Immersion in Experiencing the Sacred. Insights into the Ethnography of Religion
This article was inspired by an analysis of my interrupted conversion to Reconstructors in Prayer â€“ a new Catholic movement â€“ which took place during ethnographic research. My own experience of conversion, followed by my distancing, thus became ethnographic material to be studied and recounted. I shall narrate the â€˜natural historyâ€™ of my meeting with the group and my interrupted conversion, touching upon the dilemmas and contingencies of my fieldwork; rather than dwell upon my autoethnographic methodology or my research findings, I shall discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the participant immersion ethnographical technique in studying religious phenomena. Thus I have a double aim. On the one hand, I shall show that the bodily engagement implied in autoethnography furnishes the researcher with a privileged perspective from which to examine religious experiences, especially when they become extraordinary experiences resulting from initiatic knowledge. On the other hand, I shall point out the risks, dilemmas and costs to a researcher of ethnography based on participant immersion. These reflexions will lead me to the conclusion that the researcherâ€™s total immersion is not compulsory for the ethnography of religion, but is particularly useful in cases where the experiential component is central because spiritual knowledge-acquisition is mediated by the experience of the body. I shall then argue that the reflexive dimension of ethnographic accounts is welcome if, and only if, it enriches and problematises cognitive effort cultivating research.Â
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