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Roman R. Williams

Assistant Professor of Sociology

I consider myself a visual sociologist of religion—a sociologist of religion who has taken the visual turn.

I began using visual methods in graduate school (Boston University, Department of Sociology) as a co-investigator on Nancy Ammerman’s “Spiritual Narratives in Everyday Life” project. This Templeton Foundation funded project employed photo elicitation (PE) interviewing to explore the ways in which ordinary people practice and experience religion (or not) across the many domains of everyday life. Seeing the purchase of PE, I also incorporated it into the research design for my doctoral dissertation, an ethnography about religion, culture, and globalization among international students from Asia studying in Boston-area colleges and universities. These researches resulted in a dissertation, two peer-reviewed journal articles (Williams 2010, 2013) and a co-authored book chapter (Ammerman and Williams 2012).

As I took the visual turn in my own work, I began to reach out to other sociologists of religion interested in visual methods. Through these connections and conversations, I started organizing paper sessions at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion beginning in 2008. Together these sessions have generated more than 30 papers over the last seven years and formed the basis of my edited volume, titled Seeing Religion: Toward a Visual Sociology of Religion, which is under contract with Routledge UK (May 2015). This collection is the first book-length work to demonstrate the unique contribution and potential of visual methods for the sociology of religion. More information about this project is available at

My current project, “Picturing Faith, Strengthening Congregations” builds upon Seeing Religion and extends my research agenda in the visual sociology of religion to engaged scholarship and the study of congregations. This project explores the potential of visual strategies for helping religious congregations (1) tell their story, (2) identify needs in congregations and/or their communities, and (3) evaluate programs run in/by/through/for congregations. Participants employ personal mobile devices (e.g., cell phones, iPod, tablet computer) or digital cameras to photograph congregational contexts and community concerns. These images, in turn, are used in one-on-one interviews, small group discussions, and displayed publicly to engage communities of faith in the process of self-evaluation, dialogue, and change. Specifically, the project involves three small-scale studies that explore the potential of documentary photography, photovoice, and photo elicitation for the engaged scholarship of congregations. 




  • Street: 3201 Burton SE
  • Postcode: 49546
  • City: Grand Rapids
  • State: MI
  • Country: United States


  • Telephone: 616-526-6026
  • E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.