Philosophy of Research
Not every text has been written. This is why ethnographic research is so important – it provides a way to “read” unwritten texts and celebrate diverse experiences. As a feminist theologian, I place a high importance on ethnography because it provides a means of discovering particularities and listening to voices that have been overlooked or marginalized.
In my own research, I have used ethnographic fieldwork in my work on street children, refugees, internally displaced persons, women and HIV/AIDS, and abstinence education. My most recent research project used qualitative interviews and participatory action research to explore the reasons why marriage is an HIV/AIDS risk factor in East Africa.
While the use of ethnographic research is an established discipline within Religious Studies and Sociology of Religion, it is still a new discipline in the fields of Theology and Ethics. Within ethics, ethnography represents a growing edge and a new way to speak normatively as it recognizes sources of authority beyond the church and the academy. Ethnographic research is a way of speaking with, rather than about, the people who are represented in our work.
I also see ethnography as an important pedagogical tool to use in the classroom. In a recent moral problems Ethnographic research provides a way to “read” unwritten texts, celebrate diverse experiences, and listen to voices that have been overlooked or marginalized. course on HIV/AIDS, I gave my students an assignment to interview five people on campus to ascertain their knowledge of HIV/AIDS. The students came back to class surprised at how much their peers did not know. As a result of this exercise, we were able to have a lively class discussion, which then resulted in a campus-wide advocacy event later in the semester.
Research also provides a space for engagement with the community. In some of my research projects, I have worked along side churches and faith-based organizations to create new programs or attain new knowledge to reshape current programs. For example, in my most recent project, I both observed and worked alongside a HIV/AIDS support group meeting in an Anglican church in Mwanza, Tanzania. In this way, ethnographic research provides not only a space for new knowledge, but can provide a space for advocacy and service as well.