When Acceptance Reflects Disrespect

The Methodological Contradictions of Accepting Participant Statements

in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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The late Hans Penner critiqued the Phenomenology of Religion 25 years ago for confusing the subject and its object. His critique remains relevant to contemporary methods that accept participant statements uncritically. Beginning with a detailed analysis of one lived religion article and expanding to a broader critique, this essay illustrates the contradictions that remain in lived religion methodologies and similar approaches to the study of religion. While reflecting respect for practitioners and expanding the concept of religion, these methods ignore the agency of participants to represent themselves strategically and reinforce common discourse on religion, only expanding the category at its safe margins. The agendas that drive various studies work at cross purposes because of the inherent contradictions, and the dichotomy between scholars (and people like scholars) and practitioners that often results contradicts the rhetoric of respect and treating everyone equally.

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  • 3

    See McCutcheon 2005 and Goldenberg 2013. McCutcheon emphasizes how privatized religion serves the powerful by allowing dissent as long as it remains religious and therefore not political. Goldenberg similarly suggests that religion becomes a realm of state-sanctioned freedom as long as it does not challenge the state.

  • 5

    McCutcheon (2006) identifies a different though related internal contradiction highlighting how Orsi inserts his own redescription that places the words of the participant in this case Punkin Brown into Orsi’s theoretical language (741).

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