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ABSTRACT

In this article, I introduce the idea of “ambient faith” in an effort to clarify the stakes in long-standing debates about public and private religion. I take as my starting point the increasingly common recognition that conceptual distinctions between publicity and privacy are difficult to maintain in the first place and that they are, in any case, always relative. The idea of “ambient faith,” which I connect to work on the turn to a materialist semiotics, can serve as both a critique of and supplement to the ideas of “public” and “private” religion. Introducing ambience—the sense of ambience—allows one to raise important questions about the processes through which faith comes to the foreground or stays in the background—the extent to which faith, in other words, goes public or stays private. I use my research on a Christian organization in England, the Bible Society of England and Wales, to illuminate these points, discussing the society's campaign in 2006 to bring angels to Swindon and its promotion of Bible reading in coffee shops. I also consider Brian Eno's music and recent advertising trends for additional insights into the notion of “ambience.”[Christianity, secularism, semiotics, public religion, England]