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Missionary Impositions Conversion, Resistance, and other Challenges to Objectivity in Religious Ethnography
978-0-7391-7788-4 • Hardback
December 2012 • $70.00 • (£44.95)
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978-0-7391-9802-5 • Paperback
June 2014 • $32.99 • (£19.95)
978-0-7391-7789-1 • eBook
November 2012 • $69.99 • (£44.95)

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Pages: 120
Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
Edited by Hillary K. Crane and Deana Weibel
Social Science | Anthropology / Cultural
Lexington Books
In this collection of essays, anthropologists of religion examine the special challenges they face when studying populations that proselytize. Conducting fieldwork among these groups may involve attending services, meditating, praying, and making pilgrimages. Anthropologists participating in such research may unwittingly give the impression that their interest is more personal than professional, and inadvertently encourage missionaries to impose conversion upon them. Moreover, anthropologists’ attitudes about religion, belief, and faith, as well as their response to conversion pressures, may interfere with their objectivity and cause them to impose their own understandings on the missionaries. Although anthropologists have extensively and fruitfully examined the role of identity in research—particularly gender and ethnic identity—religious identity, which is more fluid and changeable, has been relatively neglected. This volume explores the role of religious identity in fieldwork by examining how researchers respond to participation in religious activities and to the ministrations of missionaries, both academically and personally. Including essays by anthropologists studying the proselytizing religions of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, as well as other religions, this volume provides a range of responses to the question of how anthropologists should approach the gap between belief and disbelief when missionary zeal imposes its interpretations on anthropological curiosity.
Hillary K. Crane is an associate professor of anthropology at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Brown University. Her research includes areas where religious and medical discourses intersect or conflict, primarily on the subject of gender construction. In particular, she has examined how Taiwanese Buddhist nuns create a masculine self-identity through language and dietary practices. She has also researched how Catholic Americans with Celiac Disease reconcile their dietary restrictions with the practices of their church and examined the relationship between self-inflicted pain and communication in various religious contexts.

Deana L. Weibel is an associate professor of anthropology, as well as chair of the anthropology department, at Grand Valley State University. She earned her Ph.D. at UC San Diego in 2001. She studies contemporary pilgrimage to Roman Catholic shrines, particularly in France, as well as the reinterpretation of these shrines by “religious creatives,” pilgrims who practice intentional syncretism in highly individualized ways. Additional research interests include the religious beliefs and practices of astronauts and the history of the ethnographic display of tribal peoples at fairs and amusement parks in the early 20th century. She is currently working on a book about the conflicting interpretations of the French shrine of Rocamadour held by its visitors and local residents.
Introduction: Writing Religion
James Bielo
Chapter 1: Flirting with Conversion: Negotiating Researcher Non-Belief with Missionaries
Hillary K. Crane
Chapter 2: Chasing the Wind: The Challenges of Studying Spirit Possession
Susan M. Kenyon
Chapter 3: How “They” Construct “Us”: Reflections on the Politics of Identity in the Field
Jennifer A. Selby
Chapter 4: Revisiting The Inner Life: Self-Reflexive Ethnography and Emotional Enculturation
Daniel Washburn
Chapter 5: I’m Just a Soul Whose Intentions are Good: Observations from the Back Pew
Lisa DiCarlo
Chapter 6: Silence, Betrayal, and Becoming Within the Interpretive Gap of Participant-Observation
Katharine L. Wiegele
Chapter 7: Blind in a Land of Visionaries: When a Non-Pilgrim Studies Pilgrimage
Deana L. Weibel
Missionary Impositions is a superb exploration of the question of identity formation and self-awareness in the field and the way these processes help shape our understanding and misunderstanding of what actually goes into anthropological fieldwork. More specifically, it raises the question of how much an anthropologist’s belief biases her/his understanding of the study of religion and relationship with those who are believers, including missionaries who may be in the field area. ... Missionary Impositions shows the way toward true reflexivity and empathy with those among whom we work.
Missiology: An International Review

This collection of provocative essays reveals the challenges, anxieties, and dilemmas involved in the ethnographic study of religion and faith. These are valuable and honest assessments and reflections—full of insight for those who find themselves negotiating their personal and research identities while being objects of proselytizing.
Kevin K. Birth, Queens College, City University of New York

Missionary Impositions is a fine collection of reflections on how a fieldworker's relationship to religion, whether one of doubt, faith, or something else, influences their relationship to the people they encounter and the process of doing ethnography. It raises many fascinating and indeed profound questions about the nature of anthropology as knowledge, not only what implicit assumptions anthropologists make about their subjects, but also what those subjects think about anthropologists, and how their mutual misunderstandings both enable working relationships while troubling the conscience and confidence of the people involved. Many chapters also dwell on the often neglected emotional and experiential side of fieldwork, and suggest that personal involvement in the lives of one's research community can lead to greater insight. The chapters describe a variety of types of field setting in many different kinds of religious community and many different types of research, and will contribute to ongoing debates about ethnographic practice and anthropological epistemology.
Ryan Schram, University of Sydney

The one thing that every ethnographer brings to the field is her or his own self, complete with histories, beliefs, identities, habits, and bodily dispositions that can open ethnographic doors – or close them. With this thoughtful collection of essays, we finally have a whole book that grapples with the special challenges that this inescapable fact brings to the anthropology of religion. Reflexive without being solipsistic, sensitive without being alarmist, this book raise enough provocative questions to encourage anyone from a beginning student to a seasoned ethnographer to rethink what it means to study religion ‘in the wild.'
Jon Bialecki, University of California, San Diego