Research Methods for the study of religion

An online training resource

The politics and ethics of research

Researchers in the study of religion are increasingly familiar with complying with the requirements of professional codes of research ethics. Beyond these requirements, often originally designed with medical research in mind, lie broader ethical and political questions about the research process and the role of research as a particular kind of social intervention.


Sophie Gilliat-Ray explores how the ethical and political nature of research can be understood in both a broad and narrow sense, as well as the importance of taking seriously issues of power.


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Key Reading

Robert Orsi (2005) Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp.177-204.

Orsi explores moral assumptions embedded within the study of religion, and explores in what sense research in this field can be understood as a moral process of encounter and reflection.

Alan Peshkin (1984) ‘Odd man out: the participant observer in an absolutist setting’, Sociology of Education, 57(4), 254-64.
Peshkin’s account of his experience of conducting fieldwork in a conservative religious school demonstrates the complex dynamics of power in the relationships that researchers build with their participants. It raises difficult questions about the degree of authenticity and deception involved in fieldwork, as well as the primary responsibilities of the researcher as an academic and a human being.

Andrew Sayer (2009) ‘Who’s afraid of critical social science?’, Current Sociology, 57(6), 767-786.

The author discusses the nature of ‘critique’ in social science, and presents a normative framework for social research.


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Last Updated: 12/09/2012