“Lived Religion”


Patients are notorious from not telling their doctors that they take herbs, do scent therapy, take homeopathy or have a chiropractor. Not to mention, that they usually hide the religious rituals they go through for healing: laying on of hand prayers, burning candles or praying to saints. Heck, your best friends may be doing things that would surprise you. People are private about their unorthodox practices.

People are generally more comfortable with inconsistent beliefs and practices than their medical or religious professionals would want them to be. “Lived Religion” is a term used to describe the actual “religion” held by real people.  Lived religion contains these heterodoxical practices and beliefs.

The Lived Religion of a given person may actually have very little orthodox belief within it. It may  be very dissimilar to the religion they confess.  It may instead emphasize community, rituals and holidays or just be a cultural identity.

Many Christians go to fortune tellers, carry luck charms, listen to horoscopes. Besides doing things outside their orthodox religion, they may also hold heretical views: believe in reincarnation, believe in universal salvation and much more.

So when we discuss the meaning of the word “religion”, we must remember that believers are not limited by the religion they may confess — their lived religion is bigger than orthodox beliefs.

Question to Reader: Share some unorthodoxy in your life — medical, religious or otherwise. Remember, if you are religion-free, you still have the potential for unorthodoxy within your “lived religion”.

Some data:

  • Superstition: Gallop 1996: 25% of Americans call themselves “superstitious: 27% knock on wood, 13% avoid black cats, 12% won’t walk under ladder, 11% afraid of breaking a mirror
  • Heterodoxy:  Gallop 2005: 25% believe astrology,  21% believe they can communicate mentally with a dead person 21% believe in witches. 57% buy lottery tickets.


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4 responses to ““Lived Religion”

  1. For me “unorthodoxy” includes some of my medical views. I’ve had the desire for holistic treatments. For instance, I’ve been seeking out “alternative medicine” doctors, my general practitioners, during the last few decades. I’d seek Drs who’d only prescribe me pharmaceuticals IF I didn’t have other “more natural” treatment options. Occasionally, I opted for acupuncture, or got my mercury fillings removed from my tooth cavities, and tried use whatever I could to keep “harmony” with my bodies own healing energies, to remove toxins by fasting, and so. When I think about these unorthodoxy: I have mixed feelings. Some seem like common-sense (avoid surgeons knife if not necessary). Other beliefs, dance on the edges of “new age” “lived religion” concepts.

  2. I light incense and read from a text each morning. Currently, it’s James Allen. It could just as well be any religious/spiritual text. I ring a singing bowl before I start reading. I put on a charm that I bought when I saw the Dalai Lama that includes the kalachakra. At the end of the day I reverse the ritual. It’s my way of reminding myself about my spiritual self and needs. My goal each day is to do something for my mind, body and spirit.

  3. I do not know if this applies here, but I have a continuing problem with making purchases. What I mean by that is, I can not purchase something without ever having feelings of guilt, as if that money could have been used for something better, and there always seems to be this invisible and unattainable “something better” out there. I feel anxiety about spending the money, “What if I need that money for some emergency?” I chalk it up to my frugal Christian upbringing where ever penny was pinched and measured. The theologies of not being of this world led to the feelings of guilt whenever I purchased something of this world. So here I am today still trying to convince myself to make purchases, not feel guilt and just enjoy the things of life without constantly looking over my shoulder.

    Does that count?

  4. @Scott,
    Great examples. Thanks. The “natural” therapies are often hidden from providers and the buy-in to consumers is often more superstitious than not.

    Fantastic examples. Thanx. Sounds like we share some backgrounds. I also ring a bell before my meditations, and did the Kalachakra initiation with the Dalai Lama when he came to Madison Wisconsin.

    Interesting story — I don’t have an ounce of that feeling in my purchasing so it was interesting to hear. Sure, that should count, even if it doesn’t. 😉

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