Reflexive Ecclesiology: A Challenge to Applied Research in Religious Organizations



This essay addresses the issue of applied research in, on, and for religious organizations, especially trends in how research has been carried out in relation to religious organizations. It asks how applied research has changed, and what are the implications for the larger field of social scientific research. The essay begins with some general comments about the challenges that face religious organizations in a post-traditional world that require reflexive monitoring of their traditions and ecclesial practices if these organizations are to survive and engage the future in a significant way. Applied research is defined as one form of reflexive monitoring and includes both (1) research commissioned by leaders of religious organization as an aid for understanding a particular situation or shaping policy or programs, and (2) research that, though not commissioned by religious organizations, has as its primary intent providing religious organizations with policy-relevant information. Using this definition, the essay then traces trends in applied research from the earlier part of the twentieth century to the present, focusing especially on the past fifty years. It concludes with an assessment of these research efforts as examples of reflexive monitoring.