Ethnography and Subjectivity in Comparative Religious Ethics

Journal of Religious Ethics 45 (4):623-641 (2017)
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The ethnographic turn in religious studies has responded to important developments, such as the rejection of value neutrality and the need to better address the lived experience of individuals and communities. In this essay, I affirm the value of ethnography as a method in comparative religious ethics, but distinguish between two ways of framing ethnography in relation to ethics. The first way insists on the hard limits of translating values across cultures, and tends to marginalize or dismiss normative inquiry. The second way allows for the interpretation of practices of ethical justification in diverse cultural contexts. I argue that this second category of ethnography is more congenial to the work of comparative religious ethicists, since an integral part of ethical inquiry involves reflecting on, and making arguments about, social norms and practices.



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