Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler , eds: The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge, 2011; pp. xxi + 543.
Article first published online: 28 MAR 2014
© 2014 The Authors. Journal of Religious History © 2014 Religious History Association
Journal of Religious History
Volume 38, Issue 1, pages 149–150, March 2014
How to Cite
Cusack, C. M. (2014), Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler , eds: The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge, 2011; pp. xxi + 543. Journal of Religious History, 38: 149–150. doi: 10.1111/1467-9809.12142
- Issue published online: 28 MAR 2014
- Article first published online: 28 MAR 2014
This edited volume is a comprehensive manual of the various research methods that are used, both regularly and rarely, by scholars in Religious Studies. It is likely to be the standard reference work on this subject for many years, given that there was no book that covered precisely this ground in existence prior to its publication, and as it covers a vast range of research methods very competently it is unlikely that another volume on this topic will be attempted in the near future. It is divided into three parts, “Methodology,” “Methods,” and “Materials.” The first has six chapters and is broadly framed, with chapters on “Feminist Methodologies” (by Mary Jo Neitz), “Research Design” (by Wade Clark Roof), and “Research Ethics” (by Frederick Bird and Laurie Lamoureaux Scholes), among others.
The second part, “Methods,” is by far the lengthiest, containing twenty-two chapters. These range from the time-honoured (and perhaps predictable) “Philology” (by Einar Thomassen), “Structuralism” (by Seth D. Kunin), “Semiotics” (by Robert A. Yelle), and “Phenomenology” (by James V. Spickard), among others. Spickard's chapter intrigues, as he argues that phenomenology is “a powerful, yet underused method in the study of religion” (p. 333), which may contradict the impressions of many scholars who view it as having been the dominant method (and contaminated by accusations of covert theologising) during the period in the history of the academic study of religion when Ninian Smart, Eric J. Sharpe, and Mircea Eliade were among the titans of the field. Spickard's understanding of phenomenology is more philosophically grounded than that of many scholars of religion, and follows the programme of implementation established by psychologists Amedeo and Barbro Giorgi (2003). Thus, this chapter is a fresh and interesting consideration of what may have been assumed to be a dated and undesirable method, breathing new life into it.
There are chapters about other well-known methods, such as “Discourse Analysis” (by Titus Hjelm), “Field Research: Participant Observation” (by Graham Harvey), “History” (by Jörg Rüpke), and “Document Analysis” (by Grace Davie and David Wyatt). The real surprises, some of them gems, are the chapters about little-known or little-used methods such as “Videography” (by Hubert Knoblauch), “Network Analysis” (by Jimi Adams), “Facet Theory Methods” (by Erik H. Cohen), and “Free-Listing” (by Michael Stausberg). The third part has five chapters, which cover a hodge-podge of topics including “Auditory Materials” (by Rosalind I. J. Hackett), and “Visual Culture” (by John Harvey). Hackett's piece is extremely interesting, as she argues that attention to sound and hearing can “counteract Western aesthetic, textual and visualist biases” (p. 447). Attention to auditory materials is termed the “acoustic turn” (another turn among many in the discipline, including the “spatial turn,” the “linguistic turn,” the “discursive turn,” and the “material culture turn,” so many in fact, that it is astounding that scholars are not reeling). She considers music accompanying ritual, soundscapes created by Qur'anic recitation, the ephemeral nature of unrecorded sound, and the impact on it by the activity of recording, in a delightful and intelligent study.
The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion is a volume to be dipped into, rather than read cover to cover, and this reader found it difficult to absorb and somewhat intellectually tiring when reading through it. Yet, this does not diminish its value. This book will be of value both to undergraduate and postgraduate students, not only in Religious Studies but in many humanities and social sciences discipline areas. It will also find interested readers among academic staff who are seeking to broaden their understanding of research methods, whether in order to interpret existing scholarship or to embark upon new, experimental research projects of their own. It should find a place in all scholarly libraries, and is highly recommended.