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University of Toronto

Department for the Study of Religion

RLG2086H Fieldwork in Religious Studies
Fall 2016

Time: Monday, 3-5pm

Location: JHB 317 (Jackman Humanities Building, 170 St. George Street, 3rd floor)
Instructor: Prof. Amira Mittermaier
Office: JHB 332
Office hours: Tuesday, 3-5pm (held in JHB 307), or by appointment

This course is designed for graduate students in religious studies who plan to do fieldwork. It will
allow students to grapple with some of the epistemological and ethical underpinnings of
ethnographic research. What counts as evidence? What does “participant observation” mean?
What are we to make of anthropology’s atheism? And how might we begin to decolonize our
methodologies? Besides covering conceptual debates, the course will also address practical
matters (the REB review, grant applications, fieldnotes), and we will think in depth about the
relationship between fieldwork and writing. Throughout the term you will be invited to reflect on
your individual research projects and their methodological challenges.

All articles and book chapters are available via Blackboard.


Participation (15%)
We will conduct the course as a weekly seminar, and everybody’s continuous participation is
encouraged and required. All students are expected to have completed the assigned readings
before the respective sessions and to be prepared to engage in class discussion. Please remember
that effective participation also requires good listening skills. Regular attendance is expected of
all students.

Discussion Facilitation (15%)

Each student is responsible for co-leading one seminar along with the instructor (and possibly
together with another student). Start with a brief presentation (10 minutes) on what you’re taking
away from the readings and then raise questions that will stimulate a lively discussion and keep
the conversation going.

Writing Exercises (total: 70%)

1) Ethnography Assignment (10%), due September 26.

Write two pages (double-spaced) on an ethnography you like, reflecting on the author’s
methodological choices, their strengths and shortcomings, the extent to which they are
made transparent in the text, and the insights that might have been gained if a different
methodology had been chosen. (Simply revisit the ethnography, especially its
methodology section; no additional research is required.)

2) Fieldnotes Exercise (10%), due October 3.
After formulating a research question, do a couple of hours of fieldwork (in a religious
site, a coffeeshop, the department, or any other place) to answer your question. Write
up fieldnotes afterwards. Submit the question, two pages (single-spaced) of fieldnotes
along with two pages (double-spaced) of reflections on the process of writing. In the
reflections, draw on at least two of the course readings and comment on the kind of text
you would like to produce as an anthropologist and how your fieldnotes will help you
produce such a text (or how you would do them differently next time).

3) Grant Proposal (10% plus 5%), to be pre-circulated by midnight October 14.

Respond to Questions 1 and 3 of the Wenner Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant
proposal (see Blackboard). One single-spaced page is required for each question but
please submit them double-spaced. Proposals will be pre-circulated, and you will be
asked to give feedback on at least one of your colleagues’ proposals (5% for the

4) Concept Paper/Writing Exercise (10%), due November 7.

For this paper, you have two options:
a) Choose a methodological concept (participation observation, evidence, example,
local, scale, the field etc.) and write a brief meditation on the concept (2-3 pages
double-spaced), bringing in at least two readings that are not on the syllabus.
b) Revisiting Peter Clark’s piece on the ladder of abstraction, draw on any of your
fieldnotes (or your memory). Focus on one particular scene and write up and down
the ladder of abstraction (1-2 pages). Then write one page reflecting on the
experience, your writing choices, and what kind of fieldwork you will need to do to
become the kind of writer you are or want to be.

5) Ethics Assignment (10%), due November 21.

You again have two options for this assignment:
a) Draft a response to sections 20-25 of the UofT REB protocol.
b) Write two to three pages (double-spaced) on any aspect of the REB process you
find surprising, helpful, troubling or problematic.

6) Problem Statement (10% plus 5%), send to instructor by noon, December 2.

Write 1-2 pages (double-spaced) on any methodological problem you are facing (or
anticipate) in your own research. Draw on at least two readings from the course
syllabus. I will assign respondents to each problem statement (5%), and we will discuss
them during our last meeting.

A note on all writing assignments:

The assignments for this class are brief, informal, and experimental. Feel free to try out different
styles but make sure to proofread your assignment and to cite any source you draw on. Unless
otherwise noted, all assignments are due at the beginning of class. Please stick to the deadlines
and let the instructor know in advance if you won’t be able to meet a deadline. Points may be
deducted for late papers, and papers more than one week late will not be accepted. If you have a
disability/health consideration that may require accommodation, please contact Accessibility
Services as soon as possible.


Week 1 – Sep 12

o Michael Taussig. 2011. Fieldwork Notebooks: 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts. Berlin: Cantz, 1-
o Kevin O’Neill. 2010. “The Fieldwork.” In City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar
Guatemala. Berkeley: University of California Press, xvii-xxvii.
o Amira Mittermaier. 2011. “Notes on Fieldwork.” In Dreams that Matter: Egyptian
Landscapes of the Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 20-26.
o Lisa Stevenson. 2014. “Uncertainty as a Mode.” In Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in
the Canadian Arctic. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1-2.

Week 2 – Sep 19
Participant Observation

o Jonathan Crary. 1992. “Modernity and the Problem of the Observer.” In Techniques of
the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1-24.
o Bronislaw Malinowski. 1922. “Introduction: Subject, Method, and Scope of Inquiry.” In
Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge, 1-25.
o Erving Goffman. 1989. “On Fieldwork.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 18(2):
o Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture.” In
The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 3-30.
o Annie Dillard. 1974. “Seeing.” In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. New York: Harper Perennial,

Week 3 – Sep 26
The Epistemology of Fieldwork

o James Clifford. 1986. “Introduction: Partial Truths.” In J. Clifford and G. Marcus (eds.)
Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1-26.
o Matthew Engelke. 2008: “The objects of Evidence.” Journal of the Royal
Anthropological Institute 14: 1-21.
o Lars Hojer and Andreas Bandak. 2015: “Introduction: The Power of Example.” Journal
of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21: 1-17.
o Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff. 2003. “Ethnography on an Awkward Scale:
Postcolonial Anthropology and the Violence of Abstraction.” Ethnography 4(2): 147-179.
o Lina Tuhiwai Smith. 1999. “Introduction.” In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research
and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books, 1-18.

*** Ethnography Assignment due

Week 4 – Oct 3

o James Clifford. 1990. “Notes on (Field)notes.” In R. Sanjek (ed.), Fieldnotes: The

Making of Anthropology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 47-70.
o Linda Emerson, Rachel Fretz, Linda Shaw. 2011. Chapters One and Three of Writing
Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1-20, 45-88.
o Matt Madden. 2005. 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style. New York: Chamberlain
Bros, 2-15, 60f. 160f.
o Roy Peter Clark. 2006. “Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction” and “Write from
different cinematic angels.” Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. New
York: Little, Brown and Company, 107-111, 165-168.
o Michael Taussig. 2011. Preface, Chapters One, Two, and Five of I Swear I Saw This:
Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, xi-20, 47-53.

*** Fieldnotes Exercise due

+++ Guest: Anne Brackenbury (editor of new EthnoGRAPHIC series at UofT Press)

(Oct 10 – Thanksgiving)

*** Wenner Gren proposals due at midnight, October 14

Week 5 – Oct 17
Grant Application Workshop

Week 6 – Oct 24
Emotions, Senses, Experience

o Thomas Csordas. 2008. “Transmutation of Sensibilities: Empathy, Intuition, Revelation.”

In A. McLean and A. Leibling (eds.) The Shadow Side of Fieldwork: Exploring the
Blurred Borders Between Ethnography and Life. Oxford: Blackwell, 106-116.
o Michael Jackson. 2010. “From Anxiety to Method in Anthropological Fieldwork.” In J.
Davies and D. Spencer (eds.) Emotions in the Field: The Psychology and Anthropology of
Fieldwork Experience. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 35-54.
o Vincent Crapanzano. 2010. “At the Heart of the Discipline: Critical Reflections on
Fieldwork.” In J. Davies and D. Spencer (eds.) Emotions in the Field: The Psychology
and Anthropology of Fieldwork Experience. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 55-78.
o Robert Desjarlais. 1994. “Struggling Along: The Possibilities for Experience Among the
Homeless Mentally Ill.” American Anthropologist 96(4): 886-901.

Week 7 – Oct 31
Talking to People

o Katie Kilroy-Marac. 2014. “Speaking with Revenants: Haunting and the Ethnographic
Enterprise.” Ethnography 15(2):255-276.
o Vincent Crapanzano. 1980. “Preface.” In Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, ix-xiii.
o Paul Rabinow. 1997. “Fieldwork and Friendship in Morocco.” In Antonius Robben and

Jeffrey Sluka (eds.) Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader. Malden:
Blackwell, 447-454.
o Emilio Spadola. 2011. “Forgive Me Friend: Mohammed and Ibrahim.” Anthropological
Quarterly 84(3):737-756.
o Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps. 1996. “Narrating the self.” Annual Review of Anthropology
o Charles Baxter. 2008. “On Defamiliarization.” Burning Down the House: Essays on
Fiction. Graywolf Press, 21-39.

+++ Guest Instructor: Katie Kilroy-Marac (Anthropology Department)

Week 8 – Nov 7
Methodological Atheism

o Bruce Lincoln. 1996. “Theses on Method.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
o Matthew Engelke. 2002. “The Problem of Belief: Evans-Pritchard and Victor Turner on
‘the Inner Life.’” Anthropology Today 18(6): 3–8.
o Katherine Ewing. 1994. “Dreams from a saint: Anthropological atheism and the
temptation to believe.” American Anthropologist 96 (3): 571-583.
o Jon Bialecki. 2014. “Does God Exist in Methodological Atheism? On Tanya Luhrmann’s
When God Talks Back and Bruno Latour.” Anthropology of Consciousness 25(1): 32-52.
o Fenella Cannell. 2005. “The Christianity of Anthropology.” Journal of the Royal
Anthropological Institute 11 (2): 335– 356.
o Brian Howell. “The Repugnant Cultural Other Speaks Back: Christian Identity as
Ethnographic ‘Standpoint.’” Anthropological Theory 7(4): 371-391.

*** Concept Paper/Writing Exercise due

Week 9 – Nov 14
Studying the Invisible

o Christian Suhr and Rane Willerslev. 2012. “Can Film Show the Invisible: The Work of
Montage in Ethnographic Filmmaking.” Current Anthropology 53(3): 282–301.
o Avery Gordon. 1997. “Her Shape and His Hand.” In Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the
Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: Minnesota Press, 3-28.
o Nils Bubandt. 2009. “Interview with an Ancestor: Spirits as Informants and the Politics of
Possession in North Maluku.” Ethnography 10(3): 291-316.
o Martin Holbraad. 2008. “Definitive Evidence, From Cuban Gods.” Journal of the Royal
Anthropological Institute 14: S93-S109.
o Edith Turner. 1993. “The Reality of the Spirits: A Tabooed or Permitted Field of Study?”
Anthropology of Consciousness 4(1): 9-12.

Week 10 – Nov 21
Ethics & Other Murky Areas

o Bronislaw Malinowski. 1989. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term. Stanford: Stanford
University Press. [excerpt]
o Gary Alan Fine. 1993. “Ten lies of ethnography: Moral dilemmas of field research.”
Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22: 267-294.

o Don Kulick. 1995. “The Sexual Life of Anthropologists: Erotic Subjectivity and
Ethnographic Work.” in Taboo: Sex, Identity, and Erotic Subjectivity in Anthropological
Fieldwork. Edited by Don Kulick and Margaret Willson. New York: Routledge, 1-28.
o Kirsten Hastrup and Peter Elsass. 1990. “Anthropological Advocacy: A Contradiction in
Terms?” Current Anthropology 31:301-311.
o Lina Tuhiwai Smith. 1999. “Twenty-Five Indigenous Projects.” In Decolonizing
Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books, 142-162.
o American Anthropological Association. 2012. Statement on Ethics: Principles of
Professional Responsibilities. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.
Available at:
Principles-of-Professional- Responsibility.pdf
o UofT’s REB guidelines. Available at:

*** Ethics Assignment due

+++ Guest: Simon Coleman (DSR)

Week 11 – Nov 28

o Arjun Appadurai. 1996. “Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a Transnational
Anthropology.” In Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 48-65.
o George Marcus. 1995. “Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-
Sited Ethnography.” Annual Review of Anthropology 24:95-117.
o Ulf Hannerz. 2003. “Being there... and there... and there! Reflections on multi-Site
ethnography.” Ethnography 4(2): 201-216.
o Kirin Narayan. 1993. How “Native” Is the Native Anthropologist? American
Anthropologist 95:19-34
o Ghassan Hage. 2005. “A not so multi-sited ethnography of a not so imagined
community.” Anthropological Theory 5: 463-475.
o Michael Lambek. 2011. “Catching the local.” Anthropological Theory 11: 197-221.

+++ Guest: Laura Beth Bugg (DSR)

*** Problem Statement, due at noon, December 2

Week 12 – Dec 5
Final Discussion

o Laura Nader. 2011. “Ethnography as Theory.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory

1(1): 211-219.
o Tim Ingold. 2014. “That’s Enough About Ethnography.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic
Theory 4(1): 383-395.