Chapter 9: Who Researches? Who Changes? Christian Autoethnography and Muslim Pupil Identity in a Church of England Primary School
The Insider/Outsider Debate - New Perspectives in the Study of Religion - George D. Chryssides
Tom Wilson [+]
Church of England
Between 2010 and 2012, I spent two academic years conducting fieldwork that examined the experiences of Muslim children in an Anglican Primary School. I was not only a researcher in the school, but also chair of governors and curate (assistant minister) at the local Anglican Church, which was closely connected to that school. My position as a researcher was therefore quite complex. The chapter first outline my initial involvement with my research site and the nature of the fieldwork. Second, the question of researcher identity is explored in detail. Problems with the binary insider/outsider category are discussed, and the complexity of my own identity within the fieldsite is examined. I argue in favour of a holistic understanding of researcher identity and the importance of foregrounding the most relevant aspects of personal identity in order to establish a researcher’s position within the fieldsite. The example of my own Christian faith researching amongst Muslims illustrates the point. The third section examines three issues of researcher positionality, namely how truthful, how forthright and how static the researcher should be. The issue of lying in order to progress research is critiqued and the value of honesty about failure to gain access commended. The question of truthfulness is given greater nuance with a discussion of how forthright a researcher should be. This includes a number of examples from my fieldwork, treating issues of honour and shame, doctrinal disagreement and the discrepancy between lived and doctrinal faith. In the discussion of how static one should be, I reflect on how my fieldwork impacted my own understanding of both Islam and Christianity. The central argument of the chapter is in favour of honest self-disclosure by researchers on their own position and the impact their research has had upon them.