Effervescence and solidarity in religious organizations.




Draper, Scott E.

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This project is an effort to test and extend Randall Collins’ interaction ritual theory in the context of religious organizations. The theory proposes that optimal management of bodily copresence, intersubjectivity, and barriers to outsiders stimulates collective effervescence and social solidarity. I use mixed methods to test the theory. In the quantitative phase of research, I create measures of the ritual dynamics using data from the United States Congregational Life Survey (2001). I find strong support for several of the hypotheses, including the fundamental idea from Durkheim that effervescence stimulates solidarity. The quantitative findings also point to several extensions of the theory, such as the need to account for social density (an element of copresence) and service length (an element of intersubjectivity). In the qualitative phase of research, I observe rituals and talk with focus groups at six different types of religious organizations. Again, I find strong support for major propositions from the theory. For example, the two organizations (Promised Land Baptist and Congregation Shalom) who rally around a perceived need to defend themselves against specific outsiders exhibit the highest levels of effervescence in the sample. The qualitative findings reveal several additional extensions of the theory. As one example, I find that the content of solidarity symbols, whether collectivist (e.g., Promised Land Baptist) or individualist (e.g., First Baptist), conditions organizations’ ritual proficiency. As another example, qualitative analysis confirms the finding from the quantitative analysis that service length positively correlates with effervescence. The findings in this study are applicable to a wide range of research questions in sociology, as interaction ritual theory is a guide for understanding how groups and organizations arrive at shared identities, morals, and ideologies through micro-level interaction.