Beginning in 1969 Edward Bailey developed the idea that he would come to call “Implicit Religion.” It was, and remains, a very different approach within religious studies in that it did not look at religion but rather asked – where do people’s passions lie? Bailey was interested in how people develop true / authentic selves, meaningful lives and undertake decision making when their passion lay in areas of what is called the secular rather than the religious. Scholars of Implicit Religion since Bailey have also asked why and how things get designated as ‘religious’, ‘secular’, ‘sacred’ or ‘profane’ and what such designations reveal about power dynamics in social constructions and everyday life.
Bailey developed an analytical toolkit to undertake research amongst various different groups, communities and individuals, which has three criteria or tools for examination:
- Commitment(s) – that to which the person, group or community is committed to the level of being willing to make sacrifices in some regards for it.
- Integrating foci – the aspects or rituals or material artefacts of the wider aspects of the commitment that enables the individual to bring the various aspects of their lives and / or identities into a coherent, meaningful whole.
- Intensive Concerns with Extensive Effects – what issues or causes arise from the commitment that the individual or community is willing to repeatedly act upon, even at great cost to themselves?
Implicit Religion does not attempt to assert that something is ‘merely appearing’ to be religious but was really ‘secular’, nor does it insist that something could be termed ‘religious’ by scholars regardless of what the participants thought. Instead it takes a particular interest in the ways in which people were expressing markers of faith, of belief, of ritual either towards or within parts of their everyday lives. For example, and as a means of demonstrating how it differs from spirituality, while partaking a sporting event or listening to a live jazz performance, the ways in which Christmas is both remembered and demarcated politically within communities.
Edward Bailey’s work was pioneering and challenging in that it questioned a widely held assumption that religion was the sole prerogative of institutions devoted to religion. He sought to discover the sacred within what might otherwise be dismissed as profane, and to identify experiences of the holy within an apparently irreligious realm. The emphasis of the scholarship on Implicit Religion through the center and associated scholars is to challenge the current prevailing assumption within the dominant voices of religious studies that an individual, group or community *ought* in some way to be ‘religious’ (all too often an unaware Christocentric religion at that) or that the notion of what a ‘religion’ is can be subjected to cynical criticism that insists it dissects when in fact it predigests and thus maintains the very boundaries and categories it purports to challenge. Therefore Implicit Religion and the scholars who use it would seek to take seriously on their own terms the pilgrimage that people take to Graceland, the rise of the church of Jedi, the meaning and salvation found within punk rock, animal rights activism and the growth of veganism, the statement “football is my religion”, the global occupy protests or the way knitting as a form of self-care and community gives rise to deeper meaning and purpose for the knitters. Implicit Religion is about finding useful tools and language that enables us to speak and understand the multiplicity of human behaviour and variance of experiences in relation to meaning making through ‘religion’ as a construct, a social marker and a part of human and social history.