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Doing Study of Religions in Public Institutions

Panel Chairs: Sarah J. Jahn, Lene Kühle | Monday, August 24, 1:30-3 p.m.

Doing Study of Religions in public institutions in countries where religion is legally separated from the public sphere is a common research topic. The participants of this panel are doing research on ‘religion’ in several public institutions in different European and/ or North American countries; but, what does it mean to do research on ‘religion’ in public institutions? The question not only touches on the issue of research practice, but also raises fundamental methodological considerations, and calls for consideration of science-policy and -politics that arise from a specific understanding of what is meant by the research on religion. Overall, it can be stated that research on religion has to be analysed on different levels and from different perspectives, because there are also several understandings of ‘religion’ on an object-level and meta-level. After a general introduction by the chair, the participants will discuss this overarching topic of the panel with reference to their own research experience.

Julia Martínez-Ariño

Questions, Risks and Implications of Doing Research on Religion in Public Institutions: A Reflexive Approach

Drawing upon empirical research conducted in prisons, hospitals and schools in Spain and Canada and using Beaman’s (2013) notion of “the will to religion” as a point of departure, this paper will reflect upon some of the main epistemological and methodological questions and risks –and their political implications– that arise when doing research on religion in public institutions. What are our preconceptions of what religion is and how do they influence the way we approach the object of our research? Do we reify categories of religion with our research, or do we help deconstruct them? Do we reinforce majority-minority dynamics and the marginal and “stranger” status of minority religions? Are we, by searching for religion and religious people, over-emphasising the importance of religion in particular institutional contexts? Do we miss non-traditional and non-institutionalised forms of religiosity and religious care provision when entering the institutions through formally established gatekeepers?

Ines Michalowski

Bringing Together Different Levels of Comparison in Research on Religion in Public Institutions

The international comparison of how public institutions accommodate immigrant religious minorities implies many different levels of comparison that need to be taken into consideration for case selection, data collection and data analysis. Using the example of the armed forces in five European countries and the U.S., the paper shows that each level of comparison relates to specific hypotheses about what explains differences in immigrant religious minority accommodation. Institutional differences discussed include differences in national ideologies, specificities of the public institution under study and differences across local organizations or branches of that particular public institution. Some challenges of collecting and analyzing the data that captures differences across these institutional levels as well as the particular challenges of collecting data in an institution as secretive as the military will be presented for discussion.

Katharina Frank

Challenges for the Study of Religions in Public Schools

In different countries, Religion Education has developed as a subject for all pupils. If there is no possibility to opt out, it has to respect freedom of religion in all its aspects. It seems self-evident that the Study of Religions constitutes the reference discipline for this new subject. This paper presents basic research on Religion Education in Switzerland and experiences from a scientific evaluation of the Religion Education in the canton of Zurich. It illustrates the specific challenges the Study of Religions is faced with, when attending to this topic of public affair: Methodologically, it is necessary to develop new instruments for qualitative and quantitative research to be accepted by the established Educational Sciences. In regard to science politics, it has to establish itself against the claims of traditional as well as well as interreligious theologies.


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