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[llk .2 (2010) 1!!-14!] !"#$%&'() "+ ,#$"-"'+ (print) l88N 14!

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doi: 10.18Jliel.vi2.1!! !"#$%&'() "+ ,#$"-"'+ (online) l88N 14!-062!


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James Kapal and Stefania Travagnin

Guest Editorial
Religionizing Fieldwork and
Fieldworking Religion:
Hermeneutics of the
Engagement between Religion
and Research Methodologies in
the Field


James Kapal is Lecturer in the Study of
Religions at University College Cork, Ireland. He
completed a PhD in the Study of Religions at
the School of Oriental and African Studies,
London, and is the author of Text, Context and
Performance: Gagauz Folk Religion in Discourse
and Practice (Brill, 2011). His current research
interests include contemporary orthodoxy, the
academic discourse on folk religion and
archaic forms of Christian prayer.

Stefania Travagnin is Lecturer in East Asian
Buddhism in the Department of History and
Religious Studies Program at Pennsylvania State
University. She completed a PhD in the Study of
Religions at the School of Oriental and African
Studies, London. Her research and publications
focus on social-history and intellectual history of
Buddhism in twentieth-century China and
Taiwan. She is currently working on a book on
the revival of the Madhyamaka school in
twentieth-century China.

University College of Cork
Study of Religions Department
University College Cork (UCC)
Cork

j.kapalo@ucc.ie





Pennsylvania State University
Department of History
and Religious Studies Program
108 Weaver Building
University Park,
PA 16802

sxt39@psu.edu

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1!4 lllluwOkl lN klllolON
Introduction
kesearch is always the result ol the encounter ol a !"#"$!%&"! and a !"#"$!%&"', with
their identities operating as a theoretical and analytical lramework. 1he dynamism
and modalities ol such an encounter elicit responses that in turn govern, olten in a
lundamental way, the direction ol the argument ol the research that emerges. lt is
in the engagement between religion and research in the lield that this encounter
between !"#"$!%&"! and !"#"$!%&"' takes place in practice rather than in theory and
evolves accordingly in a dialogical and rellexive manner.
when we adopt lieldwork as a necessary step lor an investigation on religious
phenomena, we come to rethink theories and methods and relormulate them in the
light ol the surprises" met during research in the lield. 1he actual investigation ()
+,%, leads to a shilt in the theoretical apparatus, and therelore we lace the necessity
ol delining the parameters ol lieldwork methodologies that can lit a variety ol
lieldwork situations. One consequence ol this process could imply, at the very least,
a reappraisal ol graduate training lor the lield ol religious studies, maybe even a
change ol denomination ol the lield itsell which in turn may lead to a reorientation
within academia.
lecause ol the part that lieldwork plays in the re-evaluation ol analytical
theorems and theoretical structures, and its being an essential part ol research ol
several lields (religious studies, anthropology, sociology, ethnology), we may easily
think ol lieldwork itsell as an entity per se. Are we therelore right to consider
lieldwork as a science or a narrative or a method or a discourse7 Or does it embody
all ol these7
lieldwork is well placed to traverse theoretical understandings and the practice
ol religion in the concrete world. As practitioners ol lieldwork, we negotiate the
religious lield in all its complexity and portray this in the lorm ol the study ol
religions. lrom the perspective ol religious studies, such a bridge between patterns
ol laith and practice and the discourse ol ethnography takes on the character ol a
religious science ol lieldwork." And it is the notion ol a religious science ol
lieldwork," something that we can train in, practice and master, that must accom-
modate the real human encounter between !"#"$!%&"! and !"#"$!%&"' in the context
ol olten unexpected religious (and cultural) phenomena and events.
Religionizing Fieldwork: A New Discourse
As lecklord and walliss state, keligion is controversial and challenging," which
leads us to the unsolved question ol a delinition ol !"+(-(,), and therealter ol the
term !"+(-(,.# (lecklord and walliss, 2006: xiii). 1he search lor a delinition ol !"+(-(,)
has not provided a unitary vision, but rather ollers ways to consider !"+(-(,) as

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lAlAl ANu 1kAVAoNlN lul1OklAl 1!
either a concept or a category, showing !"+(-(,) either as a deconstructed series ol
elements or as a metaphor lor a cultural continuum. 1he consequence ol this is an
ambiguity but also a degree ol llexibility, lree lrom dogmatism, when approaching
the concept ol !"+(-(,.#)"##.
Academic discourse provided an understanding ol religion as object," pro-
posing an alternative approach to the perspective ol theology. ln addition, the
academy has established a multidisciplinary pattern ol investigation ol such an
object." 1his academic interpretation ol religion" implies a distinction between
the study ol religions" and religious studies." 1he lormer relates to the object ol
study, the !"#"$!%&"', whereas the later points to the religious terms ol the
encounter between !"#"$!%&"' and !"#"$!%&"!. 1he adoption ol the term !"+(-(,)(/()-
in this workshop relates to a distinctive relationship that can be expressed as
dialogue or interplay between religion as an object ol study and the religious terms
ol encounter. 1herelore, !"+(-(,)(/()- addresses the mode ol conducting research in
the lield and identilies a process ol epistemology and deals with the dynamism ol
representation ol !"+(-(,.# phenomena.
0"+(-(,)(/()- can be translated as lunctioning religiously," which is the process
that produces a theoretical and methodological apparatus that has the mark ol
religiousness." keligiousness thus becomes a key concept, the thing that identilies
a scholar ol religion as a religionist" and grounds the emergence ol the discourse
ol a religionized lieldwork."
lecause this hermeneutics ol religiousness" borrows techniques that are
conceived ol as external to the classical boundaries ol the lield ol religious studies
it does not undermine the lield itsell, or rather, it only undermines the historical"
aspiration ol religious studies to take on the character ol a discipline. lnstead it
proposes an enhanced delinition ol religious studies as a lield. 1he discourse ol
!"+(-(,)(/()- (and !"+(-(,)(/"') lieldwork proposes then a new identity lor research in
the lield, a new dimension to cultural narrative in the humanities.
Fieldworking Religion: Going beyond Phenomenology
8cholars lrom the lield ol religious studies mainly borrow social theories lrom
sociology or ethnographic methods lrom anthropology. 1he classical phenome-
nological approach ol religious studies has thus lar only provided theory con-
sidered relevant or deployable within the lield itsell. 1he question that needs to be
posed is, can we construct a methodological narrative lor religious studies and the
study ol religions that goes beyond phenomenology.
1he concept ol lieldworking religion" implies empirical analysis ol religious
matters as well as the emphasis on localized praxis. kecent scholarship points

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1!6 lllluwOkl lN klllolON
toward theoretical revolutions in the context ol lieldwork in religion, and how the
practice ol research always problematizes and contests theory (llood, 1999,
connolly, 1999, lang and kagvald, 200, lecklord and walliss, 2006, leuchtwang "1
$+2, 2006). ln other words, lieldwork itsell engages in charting new theories.
1heorizing religion and lieldworking religion are two epistemological and
hermeneutical paths that need to be harmonized and integrated in order lor
realistic and relevant portrayals ol religious phenomena to emerge lrom the lield.
lieldworking presents a means ol going beyond the duality that olten occurs
between theory and practice, and creates the empirical parameters within which
advances in theory are conceptualized. ln other words, lieldworking implies an
advancement in theorizing, being a step not only in the application but also in the
relormulation ol theory. lieldworking acts through questioning and contesting the
existing classical theories in the light ol the surprises" that the lield produces in
the complex modalities ol the encounter between scholars and their objects ol
study. As }ohnson has argued, [s]urprise [.] - which hermeneutics calls 'otherness'
- is a crucial generative moment in research" (}ohnson "1 $+., 2004: 96). lndeed, the
encounter with the lield generates a new horizon lor possible hypotheses and ways
ol thinking on problematic experiences, an ,1&"!)"## that provides lor new por-
trayals ol religious worlds. 1he engagement with the concrete world turns religion
lrom a theorem ol abstraction into living questions ol and conversations with
animated religion, provoking revisions ol theoretical assumptions.
lieldworking religion promotes the revision ol knowledge and power relation-
ships that emerge lrom much contemporary scholarship on religious institutions,
bodies and communities. lieldworking operates by necessity on the micro-level ol
the individual where personalities, bodies, emotions and intellects meet. lach ol
these dimensions ol lieldwork leatures in the papers that lollow. lersonal acts ol
human judgment, deliance and imagination, the essence ol what it is to live in and
through situations, can lunction as an antidote to totalizing macro-level represen-
tations ol religious institutions and structures that emerge lrom scholarship.
lieldworking religion reveals the human scale ol religious lives and challenges the
dominance ol otherwise imposing theoretical structures.
From Theory to Practice
1he workshop which generated this volume aimed to address the new challenges
that students lace in approaching lieldwork as a discourse in the study ol religions
(religionizing lieldwork"), and in engaging religion in the lield (lieldworking
religion"). lieldwork, increasingly a central component ol research projects
on religion, is coming to determine the nature and validity ol contemporary

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lAlAl ANu 1kAVAoNlN lul1OklAl 1!
scholarship. 1he workshop was intended to encourage deeper critical rellection in
the academic study ol religions on classical and new methods ol approaching and
conducting lieldwork, with the aim ol contributing to the doctoral research training
programme at the 8chool ol Oriental and Alrican 8tudies (8OA8). 1he papers
presented at this event demonstrate the rellexive process junior scholars engage
with in the post-lieldwork phase ol lhu research. 1he lorum lor debate and
discussion ollered at the workshop was also intended to provide pre-lieldwork
doctoral students meaninglul pragmatic rellections on the experience ol engaging
religion in the lield.
1he two-day workshop was structured around lour key established themes in
the study ol religions: personalitiesJbodies, perlormance, texts, and institutions.
lnterdisciplinary by design, the event attracted students and junior scholars lrom
oermany, lrance and the Ll with training and lieldwork experience in anthro-
pology, sociology, theology and study ol religions. 1he papers presented at the
workshop captured a broad spectrum ol concerns that occupy the lieldworker in
religion, ranging lrom ethics and politics to pain and boredom. As might be
expected lrom an event organized under the auspices ol 8OA8, the papers are the
result ol lieldworks conducted in diverse regions ol the world lrom laiti and the
lhilippines to an lnglish lenedictine monastery.
lor the large part, the papers presented were works in progress" and the very
open atmosphere ol the workshop environment lacilitated some very lruitlul and,
at times, challenging debates, some ol which are rellected in the linal papers
published here. 1his was the intent ol the workshop, to test theoretical positions
against practical steps and observe how the lield researchers lind their balance. we
hope that the papers presented in this volume will contribute a pool ol research
that is process rellexive" and that speaks ol both the religious" and the reli-
gionist" observer. what lollows is a briel synopsis ol some ol the main points drawn
out ol the papers and the discussions that arose lrom the panels.
Representing Persons
kepresenting persons was interpreted in divergent ways in the contributions
presented here. lowever, ultimately, both papers tackle head on the relationship
between the researcher and the researched and how the discrete identity ol the
observer becomes blurred through participation in practices and membership ol
religious bodies. 1hese papers also address tensions within contemporary discourses
on }apanese religion. ln the case ol 1ullio lobetti, we gain a lurther perspective on
the proverbial question ol the relationship between popular" and established"
(or institutional) religious practice in }apan. ln contrast, lisker-Nielson addresses

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1!8 lllluwOkl lN klllolON
the socially contentious issue ol the involvement ol new religious movements in
politics in contemporary }apan.
lobetti takes ascetic practice" as his object ol study with his primary concern
being the application ol an appropriate hermeneutical approach. 1he various case
studies he presents in this paper oller the reader an insight into the process by
which lobetti accessed his data," which he identilies as the meanings ol the
various ascetic practices he studied. 1hrough participating in practices, lobetti is
able to pinpoint discrete categories ol meaning, the most problematic ol which is
physical and emotional traits." le poses the question, in what way can these be
treated as data in the study ol religions7 lart ol the rationale lor this approach
hinges on an important critique ol the academic study ol religions which histori-
cally has valorized textual, doctrinal and theological positions over and above the
experiential dimension ol religion. 1he appropriate means ol accessing the prac-
tice, lor lobetti, is the practice itsell, as this represents the text" open to inter-
pretation and is the vessel that contains the religious meanings sought by the
researcher. ly placing physical and emotional participation at the core ol his
methodological approach lobetti is questioning the validity ol lieldworking religion
without participating in the practices, rituals and pilgrimages ol the researched.
1he call lor objectivity which has dominated the discourse on ethnographic
method should, in his view, be abandoned in lavour ol a recognition ol the lluidity
ol the relationship between the l" and the other," something which can be
inlormed by the shared human experience ol physical sensations and emotions.
Anne mette lister-Nielson, lrom her co-religionist subject position," articulates
this same intention to allow the objects ol her research to participate in the
discourse that emerges lrom the encounter between researcher and researched. ln
her study, she clearly identilies hersell with the beliels, values and worldview ol
the 8oka oakkai members who lorm the objects ol her research. ler research
agenda seems to compound the problems ol this position as she tackles the thorny
issue ol the relationship between the movement and the political party lomeito. ln
doing so she directly conlronts one ol the dominant discourses in }apan that
represents politically active members ol religious groups as unthinking and
obedient" and even downright dangerous in their adherence to exclusivist religious
ideologies. As lisker-Nielsen points out, the close alignment ol religion and politics
makes the }apanese establishment uneasy, which makes the kind ol grassroots level
study she engaged in all the more important as a way ol challenging the hegemony
ol representations that dominate the public domain. ler insider position with
regard to this dimension ol 8oka oakkai lile lends her the crucial means to
interrogate precisely how the movement engages in political activism. lisker-
Nielson calls lor a clarity and rellexive account ol the subject position within

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representations, arguing that dillerent kinds ol observerJobserved relations
produce, and are conducive to, qualitatively dillerent lorms ol critique. lchoing
lobetti, she insists that objectivity does not depend on physical, emotional or
intellectual distance lrom the object ol study. lowever, her challenge to the pre-
vailing discourse in }apan, as she admits, still leaves her open to the charge that the
representations she produces are simply apologetics.
Reading Performance
1he two papers in this section stand closely in dialogue with one another, as they
both address, lrom seemingly opposing positions, the lieldworker's attempt to
master her otherness" in the lield and gain access through perlormance" to
exclusivist or segregationist religious groups. Nadge mzi applies a sell-conscious
ethnographic gaze at her own perlormance as a christian woman" and highlights,
in an acute lorm, how the researcher is lorced, or elects, to conlorm and play a role
in the lield. 1he inherent dilliculty in researching charismatic christian groups is,
as mzi points out, a dichotomizing worldview that places all non-christians in the
realm ol evil, which in turn ensures that christian" and ethnologist" become
mutually exclusive categories. ln this context, to avoid being nowhere," mzi
gives the perlormance that the lield context seems to require in order lor her to
gain access, she becomes a christian woman." ln her text she becomes the object
ol her own objectilying gaze and, rather bravely, the object ol her audiences cri-
tique (lourdieu and wacquant, 1992: 66-2). ln whose interest is the methodo-
logical lalsehood" that she proposes7 (ln the interest ol anthropology, ol course"
was one opinion noted oll-the-record). lnterests are not hidden here but objectilied
and incorporated into the methological stance, presenting a challenge to the ram-
parts ol prolessional ethics" that seem to assume that we can overcome the ine-
quality and asymmetry that inluse the lieldwork situation. 1he ability ol the
western trained lieldworker to successlully perlorm the christian" may have some
important implications lor the emerging anthropology ol christianity. As }oel
kobbins points out, anthropologists and christians are very similar creatures by
virtue ol drawing on the same broad cultural tradition." lowever, they also display
some very pointed dillerences resulting lrom a tradition ol uncomlortable exchanges
between modernist thinkers and the christian community (kobbins, 200!: 92).
llaying christian" may become one ol the hallmarks ol an emerging anthropology
ol christianity grappling with an increasingly suspicious body ol believers.
ln contrast, owendolyn leaner, operating within a broadly similar context also
governed by an intensely dualistic cosmological lramework," this time a lente-
costal church in liberia, opts lor what appears to be an opposing methodological

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strategy, embracing her otherness." leaner's research sets out to elucidate the
relationship between politics and changes in conceptions ol the spirit world.
lieldworking the hidden but pervasive spirit world" presents some acute prob-
lems, not least ol which are the seeming contradictions between teaching and
practice in lentecostal demonology. ln her quest lor access to a deliverance min-
istry and its one-to-one deliverance clinic" leaner appears to opt lor the opposite
strategy to methodological lalsehood," honesty and resignation to any exclusion
that might result lrom her non-born-again identity. lowever, ultimately, like
mzi, she adopts the role ol perlormer" and embraces the demonic identity"
assigned to her, playing demonic" in order to have access to what otherwise would
be out-ol-bounds. ln seeking to make sense ol contradictions in lentecostal demon-
ology, her own participation in a personal deliverance contravenes the very regula-
tions and restrictions she had so diligently collected as data. leaner's eventual
participation in a deliverance, the result she supposes ol some hidden agenda ol the
local pastor and community, reinlorces one ol mzi's critical insights. ouile, lies
and lalse naivety" are ordinary strategies deployed by the researched as well as the
researcher, and that making use ol them in the lield, according to mzi, still
constitutes playing the game by rules."
Animating Texts
1exts and their interpretation have traditionally lormed the bedrock ol the
academic study ol religions whilst textual studies, be they philological or historical
in locus, have tended not to be considered the stull ol lieldwork. 1he decision to
include a panel dedicated to texts arose lrom a rather heated discussion with a
research student colleague over the merit or uselulness ol delining lieldwork in a
way that excludes textual researchers, which ol course was never our intent. low-
ever, as laul 1remlett echoes in his call lor a shilt away lrom conventional
approaches to texts" to their audiences and interpretive communities, the signili-
cance ol texts lor the study ol contemporary religions should be located only very
tenuously within the text itsell. kather, religious meaning is better sought outside
the text" in the religious lives ol individuals and communities lor whom texts
lorm part ol a material, social and political reality. 1remlett, in his rellections on
past scholarship and his lieldwork experience in the lowland lhilippines, highlights
another important new direction in the anthropological study ol christianity that
places emphasis on the perlormance ol texts as the locus ol production ol meaning.
1he situated interpretation" ol texts that 1remlett speaks ol gives the ethno-
graphic researcher the opportunity to listen in on and indeed partake in" the
surprising ways that texts are interpreted and sequestered by their audiences,

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lAlAl ANu 1kAVAoNlN lul1OklAl 141
something which in the context ol lhilippines christianity had both political and
nationalistic character. lut his linal and perhaps the most poignant assertion is
that we have a duty to not stop here, lieldwork experience should lead us to ques-
tion not only classical approaches to textual interpretation but also post-
structuralist theory which allows a lluidity or capaciousness that has a danger ol
leading to uncritical accounts ol our subjects. 1he approach 1remlett takes, which
nonetheless owes a debt to the post-modern sensibilities that he critiques, thus
raises lurther questions regarding the lallibility ol the observer and the subjective
nature ol interpretation. 1his highlights one ol the central challenges to the
lieldworker to maintain impartiality whilst at the same time taking a position and
saying something critically relevant.
Engaging Institutions
1he primary concern tackled in kichard lrvine's paper, as the title lirmly suggests,
was to assess the value and meaning ol imitation without commitment" as a
legitimate methodological approach. As with lobetti's paper, shared experience
becomes central. lowever, lrvine's peripheral status within the lenedictine mon-
astery, with clearly delined boundaries between himsell and the community, gave
little opportunity lor genuine participation in communal lile or lor methodological
lalsehood" in relations with his hosts. 1he learning process, experienced through
work and listening, in spite ol his peripheral identity, gave sullicient involvement
and proximity to allow social relations within the monastery to be observed. ley to
lrvine's methodological insight was his appreciation ol the value ol silence, which
allows the rellexive researcher to look beyond verbal communication as means ol
constructing and expressing community and allows the lieldworker to take on an
identity as listener." ln much the same way that lobetti and lisker-Nielson seek to
demonstrate that objectivity is not dependent on maintaining physical, emotional
or intellectual distance, lrvine indicates that in order to gain a critical vantage
point, integration or total immersion are not essential components ol ethnographic
lieldwork.
oareth lisher's paper presents us with a critique ol current lieldwork-based
research in last Asian luddhism. calling lor a shilt away lrom the kind ol
ethnographic lieldwork that sometimes inadvertently reinlorces the biases and
established narratives ol luddhist studies, merely updating current existing under-
standings, lisher argues lor a person-centered approach to lieldwork. 1his approach
demands an engagement with the individual practitioner in order to expose the
complex relations, motivations and inlluences that constitute the local cultural
matrix, which is shilting and changing through time. with this comes an

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appreciation ol the agency ol social actors that can easily be crushed by research
agendas that locus on the institutional and ollicial dimensions ol religion. As lisher
points out, a person-centered approach may present a major challenge to a lield
that has yet to break decisively with its inherited locus on texts, institutions and
lounding ligures or leaders. kellexive lieldwork practice has a signilicant, perhaps
delining, role to play in the realignment not only ol luddhist studies, but ol reli-
gious studies more widely. 1he agency and activity ol practitioners olten only gains
legitimation in academic discourse when lound to conlorm to agendas determined
by institutional narratives, textual exegesis or the teachings ol elite leaders. A
decisive re-evaluation ol this dynamic emerges as a common concern ol many ol
the papers in this volume.
Overall, this volume ol papers testilies to the very broad spectrum ol concerns
that occupy lieldworkers ol contemporary religion. 1he methodological and
theoretical issues that are addressed in the papers and that emerged lrom the panel
discussions are complex ones that will continue to occupy students ol religion lor
some time to come. what is clear lrom these studies is that standard learned"
perspectives and understandings on subjectJobject relations and insiderJoutsider
positions with regard to religious phenomena are being challenged and stretched
by lresh perspectives and approaches. 1his initiative was intended to mainly open a
discussion on a !"+(-(,)(/"' 3("+'4,!5. we hope the interest generated by both work-
shop and publication will encourage lurther steps towards integrating process-
rellexive practice into lieldwork training programmes lor scholars ol religion.
Acknowledgements
1his collection ol papers came about as the result ol a postgraduate workshop held
at the 8chool ol Oriental and Alrican 8tudies, Lniversity ol london, entitled
keligionising lieldwork, lieldworking keligion: lermeneutics ol the lngagement
between keligion and kesearch methodologies in the lield." 1he workshop, held on
!-4 November 2008, was hosted by the uepartment ol the 8tudy ol keligions at
8OA8 and was generously lunded by the Arts and lumanities kesearch council ol
the Ll.
we would like to express our gratitude to laul oillord lor giving the opening
address and lor chairing one ol the panels but most ol all lor his support and
encouragement. 8tephan leuchtwang, }ames lecklord and cosimo 2ene very kindly
chaired panels and in so doing contributed immensely to the success ol the
workshop, generously ollering the benelit ol their considerable experience and
insight. Our gratitude also goes to Almut lintze and the uepartment ol the 8tudy ol
keligions lor hosting the workshop. 8pecial thanks go to Vivian lbrahim lor her

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lAlAl ANu 1kAVAoNlN lul1OklAl 14!
invaluable assistance during the workshop and Alessandra cecolin lor her help in
the run up to the event.
A big thank you to all those that contributed papers to the workshop, unlortu-
nately not all ol these could be published in the present volume, and to the very
many enthusiastic lhu and mA students that attended lrom across the Ll and
lurope. linally, we would like to thank kon oeaves and Andrew uawson lor agree-
ing to publish this special edition ol 6("+'4,!5 () 0"+(-(,).
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