Personal Knowledge and Beyond

Reshaping the Ethnography of Religion

284 pages

February, 2002

ISBN: 9780814798034



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James V. Spickard is Professor of Sociology at the University of Redlands and current president of the ISA's Research Committee on the Sociology of Religion. He is the coauthor of Personal Knowledge and Beyond: Reshaping the Ethnography of Religion (NYU Press), among several other books.

All books by James V. Spickard

Shawn Landres is a doctoral candidate in religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and in social anthropology at Oxford University.

All books by Shawn Landres

Meredith B. McGuire is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Trinity University. She is the author or coauthor of several books, including Religion: The Social Context and Ritual Healing in Suburban America.

All books by Meredith B. McGuire

Over the last decade the sociology of religion and religious studies have experienced a surge of ethnographic research. Scholars now use ethnography, as anthropologists have long done, as a valued source of knowledge from which they draw their pictures of the religious world.

Yet, many researchers of religion have yet to grapple with the issues that are changing anthropologists' use of the method. Personal Knowledge and Beyond seeks to foster a cross-disciplinary rethinking of ethnography's possibilities and limits for the study of religions. It provides an overview of recent debates while also pushing them in new directions. In addition, it offers critiques of some of anthropology's reigning conceptualizations.

The volume brings together many of the best-known ethnographic researchers of religion, including Karen McCarthy Brown, Lynn Davidman, Armin Geertz, Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Mary Jo Neitz, and Thomas Tweed. Together, they share substantively from their fieldwork and consider the consequences for the study of religion of rejecting old ethnographic myths, as well as the risks of replacing them with new ones. The volume will be of interest to students as well as to experienced scholars in the field.


  • "Religion seems to be everywhere and nowhere in contemporary social science theorizing. This collection of essays puts religion back where it has belonged since the beginnings of social theory: at the center of debate and, moreover, a debate grounded in concrete ethnography tempered by cogent reflection on the ethnographic process."

    —Thomas J. Csordas, President, Society for the Anthropology of Religion and author of Embodiment and Experience: The Existential Ground of Culture and Self

  • "This bold and provocative book of essays pushes ethnography to a new frontier as seasoned social scientists of religion describe how their personal biographies intersect with their research. . . . These essays challenge us to rethink the ethnographic study of religion. Both field researchers and those who teach methods will find this book a gem."

    —Helen Rose Ebaugh, Former President, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and coeditor of Religion and the New Immigrants: Continuities and Adaptations in Immigrant Congregations

  • "I would recommend this book to anyone contemplating the study of religion using interviews and/or participant observations."

    Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

  • "This is a rich collection in every sense of the word. It is rich in ideas, in examples, and in approaches. . . . Beautifully written and impeccably edited."

    Journal of Contemporary Religion

  • "This is a timely book on the actual doing of ethnography, and how doing ethnography of religion demands specific attentiveness, not least to the transformations undergone by the observer herself."

    Journal of Religion