Emory Forum for the Ethnographic Study of Religion

Convened by Don Seeman

Ethnography is both a tool for research and a genre of scholarly literature. As method, it is grounded in participant observation and the insistence on contextual understanding of religious practices, beliefs and institutions. As a genre of scholarly writing, ethnography strives to be holistic, expansive and humanizing. It builds analytic understanding of religion through the prism of local social and moral worlds and through the relationships that ethnographers build with their informants over time.

There is no single approach to ethnographic research or writing, and individual scholars may bring diverse theoretical and methodological resources to bear. Anthropologists, academic scholars of religion and practical theologians have all made use of ethnographic methods in pursuit of different kinds of research questions and agendas. Indeed, we have created this forum as an opportunity for collegial sharing across departments and also because we realize that though Emory University possesses world-class resources in the ethnographic study of religion, their very presence across several departments and programs may render them less institutionally visible than they should be.

The Emory Forum for the Ethnographic Study of Religion is devoted to intellectual exchange and promotion of research among diverse scholars, to the mentoring of students and to the visibility of ethnography as a research method in the study of religion. To that end, we will sponsor lectures by members of the Emory community and outside scholars, support one another’s research, and contribute to the recruitment and training of students in each of our fields. We are hosted by the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory.

All members of our extended academic and intellectual community are invited to participate. During our first year of operation we hosted three guest speakers: Dr. Anderson Blanton, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina, presented on material culture and prayer cloths in the Appalachians; Professor Marla Frederick of Harvard spoke about Black religion in global context; and Professor Hillary Kaell of Concordia spoke about the ethnographic implications of ritual failure among evangelical visitors to the Holy Land. All of the lectures have been recorded and we are currently hoping to prepare an online lecture series. Please check out our website periodically for updates:


It is our hope that the Ethnographic Forum will serve as a model for collaboration among religion scholars, anthropologists and theologians that will be emulated elsewhere. Please contact us if you are a scholar in this area who will be visiting Atlanta or if you are considering an application to one of our doctoral programs in the Graduate Division of Religion or anthropology. We currently enjoy special strengths in the ethnography of American Religious Cultures, Jewish Religious Cultures and West and South Asian Religions, including Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist communities.