizing “IR,” a sociology of ideas framework is constructed to shape reflection on the “Man” (Edward Bailey), the “Mode of Thought” (Implicit Religion), and the “Moment” (the transition between modernity and post-modernity).  “Implicit religion,” it is suggested, is rooted in a “sacramentalist” “thought style.” This emphasizes the diffuse “holiness” of Creation and the constitutive “liminality” of the human condition. “Religion” plays a key role in the negotiation of the borders of sacrality and profanity. “Implicit religion” is regarded as a conduit through which the ancient “panentheistic-sacramentalist” thought mode persists within intellectual life in the late modern period. Here, “IR”—as idea, ideal and institution—is located within the “post-secular” paradigm (Keenan 2002a). With its “unitive”  appreciation of the interplay of the “sacred” and “profane” in everyday life, and its confident deployment of religious conceptuality, Edward Bailey’s “big idea” provides a significant contribution towards a counter-cultural, redemptive “way of seeing” to the prevailing secular modernist “grand narrative.” 

Author Biography

William J. F. Keenan, Independent Writer and Researcher

Visiting Professor of Sociology of Religion and Culture, Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool.


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How to Cite

Keenan, W. J. F. (2016). The Sacramental Thought-World of Implicit Religion. Implicit Religion, 19(1), 11–47.