Field research: participant observation

Harvey, Graham (2011). Field research: participant observation. In: Stausberg, Michael and Engler, Steven eds. The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 217–244.



Fieldwork is the best approach to research about the lived reality and/or performance of religion. The core method of fieldwork is participant observation, sometimes supported by interviews and other qualitative methods. Fieldwork results in rich description of religious activities that is theoretically informed and contributes significantly to academic debate. The history and recent practice of fieldwork in religious studies provides examples for neophyte and experienced researchers. Participation, presence, reflexivity and dialogue are key themes in recent discussions of fieldwork practice. Fieldwork approaches to religious people and activities include gaining rapport, practicing epoché, building and maintaining empathy, paying attention, being present, recording and analyzing data, dialogue about emerging understandings, and polishing the literary and other presentations of results.

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