Fieldwork in Religion, Vol 6, No 2 (2011)

Why Participation Matters to Understand Ritual Experience

Kim Knibbe, Marten van der Meulen, Peter Versteeg
Issued Date: 4 Apr 2012


Two cases in which researchers take part in religious ritual show how being a participant enhances the researcher’s understanding of what is happening. Through these cases the authors attempt to shed light on the methodological problems concerning the “intersubjectivity” of research on ritual. Ritual goes beyond the verbal and pulls bodily sensations, emotion and gestures into the domain of intersubjectivity established through fieldwork. Experiencing the emotional and physical sensations that accompany ritual give the researcher a clue as to what other participants experience. But maybe more importantly, the participation of the researcher also triggers reflections on the meaning and efficacy of the ritual. These verbalized interpretations of what has happened may further strengthen the researcher’s understanding. The authors argue that it is exactly through putting this intersubjectivity at the centre of both the actual fieldwork and the subsequent analysis that the ever flexible and contested nature of ritual and the dynamic tension between semantic and tacit meaning can be most fruitfully explored.

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DOI: 10.1558/firn.v6i2.104

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