FORUM FOR ANTHROPOLOGY AND CULTURE

ANTROPOLOGICHESKIJ FORUM
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Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2017, no. 13

 

ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF RELIGION: THEORIES, METHODS AND FIELD EXPERIENCES

Jeanne Kormina
National Research University Higher School of Economics
16 Soyuza Pechatnikov Str., St Petersburg, Russia
jkormina()hse.ru; kormina()eu.spb.ru

Alexander Panchenko
European University at St Petersburg
3 Gagarinskaya Str., St Petersburg, Russia
Institute of Russian Literature (The Pushkin House), Russian Academy of Sciences
4 Makarova Emb., St Petersburg, Russia
apanchenko2008()gmail.com

Sergei Shtyrkov
European University at St Petersburg
3 Gagarinskaya Str., St Petersburg, Russia
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy
of Sciences
3 Universitetskaya Emb., St Petersburg, Russia
shtyr()eu.spb.ru

Abstract: This article is devoted to a survey and analysis of a discussion of current problems of the anthropology of religion. The answers to the question of the theoretical justification and analytical significance of the concept of ‘religion’ in contemporary anthropology show that for many specialists (but not all) this problem has significance both in the context of epistemological reflection, and with regard to empirical topics, field methods and research strategies. Though the approaches to the use of the concept of ‘religion’ are very diverse, it is evident that in contemporary anthropology its meaning is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand our discussion shows that there is no universal and generally accepted understanding of the term, and that its use inevitably leads to relativist reflection. On the other hand, many specialists (and for many reasons) are unprepared entirely to renounce religion as a significant academic concept. Among the means of ‘restoring’ the status of a fully-fledged object of anthropological research to religion, the most prominent seems to us to be the ‘ontological approach’ based on a critical re-evaluation of the ‘classical’ theories and discursive norms of the social sciences.

Another aspect of the work of social researchers in the field of religion, especially those who engage in fieldwork and are in direct contact with members of the communities under study, concerns the identity of researchers themselves. They are confronted with the need simultaneously to shorten and lengthen the distance between themselves and the people whose life they are studying. They are forced to maintain a difficult balance between loyalty to two different systems of conventions: their own corporation and the religious group among whom they are conducting research. And finally, they must calculate the possible consequences of their research results entering the space of public discussion about the place of religion in general or of particular religious groups and practices in modern post-secular society.

Keywords: anthropology of religion, epistemology of social sciences, fieldwork methodology.

To cite: Kormina J., Panchenko A., Shtyrkov S., ‘Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion: Theories, Methods and Field Experiences’, Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2017, no. 13, pp. 138–160.