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Book: The Insider/Outsider Debate

Chapter: Chapter 5: Taking the Body Seriously, Taking Relationalities Seriously: An Embodied and Relational Approach to Ethnographic Research in the Study of (Lived) Religion

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27452


This chapter proposes a nuanced and self-reflexive ethnographic approach to the study of (lived) religion. Critically unsettling and disrupting the insider/outsider binary by bringing in methodological insights from feminist theory and ethnographic accounts in the study of religion, it is argued that encounters between researcher and participant are constituted and animated by multiple and fluid positionings. By foregrounding a researcher’s commitment to take the body seriously and, relatedly, to take relationalities seriously, the chapter not only moves beyond the insider/outsider binary but also introduces the importance of paying increasing attention to the embodied self.
The author outlines the various ways in which the body of the researcher is an invaluable and composite enfleshed ‘lens’ through which to understand, analyse and theorise about lived religion. As the locus of experience, the body is a vessel that carries with it multifaceted histories and dreams and ‘interferes’, ‘responds’ and ‘acts’ through its very being in the field. Hoel complicates the notion of an embodied approach by highlighting the relational aspects of ethnographic research. Foregrounding relationality as a conceptual portal through which to analyse the dynamics between researcher and participant, the chapter problematises notions of detachment and non-involvement. By shifting the gaze from the content of research to the process of research, and from the ‘object’ of research to the self, the chapter provides a much needed methodological contribution to the development of self-reflexive ethnographic approaches in the study of religion.

Chapter Contributors

  • Nina Hoel ( - ninahoel) 'University of Cape Town'