The Insider/Outside Debate in Religion

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One of the major debate in religious studies is the believers/observers or insiders/outsiders position. The debate is about how the individual position themselves in the study. Often the discussion is put into term of “emic” and “etic”. The outsider’s approach is to produce a completely informative description or productions of sound, behavior, beliefs. This is the emic or phonemic approach. The insider’s approach is the observer being involved in the activities that are being preformed at the time of the study. This is the etic or phonetic approach.

These approaches continue to create debate by Rudolph Otto and Mircea Eliade. They argue for the emic approach. They claim that by using any other approach results in reductionism and undermine those religions being studied. The etic scholars argue it is impossible to investigate a particular religion without being a part of that religion. They also insist that reductionism can be the only approach for the outsider. The outsider can only understand the religion by understanding how the effects of economics, politics, society, gender, and other social constructions in that religion.

The separation of insider/outsider is base on the concept of objectivity as it pertains to religion. But this is a loaded term, it contradicts itself to start. The entire debate is based on the stance of the individual studying that religion. The students’ subjective and objective approach has always been in question. This is what defines the differences between insider and outsider. While outsiders are more objective relative to the insiders, the insiders don’t think of themselves as just being subjective. Therefore, objectivity is understood to be present in both the insider and outsider approach. Many scholars argue that it isn’t the place for the philosophers to solve the insider/outsider debate but rather to deconstruct it. This approach would help in obtaining an objective view. It would help with a detachment from the study which in turn identifies an authority. This approach to objective study of religion can be ineffective and is embedded into academics. It can be argue that the dichotomy is loaded with gender bias. This call for an evaluation of the terms objectivity and subjectivity because there definition and boundaries are clouded.

These are important concepts of subjectivity and objectivity of the belief systems. Is it better to study from the inside or does hinder the objectivity because of the status of the insider? If an outsider studies spatial aspect of a religion, does that make the study objective or is it misinterpreted in their report? Even more important, does it threaten the belief system, if the supporter of a that system reads the conclusion of the scholars studies, if in that conclusion it has reduce their faith or tradition to political, economic, or cultural social constructions?

Objectivity and Geography of Religion

This argument is absolutely connected to the traditional division of Geography of Religion into two categories. The first, “geography of religion” which is concerned less with the religion with in than with its social, cultural and environmental associations and effect. Second, “religious geography” is the role of religion in shaping human perceptions of the world and the place of humanity within it. There was a division between these two categories that involved one of application with religious geography being “the study of man’s application of the cosmic or ideal pattern to the earth’s surface”.

Since than the labels have changed and now they applied to the scholar in a different manner. This was apparent at the 2004 centennial AAG meeting. Where “religious geographers” Bret Stephenson and Ed Davis introduced papers incorporating theology and social theory. Mean while “geographers of religion” Elizabeth Leppman and Catherine Carter introduced geographic analyses of religions that...
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