In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912),Emile Durkheim categorised religion as a product of collective rites, rituals, and practices. Critiquing Durkheim, Clifford Geertz (1973) proposed a more culturally nuanced interpretation, and highlighted the symbolic significance of religion, its rituals, and its relevance to peoples’ lives during difficult times. He further argued that religion’s larger structures as well as personal ideas of spirituality shape our view of the world, by establishing habits through repeated practice and rituals.

In examining the complexity of studying such religious practice, Nancy Ammerman’s (2020) approach to religion as a reality ‘other than’ everyday life, through her concept of social practice, results in an understanding of religion as a social knowledge. This concept of the ‘other’ reality when contextualised within the pandemic, while accounting for individuals’ lived experiences and their subjective ideas of which practices are religious or spiritual, enables us to analyse religion through observable practices (Ammerman 2020, 9-17).

This paper explores if and how the pandemic led to individuals negotiating with their religious beliefs and practices. It also looks at the various ways in which religion itself responded and adapted to the Coronavirus crisis. 

The sociological inquiry into the ways of adaptation of religious habits and practices to the prevalent crisis pointed us towards the negotiation between individualised and community-oriented practices. The findings reflected a shift in preference from the latter to the former, with the respondents attempting to find religious fulfilment in new spaces such as the home and various virtual platforms. Despite such adaptations, respondents admitted experiencing nostalgia for pre-pandemic, group-based religious engagements. 

The pandemic witnessed a simultaneous expansion and contraction of sacred spaces as the notion of sacred space itself seemed to acquire new meanings and expressions. The dynamic nature of religious practice was reflected in the lived experience of individuals confined to the domestic sphere, physically distanced from collective forms of worship while at the same time connected to an ever-expanding network online. Data also highlighted that a large segment of youth was attracted towards spirituality, mainly propagated by ‘Non-religious Movements’ or NRMs that have found it easier to adapt to the shift online. 

The findings of our research have been divided across the following major themes: relationship between religiosity and religious practice; adaptation of religious practices to crisis situations; subjective meanings that individuals attached to the idea of ‘religious space’; interplay between religion and technology, and how it negotiates sacred spaces and spiritual practices; the collective nature of religion; contextualising the virus within the purview of religion; and the role of religion as a coping mechanism during crises. 

The study was conducted in the capital cities of Delhi and Kathmandu and adopted a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches. Data collection was through primary and secondary resources, using three distinct methods: survey, interviews, and media analysis. Insights were derived from the individual narratives of people, as well as the larger narratives embedded in the socio-cultural context. The interviewees were primarily selected through a random sampling of survey respondents, with consent, while other respondents, especially religious leaders, were selected through snowball sampling method. Lastly, media analysis covered a wide variety of online news articles, blogs, videos, images, and other multimedia content. 

Keywords: Religion, Pandemic, Crisis, Technology, Practice, Spirituality, Lived Experience.