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In almost every graduate program in Religious Studies and many undergraduate majors you will find a course on theories and methods in the study of religion. Usually, in these types of courses you will find lots of Freud, Marx, and Durkheim but there is generally very little directed training in research methods. As a discipline there has been a general lack of interest in research methods as well (at least as witnessed by publications). Michael Stausberg, Professor at University of Bergen, and Steven Engler, Professor at Mount Royal University, have ventured to fill this lacuna with The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion  (Routledge, 2011).

The Handbook leads readers through issues in three categories, Methodology, Methods, Materials. Chapters were produced by an international group of scholars and cover a wide range of topics that will be useful for the anthropologist, sociologist, or historian of religion/s. The Handbook also articulates the relationship between methods, data, and theory and effective processes for employing the most beneficial research model. In our conversation we discussed research design, grounded theory, the comparative study of religion, the phenomenological approach, discourse analysis, ethnography, redescription, as well as thoughts on the state of Religious Studies.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel Gill March 5, 2014 at 5:33 pm

So yeah I am within a discourse surrounding the idea of hyperborea in the sense that… there is a connection between wilderness, chilling cold, and the shudder from the ghost . Everyone knows this, too. It’s almost too obvious to notice. I’m not speaking of hyperborea as a literal place but a figurative place. When we think of ghosts and ghost stories, we immediately think of the north, New England, Arkham, etc.. around this area where Stephen King situates many of his stories , and where the Wendigo haunted the Quebec backwoods in Blackwood’s story. It’s just that I have found these ideas peppered throughout writing like Korean shamanism that I never expected but only wished to see it. Chongho Kim didn’t cite Rudolf Otto. It would have been wonderful and fascinating had he done so. This is a shamanism or a lyncanthropy uniquely my own. I grew up in Montreal so it’s fascinating for me to look into shamanism through this lens but I am lost really on what books to read .

Daniel Gill March 5, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I’m interested in studying… a kind of extremely modern view of gnosis that has arisen really since the 1990s , the idea of dissolution or consumption of the ego or the self devoured by the Wilderness or realm of Hungry Ghosts, the ritual death that initiates new shamans. I’ve been isolating this within English writing.

Is there anything in there on the gothic, weird, numinous – analysis based on Rudolf Otto’s Idea Of The Holy and his theory of daemonic-dread ? I’m an English literature major and the most inspiring book I have –ever read– has been Coleridge And The Daemonic Imagination by Gregory Leadbetter . It’s an analysis of Coleridge’s process of coming into enlightenment that he expresses through the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and his other poems. Leadbetter’s book bases its thesis on notebooks that Coleridge had secretly wrote of his transnatural state in. Another influential similar thesis is argued in Hans Peter Duerr’s Dreamtime: Concerning The Boundary Between Wilderness And Civilization , and Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium I . This semester, I am writing a paper on hyperborean gnosticism the wilderness poetry of Sir Charles G. D. Roberts compared with the horror fiction of Algernon Blackwood – most notably his short story called The Wendigo – for a Canadian writing class. And uh.. I’ve found daemonic-dread within the initiation ritual of Korean shamans in a book by Chongho Kim titled Korean Shamanism: The Cultural Paradox .

from Chongho Kim’s book,

-A Haunted Feeling-

Soh Bosal started the kut ritual with a drum, sitting together with Oki’s Mother on the mat. It was a very cold and windy night even though it was spring. Everything seemed to be frozen in the spring cold. It was so cold that I came back to the car for a rest while Soh Bosal performed the first phase of the kut. I was not keen to observe the first phase, because it just consisted of routine procedures. I took a cigarette out of my pocket and put it in my mouth. Suddenly I felt a strong haunted feeling in the air around me. It felt as if a ghost was going to jump in front of the windscreen. I was so scared that I felt goose bumps appearing on my skin, and a shiver ran down my spine. I turned on the car’s interior light and looked in the rear vision mirror, because it felt as though a ghost was about to enter the car through the rear windscreen and squeeze my neck from the back seat. I locked all of the doors. But still the spooky feeling did not go away. So I switched on the radio and turned up the sound … I began to talk to myself … [What] is the reason I was possessed by a haunted feeling just now? … What did Mirim’s Mother say to you? She said, “I do not like to see kut rituals, where there seem to be lots of ghosts around. I feel as if worms are going around my body.” Yes! The haunted feeling … Chisun’s Grandmother said to me, “… The waves of life made me know this way.” … Linda … asked me in a letter “Why do they take responsibility for the ‘dark’ side of life?” … I continued to talk to myself… Because of the dark side of social life, there is a cultural domain dealing with the experience of misfortune in Korean culture. In contrast to ordinary domains, the field of misfortune is full of darkness and dampness. Look at this kut for Oki’s Mother! Isn’t it full of darkness? … It is my impression that shamanism looks like a poisonous creature. Korean shamanism is very colourful: its dances and music are dynamic, and costumes are full of bright colour. However, most adult Koreans know of its poisonousness. This is why Yongki’s Mother said, “I’m not going to a kut ritual because I am afraid of being possessed by the spirits!” (kwisine ssiuiulggaba). Is there any ordinary Korean who likes to be possessed? This is why they don’t like to be involved in shamanic practices. This is why shamanism has been stimatized in Korean history. This is also why my research has encountered such strong resistance in the field. The field which I have been investigating is the field of misfortune! Why do people seek shamanic practices even though they don’t like shamanism? How can this paradox be explained? Yes! Like cures like. The mode of shamanic healing is homeopathic. It is like using derivates of poison when one is bitten by a venomous snake. In Korean society, there is no one who suffers from misfortune more than the shaman, and no man or woman ever wants to be a shaman. The shamanic illness, an extreme of misfortune, makes the shaman a healer. … the Stick held by Oki’s Mother still showed no sign of being possessed, even though it sometimes shivered a little bit. Soh Basal asked again, “Is it like something has come?” Oki’s Mother replied shakily, “Well… I don’t know. The Stick shivered a little bit… ”

I’ve also found daemonic dread as an important objective sensation in Shinto rituals. This is a great quote from a recent article on the Japanese tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry for the London Review of Books, and although Rudolf Otto is woefully under cited I did find a Japanese author writing on Shinto make important citation of him for the awe of the kami ( here – ).

“Even before the tsunami struck its coast, nowhere in Japan was closer to the world of the dead than Tohoku, the northern part of the island of Honshu. In ancient times, it was a notorious frontier realm of barbarians, goblins and bitter cold. For modern Japanese, it remains a remote, marginal, faintly melancholy place, of thick dialects and quaint conservatism, the symbol of a rural tradition that, for city dwellers, is no more than a folk memory. Tohoku has bullet trains and smartphones and all the other 21st-century conveniences, but it also has secret Buddhist cults, a lively literature of supernatural tales and a sisterhood of blind shamanesses who gather once a year at a volcano called Osore-san, or ‘Mt Fear’, the traditional entrance to the underworld.”


“Hijikata revived a literary form which had flourished in the feudal era: the kaidan, or ‘weird tale’. Kaidankai, or ‘weird tale parties’, had been a popular summer pastime, when the delicious chill imparted by ghost stories served as a form of pre-industrial air conditioning. Hijikata’s kaidankai were held in modern community centres and public halls. They would begin with a reading by one of his authors. Then members of the audience would share experiences of their own: students, housewives, working people, retirees. He organised kaidan-writing competitions, and published the best of them in an anthology. Among the winners was Ayane Suto, whom I met one afternoon at Hijikata’s office.”

compared with

The Skater by Sir Charles G. D. Roberts,

The Skater

My glad feet shod with the glittering steel
I was the god of the wingèd heel.

The hills in the far white sky were lost;
The world lay still in the wide white frost;

And the woods hung hushed in their long white dream
By the ghostly, glimmering, ice-blue stream.

Here was a pathway, smooth like glass,
Where I and the wandering wind might pass

To the far-off palaces, drifted deep,
Where Winter’s retinue rests in sleep.

I followed the lure, I fled like a bird,
Till the startled hollows awoke and heard

A spinning whisper, a sibilant twang,
As the stroke of the steel on the tense ice rang;

And the wandering wind was left behind
As faster, faster I followed my mind;

Till the blood sang high in my eager brain,
And the joy of my flight was almost pain.

The I stayed the rush of my eager speed
And silently went as a drifting seed, –

Slowly, furtively, till my eyes
Grew big with the awe of a dim surmise,

And the hair of my neck began to creep
At hearing the wilderness talk in sleep.

Shapes in the fir-gloom drifted near.
In the deep of my heart I heard my fear.

And I turned and fled, like a soul pursued,
From the white, inviolate solitude.

compared with Rime Of the Ancient Mariner ,

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring—
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze—
On me alone it blew.


so that’s where I am going with this,

the chill of the North Wind, connected to the realm of Hungry Ghosts , goblins, werewolves, and so on.. the theme of the transnatural running throughout their work, as a swan dive into the abyss , a descent into the infernal world, the transgressive or the pagan, that is at the heart of the greatest english writing that exists, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Frank Herbert’s Dune, or the Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings and his One Ring.

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