On/File: A Continuing Record of People, Groups, Movements and Events Impacting Contemporary Religion

The Engaged Spirituality Project encourages journalists covering religion to adopt ethnographic methods to convey a more in-depth and fine-grained account of religion for their readers. The project, run by the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, brings together social scientists—including a core of ethnographers—and journalists to identify, interview, contextualize, and profile 100 “spiritual exemplars” across the globe. The project encourages a kind of “ethnographic journalism” that seeks to correct for reporters’ tendency to favor hard news over an in-depth treatment of subjects, which may require them to be “embedded” in the field in the ways that sociologists and anthropologists regularly are. The project also attempts to bridge journalism and ethnography in terms of ethics as well as techniques.

Source: Engaged Spirituality.

For instance, rather than remaining distant observers, the project encourages journalists to be more “reflective” participant-observers who recognize the dilemmas of responsibility and engagement that emerge between researchers and their “subjects.” This is especially helpful in covering minority faiths and new religious movements that are in vulnerable populations or may have experienced biased journalistic coverage. At the same time, journalist ethnographers try to help scholarly ethnographers improve their communication of findings and ideas to a wider audience. The project is one among several other attempts to cultivate partnerships between ethnographers and journalists, such as the Society for Environmental Journalism’s new Religion & Environment Story Project, and the Sacred Writes program at Northwestern University. (Source: Paper presented by Ken Chitwood at the November meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion)