• Haunted By Faith: An Ethnographic Study of Signals of Transcendence in Nones

      Napier, Nathaniel James; McAfee School of Theology
      Study after study demonstrates that Christendom is no longer the dominant regulative force it once was. Faith, specifically faith in the Christian story, can no longer be presumed as the dominant narrative in West. According to Pew Research, 1/5 of the US public and 1/3 of adults under 30 years of age, are now no longer religiously affiliated. To press the point further, Nones (persons who claim no religious affiliation) now comprise 20% of the total adult population and it is estimated only 15-20% of the US population regularly attends Sunday worship. The cultural landscape of American religiosity has shifted. This new culture, dubbed by philosopher Charles Taylor as A Secular Age, is milieu in which the church now finds itself. Given the rise of the Nones, the church now has a mandate not only to label them, but to understand them so that it can better understand how to communicate the Gospel in a changing world. While data demonstrates a lack of devotion to institutional religion, one may wonder if there are expressions of something more than immanence in the lives of those that claim to be Nones? Is there a non-reducible experience to which their lives attest, expressions that are regular occurrences but not empirically justified? If so, what are they and might these expressions be a means of connecting people of faith to people who are non-religious? To this end, this thesis ethnographically explores the sociological phenomena of signals of transcendence in Nones as a means of discerning where the old world of the gods may still be operative experientially for those that have never been a part of organized faith. As a point of further novelty, this thesis does not interview former Christians, but focuses on those who have been raised in this Secular Age and never had a personal confession of faith. To accomplish this goal, this thesis has three primary large movements: theory (chapter 2), method (chapter 3), and research (chapter 4). After introducing the parameters of the thesis in chapter 1, chapter 2, explores the philosophical, biblical, and theological foundations within which to understand this problem and engage it. Charles Taylor sets the stage of our problem, providing a history of ideas that lead to our context. Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory then provides a frame for understanding human behavior from within his concepts of habitus and field. The Book of Acts and the Psalter provide biblical engagement. Finally, phenomenology as theological method is introduced, and an anthropological model of contextual missions issued. In chapter 3, method is specifically framed, with special attention to the various sorts of transcendence at work in persons. The project goes into greater statistical depth about the church’s cultural challenges, and then turns its attention to the qualitative approach at work in this thesis and the reflexive interviewing method employed. This chapter ends with a brief description of the participants and a pastoral understanding of the role of ethnography within the missional enterprise of the church. Chapter 4 is the main body of the reflexive interview process with human subjects and the application of ethnographic technique. This chapter uses five registers of Peter Berger and Edward Farley that occur across all interviews as a means of interpreting participant data. The categories of Tradition, Obligation, Play, Damnation, and Hope are explored in detail as viable transcendent signals in Nones. This chapter ends by framing these findings. Lastly, the thesis concludes by offering a summation of the research and offering a taxonomy of deep symbols that are embodied in Nones. It presents the novel findings of the research, including the new root metaphor of Home for all signals. Finally, it argues that ethnography must be included in any new missiological mandate of the church.