Existing research on religious identity, especially from a narrative perspective, has tended to focus either on accounts of the past (especially occasions of religious change) or on conceptions of religious identity in the present. Religious communities, however, not only provide a sense of identity and belonging in the present—as a “Catholic” or “Buddhist,” for example—they also promote a particular vision of the religious ideal: The way of being-in-the-world that all adherents are (or ought to be) striving to achieve. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews, this paper describes and analyzes the identity and lifestyle goals of participants in two communities of practice: An Integral Yoga studio and a Catholic prayer house. I find that the ideal spiritual self in both communities is defined by three key characteristics: A sacred gaze, a simultaneous sense of presence and detachment, and a holistic style of identity management. I suggest that in constructing and transmitting a shared vision of the “enlightened self,” these organizations offer practitioners a highly desirable but ever-elusive aspirational identity
. This study calls attention to religious organizations as important suppliers of possible identities—the identities, either desired and feared, we think we could or might become in the future—and reveals the situated and contextual nature of adherents’ religious aspirations.
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