Contesting Authorities: Vernacular Challenges, Strategies and Counterpower

Contesting Authority - Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs - Marion Bowman

Marion Bowman [+-]
Open University
Marion Bowman joined the Religious Studies department at The Open University in 2000. She is currently Vice-President, European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) and a former president of both the British Association for the Study of Religions and of The Folklore Society. Working at the interstices of religious studies and folklore, her research interests are very much rooted in vernacular religion: the lived experiences, worldviews, practices and material culture of individuals and groups within, on the margins of and beyond institutional religion. She has conducted long term studies of Glastonbury, on which she has published extensively. She co-edited Vernacular religion in Everyday Life: Expression of Belief (Equinox 2012) with Ülo Valk, and is currently working on a three year research project, Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals, Past and Present:


Articles in the volume continue the trajectory of thinking of Vernacular Religion (as outlined by Primiano) as religion per se, religion/spiritual seeking as lived, highly individual, creative, polyphonic, context sensitive, dynamic, and ambiguous. This presents vernacular religion as contesting, expanding, reformulating in pragmatic ways institutional formulations of religion, and locus of authority. In addition, Vernacular Knowledge can be considered ‘other than’ mainstream/ institutional/ scientific/ political/ social/ secular ‘orthodoxy’. It appears in multiple genres and vehicles of expression that are shared and shaped communally but individually articulated and actualised. Vernacular religion/vernacular knowledge/ alternative beliefs emerge in many contexts – in relation to institutional religion, vis-à-vis secularism, state sponsored atheism, scientific rationalism, official medicine, etc. In contrast to institutionally established doctrines with monological voicing the expressive field of the vernacular is always heteroglot. Dominant discourses, with claims to hegemonic authority, generate dissent – a variety of alternative ideas, and therefore the notion of homogenous worldview, dominating any social groups and time periods, is misleading. The distinction between official and vernacular discourses is not absolute but relative, depending on the social positions of individuals, their goals and agendas. However, there is a major difference between prestigious and powerful institutionalised truths and vernacular discourses, as the latter do not form unitary systems nor centralised forces of opposition to official doctrines. Instead, folklore manifests endless variation and creativity.

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Bowman, Marion. Contesting Authorities: Vernacular Challenges, Strategies and Counterpower. Contesting Authority - Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Oct 2022. ISBN 9781781792377. Date accessed: 15 Apr 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.29205. Oct 2022

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