Scientific empathy, American buddhism, and the ethnography of religion

The expansion of the use of ethnography in the study of religion has led to substantial methodological confusion. The reflexive ethnographic efforts that exist commonly appeal to the need for ethnographer empathy for field subjects, although the nature and ethical ramifications of this empathy remain poorly explored. This essay offers a model of ethnographic empathy in terms of the methodological observations of Weber, Homans, and Kohut. Using a model of empathy in terms of a reflexive ‘evenly hovering attention’ for data collection, possible gains in the field from this model are explored. These gains include overcoming obstacles to data collection posed by Buddhist research subjects as well as from the psychological idiosyncrasies that any researcher brings to the field situation. Ethical dilemmas resulting from this methodology are also discussed.

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