Research Methods for the study of religion

An online training resource


Ethnography is a form of research practice in which the researcher immerses themselves in a specific social and cultural context, usually through some form of participant-observation. This approach is closely associated with the interpretation of cultural life, and challenges researchers to reflect on how ethnographic knowledge is filtered through their own thoughts and feelings, as well as the ways in which their participants perceive and interact with them.

Sean McLoughlin examines key concepts and approaches in ethnography, as well as practical issues involved in undertaking ethnographic fieldwork.


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Key Reading

James Spickard & J. Shawn Landres (2002) 'Introduction: whither ethnography? Transforming the social-scientific study of religion', in (eds.) J. Spickard, J.S. Landres & M. McGuire, Personal Knowledge and Beyond: Reshaping the Ethnography of Religion, New York: New York University Press, pp.1-14.

This introduction to one of the key texts in this area provides a good overview of major theoretical and methodological debates that frame contemporary ethnographic approaches to the study of religion.

Erika Summers Effler (2010) Laughing Saints and Righteous Heroes: Emotional Rhythms in Social Movement Groups, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp.23-68.

This chapter, exploring the role of emotion in commitment amongst those serving in a Catholic Worker house, provides a good example of the role of reflexivity in generating research insights. It also illustrates how ethnographic narratives can develop arguments through weaving together accounts of events with theoretical insights.


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Last Updated: 07/09/2011