A Conversation about Ethnography and Poetics in the Theological Method


By Susannah Laramee Kidd and Rebecca Spurrier

One of our hopes for this issue was to explore the possibilities and limits of ethnography as theological method. When we discovered that Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Marcia Mount Shoop are writing a book together about race and the Christian church and wrestling with methods adequate to their study of white church cultures, we saw an opportunity to further our own conversation within Practical Matters by listening in on theirs. We invited Susan Dunlap to facilitate a discussion about the task of Christian theology and the use of different theological methods. Drawing on her study of a United Methodist congregation in her previous work Places of Redemption, Fulkerson considers the use of ethnography in an account of relationships in a multiracial congregation, while Shoop evokes the theological poetics she uses to attend to human bodies in Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ. Susan Dunlap shares about her ethnographic research on congregational practices and theologies of healing, which she writes about in Caring Cultures. As they consider the ways racism, social memory, trauma, disruption and transformation affect Christian churches, these three feminist theologians raise questions about the relationship between theological and theoretical modes of interpreting religious experience. All three scholars emphasize the importance of embodiment to theological reflection but examine bodily practices through different lenses. The conversation is divided into two parts: the first highlights different approaches to Christian theological method, and the second explores the importance of theology to the study of religious communities. Both segments illumine practices of theological reflection as these are shaped by academic and congregational contexts.

Part One on theological method.

Part Two on theology and the study of religious communities.

By Susan Dunlap, Mary McClintock Fulkerson, and Marcia Mount Shoop
Susan Dunlap is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology at Duke Divinity School. Mary McClintock Fulkerson is Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School. Marcia Mount Shoop is an ordained minister in the PCUSA and a theologian.