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An Interactionist Approach to the Social Construction of Deities


Symbolic Interaction

Published online on


This paper examines the ways people construct and signify deities. Utilizing responses from an ethnographic study as well as analyses of existing studies of religion, we elaborate ways people construct the existence and characteristics of deities by engaging in “deity work,” which we define as the work people do to give meaning to deities as well as to themselves, others, or social phenomena related to deities. In so doing, we demonstrate how people may accomplish this in many settings by engaging in strategies of identity work including (1) defining, (2) coding, and (3) affirming the meanings of a given deity in social interaction. In conclusion, we draw out implications for understanding (1) the importance of examining deity work, and (2) some ways a focus on deity work processes may expand existing religious and interactionist studies.