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Culture and Religion

An Interdisciplinary Journal

ISSN: 1475-5610 (Print) 1475-5629 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcar20

Missionary impositions: Conversion, resistance
and other challenges to objectivity in religious
ethnography

Riyaz Timol

To cite this article: Riyaz Timol (2014) Missionary impositions: Conversion, resistance and
other challenges to objectivity in religious ethnography, Culture and Religion, 15:4, 494-496,
DOI: 10.1080/14755610.2014.972089

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14755610.2014.972089

Published online: 31 Oct 2014.

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by those one seeks to empathically understand? And how do I gauge the influence of my personal proclivities. but also part of its craft. a predominantly North African banlieue near Paris. to experience that which is profoundly disconcerting yet equally real when attempting to grasp the Verstehen of one’s participants? How does it feel when one’s most cherished ideals and assumptions are challenged. Selby cites three incidents from her fieldwork with Muslim women in Petit Nanterre. sit or stand’ (2) as the key unifying theme of a selection which begins and ends with contributions from each editor. Hillary Crane recounts her eventual decision to participate in chao shan. What does it mean to be ‘bent out of shape’. 494–500 BOOK REVIEWS Missionary impositions: Conversion. academic socialisation and childhood religious experiences upon the interpretation of events that are unfolding before my eyes? These are some of the questions explored through a series of seven illuminating essays which retell specific field experiences with a reflexive eye. knees. (84) This slim yet pithy volume exercises the issues that arise when ethnographers of religion engage explicitly with the personal and interpersonal nature of fieldwork and interrogate the intersection of their own identities.. reiterates how religious and fieldwork experiences cannot be studied in a vacuum but must be considered within broader contexts of evolving social and global conditions. biographies and positionalities with the field. based on an enviable three decades in the field. Susan Kenyon’s examination of zar (spirit possession) in Sudan. vii þ 113 pp. Crane and Deana L. and hands as well as a bruised forehead’ (14). resistance and other challenges to objectivity in religious ethnography. ISBN 978-0739177884 One must allow oneself to be bent out of shape. to believe or not.95 (hbk). 2013. Weibel. Plymouth. James Bielo identifies ‘the prominence of decision- making: to confess or not. 15. £44. 2014 Vol. even publicly ridiculed. In an incisive Introduction. a Roman Catholic shrine town in France. within her own biography and religiously eclectic upbringing. to illustrate how she enters a field in which a type of reversed Orientalism has already been at play to Otherise conceptions of the Western woman which she – as a non-Muslim Western woman – is obliged to navigate. No. 4. a barefoot Buddhist pilgrimage up a Taiwanese mountainside involving repeated prostrations which left her ‘with bleeding feet. to participate or not. With some . Lexington Books. This is part of the pain of Downloaded by [University of Lethbridge] at 17:27 13 June 2016 sociological field work. stay or go. Culture and Religion. while Deana Weibel shares a very personal contextualisation of her fieldwork at Rocamadour. a conclusion which Jennifer Selby’s subsequent chapter somewhat supports. edited by Hillary K.

is not simply a function of culture but an entity sui generis then how can it be . as scholars such as Frank Whaling or Ron Geaves aver. So what are the key themes which emerge from these lucid retellings of fieldwork in diverse international settings? First. rather. somewhat paradoxically. wept uncontrollably during the collective testimony of several senior Downloaded by [University of Lethbridge] at 17:27 13 June 2016 missionaries at a private dinner leading him to later question in his fieldnotes whether he had just been touched by the presence of the Holy Spirit: ‘The possibility that the Church was true had now entered my reflective consciousness’ (63). Lisa DiCarlo. Katharine Wiegele. during fieldwork with a budding evangelical Christian community in Turkey. none of our contributors admit of an open allegiance to any religious tradition and though some flirt with the idea of conversion. clammy hands as I gradually returned to full consciousness. intense bouts of proselytisation when anthropological curiosity is misconstrued time and again by zealous informants as spiritual hunger. a popular Catholic charismatic movement in the Philippines: I fell into the arms of group members who laid me gently on the floor as they sang about the power of the Yahweh El Shaddai. and does this bespeak a deeper dilemma inherent within the very structure of the social sciences? If religion. she appropriates distinctive markers of embodied identity. through a spontaneous performative act. fifteen years after the fact. Daniel Washburn. the ethnographer of religion must be prepared to endure. reveals in an academic outing of sorts how she was ‘slain’ by a chapter head of El Shaddai. to enhance her levels of social acceptability. the affair is never consummated. Is this stance a fruit of their own socialisation in a particular socio-cultural moment. upon reflection. I wonder. (89 and 90) Both accounts are striking for their raw honesty and both bemoan the discipline’s as yet inability to acknowledge adequately the power of emotion in shaping ethnographic experience: ‘we as ethnographers feel the impulse to keep to ourselves those field experiences that make us vulnerable’ (91). simply ‘one of those tender fieldwork moments’ (78) in which. during research with Mormons in Russia. It felt exactly as others have described – a growing. Yet this ostensible conversion to the Muslim faith bears little influence on her subsequent field and personal identities: it was. and shaking. such as faux fasting in Ramadan and the adoption of more modest dress codes. intense heat in the chest. she accepted a symbolic gift from her host. as occupational hazard. is one of stoical agnosticism – described variously as ‘partially in/partially out’. ‘betwixt and between’ or ‘walking between worlds’ – which does nothing to dispel the positivist image of an objective. rational Westerner studying natives. Yet. The collective field stance. and unequivocally (Wiegele’s account is a clear anomaly here). Second. several contributors discuss the extent to which a personal commitment to faith may help or hinder one’s study of another peoples’ religious practices. This leaves the two chapters which tell perhaps the most personal and emotive stories. a partial loss of consciousness wherein the ability to hear was retained. takes this a step further impulsively uttering the shahādah (Muslim testimony of faith) at the behest of her elderly host. Book Reviews 495 help from her host mother.

uk q 2014. by Jeppe Sinding Jensen. vii. 2014. The potentially transformative power of ethnography is implicated here and this elegantly presented volume – with rich bibliographies for students and practitioners alike – invites us to consider the ways that our own selves may be reconfigured and reconstituted.org/10. US$17. something about the field of religious studies today. ISBN 978-1-84465-759-9 A critical introduction to the study of religion. Equinox. Jensen summarises the introductory task as the endeavour ‘to present religion as part of human practice in a religiously and politically unbiased manner’ (viii). Sheffield. Durham. by Craig Martin. Finally.1080/14755610. Jensen is quick to qualify this with the claim that his book is by no means theoretically unbiased as ‘the main idea of this book is that religions. US$29. Acumen. Riyaz Timol Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK. ISBN 978-1-84553-992-4 Both of these erudite and eminently readable volumes position themselves as introductory texts to the study of religion (Jensen. However. However. physical. 2012. xv þ 203 pp. psychological and spiritual – of the researcher.. How would an ethnographer (and you may discern my own positionality here) claiming allegiance to the same religious principles as her informants navigate the physical and conceptual terrains of her field? While a diverse subgenre of anthropological literature captures the experience of indigenous ethnography. no part can conveniently be packed up and left at home. This review will interrogate the differences between them: doing so will tell us first something about the books themselves. xii).. Cardiff University timolr@cardiff. emotional.doi. and second and perhaps more importantly. in all their .95 (pbk).95 (pbk). including what it thinks it is and where it thinks it is going. Martin.2014. 496 Book Reviews adequately accounted for within the parameters of a discipline whose foundational epistemologies. operational methodologies and living exemplars are over- whelmingly secular in nature? This underpins what to me is the most significant lacuna in this rich and varied collection: the absence of a single voice which articulates the experience of conducting ethnography from an explicitly faith-based perspective. in our unremitting quest to penetrate the inner life-worlds of others. this volume is resoundingly silent on the issue. Riyaz Timol http://dx. similarities between the volumes end there.972089 What is religion?.ac. even ‘bent out of shape’. xi þ 186 pp. I would offer that this collection of essays drives home the multiply experienced reality that ethnographic fieldwork is a demanding enterprise Downloaded by [University of Lethbridge] at 17:27 13 June 2016 involving the entire selfhood – intellectual.