I am currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Thinking Matters program at Stanford University.  I received my PhD in sociology from Princeton University in September 2015, and served as a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology there during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Broadly, my research lies at the intersection of religion, cultural sociology, and social psychology, and is driven by an underlying assumption that identity and self-understanding play an important role in maintaining the dialectical relationship between the individual and society. My work therefore examines how and to what effect individuals come to identify and think of themselves as particular kinds of people.

During my graduate studies, I narrowed my analytical and empirical lens in two primary ways. First, I focused on periods of transition – of identity change and self-(trans)formation – because these relatively unsettled times are likely to bring questions of meaning and self-identity into sharp relief.  Second, as a prevalent and culturally salient source of identity and meaning, I explored periods of transition within the context of contemporary religious and spiritual communities. To date, I have used qualitative methods – ethnography and in-depth interviews – to analyze several facets of the process of socialization and identification in three distinct communities: a Wiccan coven, an Integral Yoga Institute, and a Catholic prayer house. I have published several articles based on this research, and am currently working on a book manuscript entitled, Becoming Spiritual: Spiritual Disciplines as Projects of the Self. You can read more about my published and working papers here.

My second major research project examines the “gap year” as a potentially transformative experience. In recent decades, travel has become a central practice for both spiritual and secular self-projects, translating cross-cultural encounter into a means for radical self-discovery. Increasingly, universities are explicitly encouraging students to study abroad, either during or before their undergraduate studies. This project examines how travel providers – organizations that offer structured gap year programs – encourage, channel, and help construct travel as a potentially and actually transformative experience. Over the past two years, with the help of a $50,000 grant from The Experience Project (directed by Steven Vaisey at Duke University), I have conducted interviews with more than 60 travelers, trip leaders, and staff members in gap year organizations across the US. I am currently in the process of analyzing this data. 

 Follow the links above to learn more about my research and teaching, or email me at efjohnst@stanford.edu