After thirty (plus) years of research, McGuire sums up her thoughts about religion as lived experience in the everyday lives of individuals in this very readable monograph. This book is another important work highlighting that much of what we take for granted as real, as far as religion and medicine are concerned, has really been a historical process of social construction by those who came before us. As such, McGuire challenges us to rethink our narrow definitions in these social fields and guides us on a path to challenge, contest and perhaps change our definitions to include more of what counts as "religion" on a personal, rather than social, level. Thus, McGuire's main thesis is that we need to rethink our narrow conceptual boundaries if we really want to understand the complexity and dynamism of religion-as-practiced.
Using an impressive array of historians, anthropologists and sociologists of religion, throughout the book McGuire pushes us to think about all of the religious practices and embodied experiences that have not counted as "religious," according to our definitional standards. The most resonating point McGuire makes in this work is that individuals select, interpret and variously use cultural resources in their everyday life in a variety of ways. Therefore, much of what individuals regard as religious or spiritual "rarely resembles the tidy, consistent, and theologically correct packages official religions promote" (17). She then shows that much of what individuals do that they personally count as religious because it matters to them spiritually is inconsistent with what researchers view as important when they study religion (and she is especially hard on the quantitative folks in this regard).
As far as criticism, there doesn't appear to be any new data or research in this book. McGuire (with permission) continually rehashes research from earlier studies. And although she is quick to criticize our quantitative brethren, she offers very little explanation of her own methodologies. Moreover, although her goal is to "complexify" our understanding of religion at the individual level, she drifts in and out of institutional examples, which only serves to confound the major arguments she is endeavoring to make. On a practical note, sometimes the headings do not match the topics of the text that follows. At other times the sections seem disconnected from each other and there are several typographical errors in this book.
As far as compliments, throughout the work she continually wonders, and compels us to wonder with her, whether or not the sacred has always penetrated the profane in individuals' everyday and embodied practices. In summary, McGuire "complexifies" our categories and definitional boundaries. She makes a compelling argument throughout the book that "Bricolage is clearly not unique to our time and culture" (196). Bringing to light Luckmann's idea of the "invisible" elements of religion, from both historical and contemporary practices, she enhances our understanding of what religion means for individuals in their everyday lives. In so doing, McGuire explodes the false dichotomy of the sacred and profane by showing, in both in the past and in the present, how the sacred interpenetrates the profane. Important to note is that this interpenetration need not make sense to outsiders. Rather, religious blending or "hybridity" need only logically cohere for the individual performing their personal amalgamation of practices. Moreover, she shows that she is not alone in all of these assertions. She is backed by a wide array of historians and anthropologists, making it clear that sociologists of religion need to catch up! Religion is not only social, it is personal too, which is indicative that what takes place outside of the dominant religious structures in society is also religion.