Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context - Peter Berger

Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context - Peter Berger

Dilemmas in Participant Observation in Religious Contexts

Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context - Peter Berger

Kim Knibbe [+-]
University of Groningen
Kim Knibbe is Associate Professor Anthropology and Sociology of Religion at Groningen University. She is currently directing the project "Sexuality, Religion and Secularism" with Rachel Spronk (funded by NWO). Previous research focused on Catholicism and spirituality in the Netherlands and on Nigerian Pentecostalism in Europe and the Netherlands. She has also published a series of theoretical and methodological reflections on studying religion. Her most recent co-edited books and special issues are Secular Societies, Spiritual Selves? (with Anna Fedele, 2020) and ‘Theorizing Lived Religion’ (with Helena Kupari, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 2020).


Taking up the “problem of belief” discussed in this introduction, but now from a more practical perspective, Kim Knibbe (Chapter 10) reflects on the dilemmas of conducting participant observation in religious contexts. She asks how, as a researcher, one navigates the ways in which religious ways of explaining, interpreting and making sense of the world may compete or clash with academic ones. Traditionally, there seem to be roughly three options available to the researcher: methodological atheism, methodological theism or methodological agnosticism. Knibbe demonstrates that each of these positions create their own problems in ethnographic fieldwork, particularly in terms of the relationship between the researcher and the “researched”. Drawing on her fieldwork among people who call themselves “spiritual” in the Dutch context, she discusses how developing and maintaining rapport involves negotiating not only issues of differences in cognitive frameworks, but also differences in embodiment, emotion and affect. By summarizing some of the literature and drawing on her personal experiences, Knibbe explores how views on dealing with the dilemmas discussed relate to different ideas about what “research” entails. In a very concrete way, then, the chapter by Knibbe exemplifies the kind of reflection on their own positionality and presuppositions that Van den Belt in his contribution argues all researchers should engage in.

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Knibbe, Kim. Dilemmas in Participant Observation in Religious Contexts. Religion as Relation - Studying Religion in Context. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 214-227 Oct 2021. ISBN 9781800500709. Date accessed: 22 Mar 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42559. Oct 2021

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