Trauma and Lived Religion

Transcending the Ordinary

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R. Raud Ganzevoort, Srdjan Sremac
Palgrave Studies in Lived Religion and Societal Challenges
  • London, England: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , August
     258 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Writing about trauma is a difficult task. Even more so if you want to understand the complex interconnectedness between traumatic experiences and the world of religious rituals, frames, and language. In Trauma and Lived Religion: Transcending the Ordinary, editors R. Ruard Ganzevoort and Srdjan Sremac bring together several approaches for examining the live-articulations of trauma within people’s concrete situations where meaning is constructed. Ganzevoort and Srdjan begin with the popular concept of “Lived Religion,” which provides a means for understanding common religious experiences as multilayered, complex assemblages that are at once “material, memorial, somatic, narrative, acoustic, aesthetic, and erotic” (3). In their introduction, the editors claim that religion “takes place,” giving rise to the question: just how can traumatic experiences be understood as interruptive towards the sensorial and material significance of religion in everyday life. Thus, the challenge is to provide an integrated analysis of trauma and lived religion. 

Though most of the contributions can be applied to several of the sections, the book is divided into five parts: body, meaning, relationship, testimony, and ritual. These divisions reflect the various approaches to trauma that can be found in current academic analysis. 

The quality of the contributions varies, with many—including the introduction—addressing interesting, relevant material and thinking. For example, the study on “victimization via ritualization,” problemizes the (power-)structure of ritual and how this contributes to re-victimization in a Mennonite community, while the study on torture and lived religion provides an interesting comparison of the practice of water-boarding and the ritual of baptism, emphasizing the politicization of religious themes. Several of the articles address sexualized violence, studying the reciprocal relationship between sexual abuse, power, religious meaning, and materiality. The link between abuse, faith, and community is often stressed. The majority of these studies work with material from interviews and field notes, offering fresh perspectives on traumatic sexual experiences and configurations of Lived Religion. However, there are articles that are written from a perspective that allows for little critical analysis. One of these articles fuses biographical narratives with Buddhism-inspired frames in analyzing the Holocaust. This is not a strong perspective and the authors seem to disregard a myriad of hermeneutical questions that come to the fore while taking this stance. Another, on restoring dignity and meaning after traumatic experiences, makes numerous claims but fails to convince the reader to engage with the argument. It would be interesting to see how the author of this piece would relate her more abstract argument on “the love of God” as a healing power to the perspective explored in the final article on similar—but now very concrete—theological concepts contributing to revictimization. 

In regards to communal aspects, Trauma and Lived Religion lacks reflections on the social construction of trauma, the power of trauma in (social) identity-formation, as well as perspectives on and of the perpetrators (for example studies by Diane Enns, Jeffrey Alexander, or Richard Rechtman). Ganzevoort and Sremac have chosen articles which examine trauma predominantly from the victim’s point of view and address it as destructive. However, trauma can also “construct” a (political, religious, or at least: discursive) victimhood within a social process providing significance to—again—how religion is lived? Can trauma also “construct” discourse instead of distorting it, providing new meanings to embedded practices? Unfortunately, these questions are loudly absent in most of the articles. The editors have chosen authors that have taken a different point of view, focusing on how trauma goes beyond discursive horizons. This critique aside, the result is a collection of articles that provide rich material on traumatic experiences and Lived Religion. Many will be of great value for academics working in the fields of sociology, psychology, and pastoral studies, especially those interested in how trauma is articulated and lived in people’s concrete, material lives.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Lucien van Liere is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University.

Date of Review: 
February 19, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

R. Ruard Ganzevoort is Dean and Professor of Practical Theology at Vrije Universiteit and founding co-director of its Amsterdam Centre for the Study of Lived Religion

Srdjan Sremac lectures at the Faculty of Theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and co-director of its Amsterdam Centre for the Study of Lived Religion.


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