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On the Epistemological Magic of Ethnographic Analysis

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Analyses of religious behavior by cultural (i.e., hermeneutic) scholars of religion are impoverished because the intuitive interpretive method employed in fieldwork analysis fails to fill an explanatory gap in religious studies because of (1) the reliance upon informant (ethnographic) data that itself requires explanation, and because of (2) the rejection of relevant scientific explanatory models required to explain that data. We argue that fieldwork is often necessary for data acquisition but not sufficient for analysis, that stringent methods of evaluation are a necessary component of the analysis of religious behavioral data, and that such tools are currently available to scholars willing to engage methods and theories outside the humanities. Noticing tendencies in ethnographic interpretation, examining fresh interdisciplinary approaches, and revisiting fundamental meta-theoretical issues concerning the nature of explanatory reasoning may help to mitigate the generally ineffective state of scholarship in the field.


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