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Found Theologies versus Imposed Theologies: Remarks on Theology and Ethnography from a Sociological Perspective

In: Ecclesial Practices
Author:
Gerardo Marti Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, USA, gemarti@davidson.edu

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Some theologians have adopted ethnographic methods in their theological work. This innovation brings exciting possibilities to theological work for grasping local social situations and structures, although it also brings significant new challenges. As a sociologist who uses ethnographic methods and pays attention to theological orientations and their effects, I view the work of ethnography as a powerful methodology filled with both possibilities and perils. The newfound enthusiasm for ethnography among theologians may not yet adequately recognize the hazards involved in the use of qualitative research methods for generating valid empirical observations. Insights generated by participant observation are constantly at risk of imposition of personal presumptions and asserted “truths,” especially when researchers enter the field with strongly held convictions and compelling worldviews. In this paper, a distinction between “found theologies” and “imposed theologies” is offered as a heuristic for conversation in the hope of further substantiating a sound basis for future scholarship.

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