Presentation of the Observatory for Religious Phenomena

Director: Raphael Liogier, Professor, Aix University and at the Institute for Political Science/Policy Studies (IEP d'Aix-en-Provence)..

The Observatory for Religious Phenomena (World Religion Watch) was founded in 1992, within the framework of a research contract, under the guidance of Bruno Etienne, ground-breaking emeritus Professor at the Institute of Political Studies and former Fellow at the University Institute of France. After having obtained the status of "seed team", it has since acquired ongoing impetus as a widely acknowledged study group focusing on the sociology and political analysis of religious phenomena.

Taking on board the undeniable fact that France today is - volens nolens - a multiethnic and multi-confessional salad bowl society, within the framework of European institutions, which already legislate on issues concerning cultural and religious minorities, the Observatory for Religions Phenomena has set its sights on high-level specialised study within the following two main specific fields of Research:

The first is geared to the Sociology and Anthropology of religions, the second meshes in with Political Science and the scientific study of Law.

Such analyses are here conducted within the purview of comparative methodology, including:

  • The Sociology and Authropology of Religion, through the study of religious practices on the international, national and local levels.
  • Political science, ethical and legal studies
  • Comparative public policy studies concerning the specifics of worship


Ground-breaking new perspectives for trail-blazing transdisciplinary research.

The Observatory for Religious Phenomena does not aim to merely confine its analysis of the religious field to the precincts of Religious History. We consider that the religious field may be represented in the guise of an upturned funnel, wïth at its upper end the historical institutions officially focused on processing religions facts, devoted to producing, broadcasting and maintaining faith, lower down, broader associations which by their nature are still very close to the strictly religions object, then lower still associations with officially non-religious purposes, albeit functioning thanks to what can only be called a religious posture, while at the same time producing their own values and creeds. The main examples of the latter are humanitarian action and charities such as the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders etc... But in addition institutions like hospitals, various clubs, commercial firms or even States can be considered as undeniably permeable to religious trends. The International Symposium around "Corporate Governance as a new Corporate Religion" held on the 27th-28th October 2006 was clearly to be situated within such a purview. The task before this Symposium was to deconstruct the new corporate rhetoric (transparency, dialogue, and consultation, personal development and self-realisation, ethical decision-making etc...). Moreover the Annual Conventions on Health, co-organized by the Observatory and the Centre for Studies on Public Service held in June 2006 focused on the cultures of health. Their practical goal was to grasp the development of the new credo of well-being, currently observable through the rise of homeopathy, holistic medicine, and a "neo-Taoist" vision of the world. The main goal was indeed to grasp the extent to which these new sanitary belief patterns have innervated new forms of behaviour in medical consumerism and are leading to an alternative vision of the role of the hospital.

The Observatory for Religious Phenomena (WRW) also takes into account the study of religious institutions which do not exactly dovetail with the definition of Churches or sects as erstwhile defined by Max Weber. Among other Confessional NGOs, the Muslim "Red Crescent" is the most striking example of the latter. Nowadays, a shift in the centre of gravity of Religion towards new institutional templates like NGOs, which are better adapted to Globalization and the makeover of beliefs on a planetary scale, is clearly observable. Hence, the structure, the material and ideological mechanics of this type of new institution need to be thoroughly analysed, as well as their degree of proximity to or disaffection from standard Churches and sects, above all with a view to testing the hypothesis that this new type of organisation may well be in the process of substituting the ascendancy of mainstream organisations.

The Observatory has recently broadened the outreach of its research activities towards an account of the economic parameters in the construction, externalisation and internalisation of religions creeds. Here especially at issue is an attempt to assess how important in general, and more particularly in economic behaviour patterns, religious creeds may be, and more specifically in nurturing the current developments of capitalism. In 2007,study of further fields of activity, for instance sport-orientated or non-sport leisure practices, and the field of tourism in general, in its linkage with the religious concept of pilgrimage, are very much on the agenda.