Engaged Research in the Study of Religion
The author contends that there is a need for greater engagement in research in the study of religion, drawing on his own experiences of engagement, involving the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements, relations with the media, acting as an expert witness in litigation, and participation in events which are sponsored and financed by religious organisations. Scholars frequently feel the need to “pay back” the communities they study on account of their cooperation and provision of data. This can be done by ensuring that publication is fair and accurate, while at the same time being vigilant that undue involvement and acceptance of hospitality does not prevent the maintenance of critical distance in one’s writing. Responding to individual enquiries about one’s work is also discussed. It is concluded that there is a need to consider whether one’s work is for one’s own benefit, or for the wider community outside academia, and that the aims of the study of religion need to be defined to reflect scholarly engagement with societal issues.