Volume 15 · Number 1 · Pages 28–38
A Proposal for Personalised and Relational Qualitative Religious Studies Methodology

Philip Baron

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Context: For many people, religion and/or spiritual experiences are an important part of their daily lives - shaping their thinking and actions. Studying these experiences relies on qualitative religious studies (RS) research that engages respondents on a deeply personal level. Problem: Researchers are unable to provide an apolitical, value-free approach to research. There lacks a rigorous methodological approach to qualitative RS research that addresses this epistemological obstacle. This is particularly relevant when studying a cohort with radically different beliefs from the researcher. Method: Researcher coupling is presented as a topic that defines the researcher and her participants as a systemic entity. By demonstrating how the researcher’s worldview is tied to her research, an argument for personalised and relational observer-dependent research is presented. Five reflexive questions are proposed as a starting point for personalised research to demonstrate the relational and intersubjective nature of this activity. Results: By linking the researcher to her research and changing the goal of research from independent and objective research to one that is relational and contextual, the scholar can report on her research in an ethical and socially just manner by linking her worldview to her research. Implications: The traditional research activity is redefined as one that should embrace the scholar’s worldview instead of attempting to hide it. The scientific ideals of independence and objectivity are replaced by interdependence and hence a proposal is made for personalised research that embraces the intersubjective nature of this activity. This proposal is meant to alleviate some of the epistemological weaknesses in RS. This paradigm shift promotes rigour as a qualifier for methodology including changes to how research is categorised. Constructivist content: Margaret Mead’s ideas of observer dependence in anthropological research and how the observer constructs her research findings are discussed. The circularity that exists in this relational context is analysed according to Bradford Keeney’s ideas on recursion and resultant future behavioural correction. Ranulph Glanville’s ideas of intersubjectivity and his concept of “in the between” are used as a foundation for the researcher-participant relationship. Ross Ashby’s notion of experimenter coupling is used as a basis for researcher coupling.

Key words: Epistemology, ethics, personalised and relational research, religious studies, rigour, research methodology, worldview.

Handling Editor: Alexander Riegler


Baron P. (2019) A proposal for personalised and relational qualitative religious studies methodology. Constructivist Foundations 15(1): 28–38. https://constructivist.info/15/1/028

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