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The Insider/Outsider Debate

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The distinction between “insiders” and “outsiders” in religious studies has become an area of fruitful discussion in recent years. This anthology aims to extend that discussion by gathering newly commissioned essays from a diverse range of scholars, spanning a variety of disciplines and approaches, including ethnography, anthropology, theology and education. The result is a book that is at once accessible and readable, while remaining scholarly.

The Insider/Outsider Debate has implications for numerous methodological issues in the study of religion, such as the emic/etic distinction, the distinction between religion and spirituality, the notions of “believing without belonging”, the claim to be “spiritual but not religious” and the existence of multiple, complicated, contesting religious identities. A particular focus of the volume is providing critiques of these methodological issues within the most recent academic approaches to religion – particularly models of lived and vernacular religion.

Published: Oct 15, 2019

Book Contributors

Section Chapter Authors
Preface Stephen Gregg, George Chryssides
Part I: New Methodological Approaches in the Study of Religion
Chapter 1: Relational Religious Lives: Beyond Insider/Outsider Binaries in the Study of Religion Stephen Gregg, George Chryssides
Chapter 2: The Emics and Etics of Religion: What we Know, How we Know it, and Why this Matters Steven Sutcliffe
Chapter 3: The Death Pangs of the Insider/Outsider Dichotomy in the Study of Religion Ron Geaves
Chapter 4: Research Ethics Beyond the Binaries of Right and Wrong Marie Dallam
Chapter 5: Taking the Body Seriously, Taking Relationalities Seriously: An Embodied and Relational Approach to Ethnographic Research in the Study of (Lived) Religion Nina Hoel
Chapter 6: Negotiating Blurred Boundaries: Ethnographic and Methodological Considerations Fiona Bowie
Chapter 7: "On the Edge of the Inside": A Contemplative Approach to the Study of Religion Lynne Scholefield
Chapter 8: Taking Sides: On the (Im)possibility of Participant-Observation Rebecca Moore
Chapter 9: Who Researches? Who Changes? Christian Autoethnography and Muslim Pupil Identity in a Church of England Primary School Tom Wilson
Chapter 10: Imported Insider/Outsider Boundaries: The Case of Contemporary Chinese Christianity Researchers Naomi Thurston
Part II: Contested Identities in the Study of Religion
Chapter 11: Close Encounters of a Guru Kind: Ethnographic Research as Encounters with the Cognitive Worlds of Others Stephen Jacobs
Chapter 12: Who is a Jew? New Approaches to an Old Question Dan Cohn-Sherbok
Chapter 13: Between Institutional Oppression and Spiritual Liberation: The Female Ordination Movement in the Catholic Church and its Utilization of Social Media Lyndel Spence
Chapter 14: Navigating Multiplicity in a Binary World: A Javanese Example of Complex Religious Identity Katherine Rand
Chapter 15: When it Gets Crowded under the Umbrella: An Examination of Scholarly Categorization of Buddhist Communities in the United States Claire Skriletz
Chapter 16: Being Catholic since Vatican II: Challenges and Opportunities in Secular Times Andrew Lynch
Chapter 17: Reflexive and Holistic Switchers: Older Women/Newer Commitments Janet Eccles
Chapter 18: Scientology Inside Out: Complex Religious Belonging in the Church of Scientology and the Free Zone Stephen Gregg, Aled Thomas
Chapter 19: Moving Out: Disengagement and Ex-Membership in New Religious Movements George Chryssides
Chapter 20: Both Outside and Inside: "Ex-Members" of New Religions and Spiritualities and the Maintenance of Community and Identity on the Internet Carole Cusack
End Matter
Index George Chryssides, Stephen Gregg


The Insider/Outsider Debate is a comprehensive study of the ways in which religious identity and our relationships with both colleagues and informants do not fit into clearly defined categories. This is a text that not only contributes to an ongoing methodological discussion within academia, but also shows that notions of insider and outsider, like the cultures we study, are not static, but always changing through time.
Nova Religio

Such a specialist book may not readily get beyond the specialists. It must. These are not specialist issues. They have consequences for every living being.
These are issues that everybody can understand, most people would regard them as important for healthy community life, and nobody has to make the whole journey; exploring foothills can often be more rewarding than achieving peaks. There are easy first steps and one or two sparks could fuel beacons of prayer across the country. Organisers of study groups or conferences touching on prejudice, inter-faith issues or simply basic hospitality, and seeking ways of working together should not overlook it.
Baptist Times

This is a thought-provoking volume that may be useful for both younger and older researchers in the study of religions who wish to undertake ethnographic research. Both in the methods and identities discussed and through the personal fieldwork reflections the writers share, the volume provides tools to work with and build on for insightful new scholarship.

With a broad and variegated selection of contributions, the book offers a kaleidoscopic view on how research practices consider subjects, approaches, identities, values, and responsibilities. It is a beneficial reading I would recommend to share with undergraduate and graduate students of theology and religion.
Reading Religion

Taken as a whole the collection heralds “The death pangs of the insider/outside dichotomy.... [in noting] that the study of religion is uniquely placed to revolutionize both scientific methodological paradigms and the ethics of research that currently prevail in the social sciences (Greaves, 53).” It pushes into the deeper complexities of allegiances developed through multiple belongings. And here researchers do this in creatively innovative ways. One chapter looks at new religion ex-member communities where “people physically ‘leave’... [but] remain deeply engaged with the group’s teachings and practice, and the reasons why they left.... an almost infallible sign of being both inside and outside the group, paradoxically belonging without belonging (Cusack, 394).” Like the self-aware scholar who studies them.
Religious Studies Review