Elizabeth Phillips on theological ethnography

Elizabeth Phillips on theological ethnography

Theologians, and I would argue theological ethicists in particular, should intentionally and carefully attend to the complex realities of the actual people involved in the compelling theological and social issues of our day. Genuine attentiveness to people and genuine engagement with the complexities of their lives are only possible through research methods that take theologians beyond the desk and the library and into those lives. As we continue to discuss, explore, and develop such methods, we must be serious apprentices of … all those who have long grappled with questions of how best to attend to the complexities of the human condition. … I am suggesting that more theologians who are writing on war and peace should spend time in war zones, with victims of war, with soldiers, with peacemakers. More theologians who are writing on the environment should visit sites of particular environmental concern, environmentalist groups, anti-environmentalist activities. And more theologians should spend time deeply engaging with the lives of particular Christian congregations.

As those who claim to be reflecting on the Christian life, theological ethicists in particular must seriously consider more frequent employment of research methods that involve encounter with actual Christians in the communities in which they are seeking to live the Christian life.

from “Charting the ‘Ethnographic Turn’: Theologians and the Study of Christian Congregations,” in Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, edited by Pete Ward, (Eerdmans, 2012), 105-6.