Joel Mort

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Comparative Religion

First Advisor

Dr. E. Thomas Lawson

Second Advisor

Dr. Brian Wilson

Third Advisor

Dr. Rudolf Siebert

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Timothy Light

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Concerns about accepted approaches to ethnographic data have arisen in terms of how scholars attempt to explain and interpret the formation, transmission, and persistence of seemingly bizarre religious ideas and practices. I would like to suggest a new way to make sense of ethnographic data regarding religious thought and action.

My contention is that the explanatory and interpretive methods employed by the majority of religion scholars are mistakenly and unknowingly informed by intuitive background theories. As a result of using intuitive assumptions rather than an established scientific theoretical tradition as the basis for interpretive inference the conclusions offered by these scholars are suspect. The reasons for this dearth, particularly in the context of studying African religion, are a combination of a rejection of particular models of explanation, an emphasis on reported informant explanations, and a preoccupation with cultural relativism and so-called political correctness as a defense against participating in an intellectual colonial project.

By showing that acceptable models of explanation are available and giving the example of an emerging approach compliant with one such model I hope to demonstrate that a theoretical tradition in the study of religion is possible and at hand.

Included in

Religion Commons