Roman R. Williams

Roman Williams


  • BS Messiah College
  • MDiv Columbia International University
  • ThM Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
  • PhD Boston University

Academic interests

Each academic year I teach introductory sociology and several electives, including sociology of religion, visual sociology, and sociology of food.

Research and scholarship

I had the good fortune of discovering visual sociology in graduate school in the early 2000s as a co-investigator on a project that explored where and to what extent religion and spirituality are meaningful components of people’s daily lives. To do so, we adopted a three-fold methodology, which included a procedure we simply called “photo interviews,” which involved using participants’ photos (of meaningful people, places, and activities in their lives) as prompts in interviews (Ammerman and Williams 2012). At the time, we were not aware that these so-called photo interviews were actually a technique that had been around since the 1950s called photo elicitation. After struggling with the mechanics of conducting a photo interview, I began to read around in the literature and discovered the work of Doug Harper (2002), which in turn opened a door to a community of scholars who do visual sociology—or do sociology visually. After reading John Grady’s article “Becoming a Visual Sociologist” (2001), the die was cast.

Currently, three projects bring together my interests in visual sociology and religion. Seeing and Believing investigates the use of photovoice in interfaith dialogue and gathers data on religion in the everyday lives of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish participants. I see this research as a form of engaged scholarship, an effort to learn with participants and to pursue social change through my work. The project is funded by the Louisville Institute under the auspices of the Collaborative Inquiry Team program, which brings together academics and clergy to work on topics of contemporary importance to the Church in North America. Our team comprises Michael Bos (Marble Collegiate Church, New York City), Catherine Holtmann (University of New Brunswick at Fredericton), William Sachs (St. Stephens Episcopal Church, Richmond), and Elena van Stee (University of Pennsylvania). In Grand Rapids, our work is pursued in collaboration with the Kauffman Interfaith Institute.

Cultivating Community is an ethnography of an urban farm situated on a church property. The project brings together data collected over a four-year period using techniques of visual ethnography, photo elicitation, and photovoice. I will present a paper titled, “Pizza Farming and the Curious Case of an Urban Farm on a Church Property,” at the 2019 annual meeting of the International Visual Sociology Association.

Finally, Converted Structures is a collaboration with my former student, Taylor Hartson, who now works at Calvin’s Center for Social Research. We are investigating the prevalence and meaning(s) of religious buildings converted to secular uses (e.g., church to condos) and vice versa. It is a project that grew out of a personal interest in these kinds of conversions: wherever I travel, I try to photograph a converted building. Currently, we are working through a data set that allows us to identify buildings converted between 2003 and 2018. Our focus is on two dozen cities in the United States. Once these locations are mapped, a typology of conversions will emerge and we will select examples of each type for further study.


Many of my publications, including additional work, are available on my personal website at


2015   Editor and contributor. Seeing Religion: Toward a Visual Sociology of Religion. London and New York: Routledge. Details available at

Journal Articles

2019   “Engaging and Researching Congregations Visually: Photovoice in a Mid-Sized Church.” Ecclesial Practices 6(1):5–27.

2018   “Visual Tools for Visual Times: Innovation and Opportunity in the Visual Sociology of Religion.” Revista Ciências da Religião—História e Sociedade (Review of Religious Studies—History and Society) 14(2):98–130.

2016   “Religion, Migration, and Change in a European City.” Contexts: Understanding People in their Social Worlds 15(4):48–57.

2015   “Photo Elicitation and the Visual Sociology of Religion” (with Kyle Whitehouse). Review of Religious Research 57(2):303–318.

2013   “Constructing a Calling: The Case of Evangelical Christian International Students in the United States.” Sociology of Religion 74(2):254–280.   

2010   “Space for God: Lived Religion at Work, Home, and Play.” Sociology of Religion 71(3):257–279.

Book Chapters

2019   “Through One Another’s Lenses: Photovoice and Interfaith Dialogue” (lead author with William Sachs, Catherine Holtmann, Elena van Stee (student), Kaitlyn Eekhoff (student), Michael Bos, and Ammar Amonette). Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion, Volume 10: Interreligious Dialogue: From Religion to Geopolitics. Edited by G. Giordan and A.P. Lynch. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

2015   “Visual Sociology and the Sociology of Religion.” Pp. 1–21 in Seeing Religion: Toward a Visual Sociology of Religion, edited by R.R. Williams. London and New York: Routledge.

2015   “Why Study Religion Visually?” Pp. 192–200 in Seeing Religion: Toward a Visual Sociology of Religion, edited by R.R. Williams. London and New York: Routledge.

2012   “Speaking of Methods: Eliciting Religious Narratives through Interviews, Photos, and Oral Diaries” (with Nancy T. Ammerman). Pp. 117–134 in Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion, Volume 3: New Methods in the Sociology of Religion, edited by L. Berzano and O. Riis. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

2012   “An Invitation to Sociology.” Pp. 259–277 in Faith and Learning: A Handbook for Christian Higher Education, edited by D.S. Dockery. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing.

Book Reviews

2016   “Angel Patriots: The Crash of United Flight 93 and the Myth of America, by Alexander Riley.” Sociology of Religion 77(2):214–215.

2015   “Faith on the Avenue: Religion on a City Street, by Katie Day.” Sociology of Religion 76(3):365–366.

2014  “Visual Sociology, by Douglas Harper; Doing Visual Research, by Claudia Mitchell, and Advances in Visual Methodology, by Sarah Pink.” Sociology of Religion 75(1):167–169.

2013   “Places of Faith: A Road Trip Across America’s Religious Landscape, by Christopher Scheitle and Roger Finke.” Sociology of Religion 74(2):286–288.

Other Publications

2019   “Where’s Waldo? Using Smartphone Photography to Engage Students beyond the Classroom” (with Kevin den Dulk). Teaching Resources and Innovation Library for Sociology. Washington DC: American Sociological Association. Available at

2012   “Missionaries.” In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization, edited by George Ritzer. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

2009   “Picturing Religion in Everyday Life.” Sociology of Religion: Newsletter of the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association 11(1):4–5.



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