Keep Research Weird: Psychoanalytic Techniques and Fieldwork in the Study of Religion

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
John C. Seitz Theology Department Curran Center for American Catholic Studies LL916, 113 W. 60th St., New York, NY 10023 USA

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Contemporary ethnographic fieldwork in the study of religion has made a relational turn. Research in this field is often explicitly conceived as a relationship between scholars and those they seek to understand. Knowledge is inter-subjective, the field agrees, and the only reasonable way to move forward is in open acknowledgement of this through attentiveness to the relational character of research. This paper aims to augment this relational turn by considering and addressing the risks it entails. Drawing on research experience among Catholics in Boston, it identifies normalization as a potential liability entailed in the relational understanding of research. Opportunities for enriched understanding may not emerge if researchers prioritize smooth relations with those they get to know. The paper explores the possibility that clinical psychoanalytic techniques of listening, while likely to make research relationships “weird,” may be an asset in the search for understanding in the ethnographic study of religion.

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