Ethnographic Ecclesiology and the Challenges of Scholarly Situatedness

Gitte Buch-Hansen 1 , Kirsten Donskov Felter 2 , and Marlene Ringgaard Lorensen 3
  • 1 Department of Biblical Exegesis, Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen
  • 2 Centre for Church Research, Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen
  • 3 Department of Systematic Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen


This article reflects on the importance of being aware of one’s own situatedness when carrying out empirical research. The unforeseen outcome of a project in which we studied converting refugees’ encounter with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark provoked these reflections. The fieldwork was carried out in a particular congregation in Copenhagen that has attracted many asylum seekers, primarily of Muslim background. The empirical work revealed that the scholars, as participant observers, experienced the situation in the congregation quite differently than did the refugees. Initially, the scholars did not recognise conflicts and problems related to ethnicity, gender and class among the various groups of refugees. However, interviews based on the refugees’ documentation of their experiences with and within the congregation allowed different perspectives to be articulated. On one hand, perceptual blind spots inspired reflection on the epistemological deficit that characterised the scholarly habitus. On the other, our theological training did enable us to understand the migrant converts’ specific interpretation of the Christian Gospel. The article concludes that it is important to see informants as collaborators with regard to both scholarly reflexivity and the concrete outcome of research in a shared quest for ecclesiological knowledge.

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