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The Work of Data: Methods in the Study of Religions (2/2)

Panel Chairs: Michael Stausberg, Steven Engler | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Contemporary debates in the study of religion\s often speak of “methodology”. Yet methods—i.e. ways of constructing/collecting and analyzing different types of data/materials in empirical research—are rarely addressed. The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion (2011) was the first major international attempt to take stock of and critically review the current methodological toolbox of our discipline. It discussed a range of well- and less well-known methods, and it began to move our discipline toward the level of methodological diversification and sophistication common in others. This process needs to continue. In this double-panel, scholars from Europe and North America look at methods and methodological strategies and tools not covered in the Routledge Handbook. The double-panel will consist of seven papers with 9 speakers.

Carsten Ramsel

Mixed methods research in the Study of Religions

Since the 1930’s but especially in the 1960’s, there was an ideologically motivated fight between researchers who prefered either quantitative or qualitative methods (“Positivismusstreit”). In the study of religions we still often find either quantitative or qualitative studies. I argue for the value of mixed methods studies that utilize both. I postulate, first, that quantitative and qualitative data are linked to the same “unobserved reality”. Second, both methods have their own “blind spots” of research. These “blind spots” due to distinct research “logics”. Third, combining quantitative and qualitative methods (mixed methods design) increases the validity of both research data and results. My presentation will give a short introduction in the history of mixed methods designs. It will reflect kinds of “blind spots” in quantitative and qualitative research. Results of quantitative research and analysis methods can easily be generalized but say nothing about individual phenomenona. On the other hand, results of qualitative research and show a high outcome on an individual level but they cannot be generalized. Mixed methods studies permit both generalization and individual precision. Phenomena can be both explained and described in depth. Mixed methods studies consider the merits and demerits of both quantitative and qualitative methods. To illustrate the value of a mixed methods approach, I discuss the research project “Seculars in Switzerland” at the Universities of Berne and Lausanne, a mixed methods study illustrates how we have conceptualized such mixed methods research, what results we may expect, and how we increase the validity of both quantitative and qualitative data and results.

Adrian Herrmann

Researching Religious Media Audiences

Drawing on an understanding of religion as a practice of mediation (De Vries 2001; Meyer 2008), in this paper I am concerned with the “perceptual space” (Mohn 2012) constituted by a religious documentary film through its ritual screening. In addition to looking at the film Father of Lights (2012) as a media product, I specifically focus on this film’s performance and presentation—its aesthetic and ritual framing—in a series of religious film screenings and the audience reception to these events. This audience response is evaluated through an ethnographic field study in combination with social-scientific methods of audience and reception research (cf. Schrøder et al 2003; Staiger 2005), developing a method of researching religious media audiences. Drawing on recent work in film reception studies (Staiger 2000; Austin 2002; Austin 2007; Barker & Mathijs 2008; Plantinga 2009), I evaluate the commercial, discursive and social contexts of a religious documentary film, its circulation and viewing, as well as the audiences’ expectations and responses. This analysis is based on a study of the 2012 Father of Lights-Tour, a religious film screening tour which took place from July to September 2012 in over 40 churches and theaters in the US, Australia, Canada and the UK. I focus here not only on an ethnographic study of these screenings as religious ritual, but also on studying the audience response and reception to the film Father of Lights through qualitative social-scientific instruments (based on fieldwork and a survey conducted with the assistance of Lydia M. Reynolds M.A. in August 2012). The charismatic-Christian documentary film Father of Lights aims at uniting Christians of different denominations in a shared conception of Godly love. Its appeal to emotional affect is performative in constituting the audience as an emotional community (cf. Braunmühl 2012) and in ‘moving’ the viewers (cf. Plantinga 2009) into action (be it social activism for equal rights, or religious activities like healing and praying), as well as into emotion, into the adoption of new (e.g. Charismatic-Christian) emotional styles. In this way, drawing on Belinda Smaill’s examination of emotion in nonfiction discourse, the project interrogates “how emotion is produced in particular documentaries and how the audience is addressed by this emotion” (2010, p. 3). In raising these questions and contributing to the development of a methodology of researching religious media audiences, the paper sheds light on the role of documentary films in contemporary religious fields.

Jens Kreinath

Filming Rituals and the Methods of Collecting Audio-Visual Data in the Study of Religious Practice

Recent advances in visual anthropology and visual sociology suggest that new audio-visual technologies are of major importance for the study of ritual and other forms of religious practice (Knoblauch 2011; Ruby 2011; Kapferer 2013; Schnettler 2013). The aim of this paper is to address methodological issues related to the collection, production, and selection of audio-visual data and to focus on how visual data are constructed in research using these technologies. In particular, the emerging field of visual semiotics and research methods (Margolis & Pauwels 2011; MacEachren, Roth, & O’Brian 2012) serves as a theoretical frame for enhancing methods in ethnographic research on rituals and related forms of religious practice. Emphasis is placed upon the production and manipulation of visual data through electronically based audio-visual technologies. The ambition is to set out a methodology that allows for identifying the various processes that are involved in the collection and re-construction of audio-visual data that allow for the production of reliable research data. In addition to questions regarding the collection of data of a technological nature, ethical questions also play a significant role in visual research methods, because human subjects become identifiable through advanced technologies of audio-visual representation. Since human subjects and their form of practice are the particular focus and primary source of information, it is necessary to address questions regarding how visual research methods are tied into research ethics in visual ethnographies of ritual and religion.

Sebastian Schüler

Dis/Advantages of Using QDA-Software in the Study of Religions

Methods for analyzing qualitative data have become both numerous and highly professionalized in recent years. This professionalization of methods has resulted in the development and application of computer software particularly designed for the purpose of analyzing qualitative data. In the study of religions such QDA-Software gets adopted slowly. One reason for this could be that the focus of training in qualitative methods still lies on data collection rather than data analysis. QDA-Software allows for working efficiently with a greater number of interviews and texts and offers some analytical features. At the same time it seems that QDA-Software and its application for methods such as content analysis not only professionalizes the field of qualitative data analysis but also standardizes the methods. My presentation discusses some of these advantages and disadvantages in using QDA-Software in the study of religions.


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