There is a lack of epistemological considerations in religious studies methodologies, which have resulted in an on-going critique in this field. In addressing this critique, the researcher’s observer effect needs to be actively accounted for owing to the influence of the researcher’s epistemology in the author’s research. This paper aims to answer the question of why a researcher should address one’s epistemology in the research.
Using second-order cybernetics as an approach, observer dependence is exemplified and justified in the context of religious studies research methodology. The research activity is shown as a relational temporal coupling that introduces inter-subjective aspects to the research. The research process is analysed showing the need to provide scope for the researcher’s epistemology in one’s research.
A relational observer-dependent approach to research embraces the epistemology of the researcher and the participants providing equality in the relationship. The research results are thus framed according to the nature of the relationship and are thus not detached. This addresses social justice and reduces troubling truth claims.
This first paper focuses on the question of why epistemology should be included in scholarly research. A detailed framework for how scholars may achieve this goal is to be part of the future study and is not presented in this paper.
In many positivist approaches there is a motivation to hide the researcher; however, recently there has been a move towards including authors in the first person, realising that science is tied to politics, which does not reach its ideals of objectivity. Cybernetics is presented as an approach to addressing the move from “objective” to “subjective” research.
Researchers cannot get into the minds of their participants and thus an authorial privileged presentation by the researcher of the participant’s experiences is fraught with epistemological weaknesses. Attempting to own one’s own epistemology could address social justice in research by personalising the research and accounting for the observer effect and the inter-subjective attributes of the research relationship.
The principle of observer dependence in cybernetics is not new; however, a research approach that focuses on the nature of knowing and how this may influence one’s research in religious studies is uncommon. It is thus presented here as a viable option to address the critique of epistemologically weak research methodology in religious studies.
The title of the paper was inspired from an article that was written by Griffith and Griffith (1992) titled Owning one’s epistemological stance in therapy, which addresses the need for therapists to take responsibility for their own beliefs and values in therapy sessions.
This article is based on a conference presentation, which took place at the 2018 American Society for Cybernetics conference held in Chicago.
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