Abstract: With reference to two different projects examining North American Christianities, this symposium contribution explores opportunities for critique when conducting fieldwork. Drawing from observations made by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, I suggest that critique is most productive when it uses the perspective and position of one’s interlocutors as its point of departure.
Berzon, Todd. 2014. “Heresiology as Ethnography: Theorising Christian Difference,” in Religious Competition in the Third Century C.E.: Jews, Christians, and the Greco-Roman Worlds, ed. Nathaniel P. DesRosiers, Jordan D. Rosenblum, and Lily C. Vuong. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. 180–192.
Excerpt: In the preface to his five-book refutation of heresies, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (c. 130-202), enumerate the principle hazard of the heretics. Their scheming argumentation, delusory interpretations, elaborate cosmologies, and falsification of scriptural proof text induces the addled-minded to abandon their training in the true faith and instead embrace the speculative opinions of duplicitous men. Precisely because they “think differently about the same things at different times, they never attain a steadfast knowledge, desiring more to be sophists of words than disciples of truth.” …In elaborating even the most minute of heretical customs and doctrines – from baptismal rituals and elaborate cosmologies to dietary habits and alternative scriptural interpretations – the heresiologists exhibit not only their own ethnographic of the formidable bastion that is the world of Christian heresy, they confront how the procession, production, and ordering of knowledge itself underscores and alters the very foundations of Christianity and the Christian world …
By: Jackie Feldman (Ben Gurion University)
“On each trip, certain interpenetrations are articulated and shaped by group leaders, Many, however, are not. At the back of the bus, pilgrims make the experience meaningful in ways that guides and tour operators may not expect and cannot predict. Pilgrims keep these deeply felt connections to themselves, and they color each trip in very personal ways.” (Kaell 2014: 80)
Although I have been working with American Holy Land pilgrims for over three decades, both as anthropologist and as tour guide, Hillary Kaell’s book surprised me. The perspective she has chosen – accompanying and talking with women before, during and after the voyage – places the voyage within a longue durée that was invisible to me as tour guide, and only partially visible as researcher. Rather than privilege the narratives spoken into bus microphones by guides and pastors/priests, Kaell places her microphone with the woman in the back, who rarely expresses her desires or thoughts in public on the tour. This perspective is a useful corrective to scholars who focus on ecclesiastical guidelines, sermons, recited public prayers, guides’ explanations, and the goals made explicit by the pilgrim/tour industry or the pastors who organize and lead groups. Kaell’s concentration on the lived experience of 50-75 year-old Catholic and evangelical American women traveling to the Holy Land demonstrates how the geographical, political or even biblical context of the sites and routes of the Holy Land may serve as the background for an intensely personal trajectory. This personal path is a continuation of the home lives of ‘middle-old’ aged women, who make up a major portion of Holy Land pilgrims. Without ignoring denominational distinctions, Kaell reminds us that the pilgrimage experience is rooted in profoundly American, (mainly) middle-class values that cut across traditional religious lines. Continue reading
Excerpt: “There is a wonderful invitational quality to Christian Scharen and Aana Marie Vigen’s Eth- nography as Christian Theology and Ethics. I admire the tone and the kinds of conversa- tions that the book has unleashed and that are so thought-provokingly assembled here. Borne out of a close and passionately engaged reading, the commentaries by Emily Reimer-Barry, Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Ted A. Smith (in the order I read them) are sympathetic, critical, methodical and creatively constructive all at once. In their generosity, the commentators restore a kind of infancy, a sense of potential and possibility, to the book’s call for a theology and ethics that is marked by knowledge of the ethnographic Other, present but also absent, both worldly and particular within the totality of history, struggling to belong but at the same time transcending Christian membership. In their own commentary, Scharen and Vigen advocate for holding various binaries (reflexivity and self-absorption, objectivity and subjectivity, etc.) in “dynamic tension”— living in them instead of trying to resolve them. The goal is to create “as nuanced a picture as pos- sible,” recognizing that there are always risks and complexities to be engaged when describing lived realities.
The trust here is that the granular study of how beliefs, attitudes and values are refashioned and molded, as people navigate messy constellations of power and knowledge and face the unex- pected, brings into view alternative ontologies that can widen our sense of what is socially possible and desirable, be it at the cost of lowering our ability, real or imaginary, to discern the true truth or universal laws and historical continuities. What is at stake is “to defend the right to a nonprojected future as one of the truly inalienable rights of every person and nation,” in the luminous and al- ways contemporary words of the late Albert O. Hirschman. Scharen and Vigen’s brave book and this powerful set of commentaries make a strong plea for our own right as thinkers, across faiths and disciplines, to break open the expected value of the future: to remain relentlessly empirical yet open to theories, constantly tinkering with stories and interpretations as we face the active embroilment of life, reason, ethics and hope and try to give it a critical, albeit unfinished form, on a blank page. ”
Abstract: This article discusses the unique methodological challenges that 2 secular researchers encountered while studying an evangelical collegiate enclave. The article showcases the researchers’ retrospec- tive sense making of their fieldwork and offers insights for qualitat- ive researchers interested in studying faith-based organizations.