Knowing, Being, and Doing Religion

Introducing an Analytical Model for Researching Vernacular Religion




Vernacular religion, Jewish studies, Jews in Finland, Doing religion, Ethnography, Everyday religion, Minhag Finland


This article introduces a new analytical model for researching vernacular religion, which aims to capture and describe everyday religiosity as an interplay between knowing, being, and doing religion. It suggests three processes that tie this triad together: continuity; change; and context. The model is envisaged as a tool for tracing vernacular religion in ethnographic data in a multidimensional yet structured framework that is sensitive to historical data and cultural context, but also to individual narratives and nuances. It highlights the relationship between self-motivated modes of religiosity and institutional structures, as well as influences from secular sources and various traditions and worldviews.
The article is based on an ongoing research project focusing on everyday Judaism in Finland. The ethnographic examples illustrate how differently these dynamics play out in different life narratives, depending on varying emphases, experiences, and situations. By bringing together major themes recognized as relevant in previous research and offering an analytical tool for detecting them in ethnographic materials, the model has the potential to create new openings for comparative research, because it facilitates the interlinking of datasets across contexts and cultures. The article concludes that the model can be developed into a more generally applicable analytical tool for structuring and elucidating contemporary ethnographies, mirroring a world of rapid cultural and religious change.

Author Biographies

Ruth Illman, The Donner Institute

Dr. Ruth Illman is Director of the Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History in Åbo/Turku, Finland and a docent of the study of religions at Åbo Akademi University and Uppsala University. Her main research interests includes contemporary Judaism, interreligious dialogue, cultural encounters, religion and art as well as ethnographic methodology.

Mercédesz Czimbalmos, Åbo Akademi University

Mercédesz Czimbalmos is a doctoral student in the study of religions (Åbo Akademi University) and a project researcher in the ‘Manifold more’ project at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland.




How to Cite

Illman, R., & Czimbalmos, M. (2020). Knowing, Being, and Doing Religion: Introducing an Analytical Model for Researching Vernacular Religion. Temenos - Nordic Journal for the Study of Religion, 56(2), 171–99.