Away from the Centre: On the Edges and Adjacencies of Religious Forms
Simon Coleman [+]
University of Toronto
Like Knibbe, Simon Coleman (Chapter 11) addresses in his contribution the issue of how to study religion in the field. Rather than contemplating the method of participant observation as such, Coleman focuses on the question of where the researcher should look for religion when conducting participant observation. His chapter opens with the paradoxical observation that despite their commitment to focusing on everyday social relations, anthropologists studying ritual tend to focus on sites and contexts of ritual density and commitment – fieldwork situations occupied by more engaged believers and religious specialists. Drawing on his work among Pentecostals in Sweden, shrine pilgrims in England, and the numerous and unpredictable visitors to English cathedrals, Coleman explores the methodological and theoretical issues involved in studying ritual peripheries, penumbras and edges. He explores both the difficulties and opportunities in carrying out such work, and considers the usefulness of a number of different metaphorical and analytical frames for analysing ritual action and engagement that take place away from the centres of performance, including ideas of “vicarious”, “lateral”, “adjacent” and “alienated” participation. He points out that ritual and religion emerge as deeply relational in such analyses, but often also as inchoate and under-determined.