The Insider/Outsider Debate
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
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.
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.
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.
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