religion essay 3 - Real Alignment: Lining Up Yourself and...

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Real Alignment: Lining Up Yourself and Your Subject in Participant Observation Research The study of religion is open to many forms of interpretation, and is consequently overflowing with different theories regarding how to conduct studies and perform research on different religions. Researchers who are interested in a specific religion may spend years with a particular group, living amongst the followers and documenting their rituals, practices, and ways of life. Some may find it difficult to investigate a religion, especially one that actively recruits new members, without getting morally involved or worse, upsetting the group so much as they will no longer participate in the study. Perhaps the best method for studying religions would be “’getting close’ (i.e. creating rapport and maintaining field relationships) by ‘staying distant’ (i.e. highlighting differences between observer and observed)” (Gordon 269). Researchers have tested out many methods for studying religion, and many have found that the issue lies in the fact that they become either outsiders or insiders. This means that those conducting the study view religion as either familiar to them, as they are members, or unfamiliar, as they are observers. Previously there has been an assumed “boundary” between the two states. However, Thomas Tweed blurs the line between the insider/outsider duality, laying claim that researchers are neither here nor there. In fact, “interpreters are constantly moving back and forth – across the terrain between inside and outside, fact and value, the past and the future” (Tweed 270). Tweed believes that scholars who study religion do not stay in one single state of either insider or outsider. It would seem as though the unconscious mind makes this movement across the insider/outsider spectrum many times over the course of study and interpretation. After studying a religion for years, whether or not a researcher takes on the beliefs, he or she will be so indoctrinated with the ideals and teachings that they were exposed to for so long that it will be inevitable to move from insider to outside without even realizing it. Tweed demonstrates this 1
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with his anecdote about visiting the statue of the Virgin Mary after he finished his research with Cuban Catholics in Miami. Even though he refused to take on the specific religion of the Cubans
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This note was uploaded on 02/10/2012 for the course REL 2300 taught by Professor Staff during the Summer '08 term at University of Florida.

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religion essay 3 - Real Alignment: Lining Up Yourself and...

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