Assessing phenomenology in anthropology: Lessons from the study of religion and experience

K.E. Knibbe, P.G.A. Versteeg

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


How did phenomenology inspire anthropology to re-evaluate its principal method: participant observation? This question is answered by exploring how phenomenology has contributed to the anthropological study of religion. The focus in this field is not only on the way people perceive but also how they experience the world. This allows for a view that does not treat experience of the world separately from cognition of the world. Religion can thus be studied as it is lived and acted in concrete situations. By seeing the scholar as part of the life-world of the people in whose lives she participates, phenomenology in anthropology goes against the tendency to privilege 'scientific' knowledge over other kinds of knowledge. This has some important theoretical ramifications, most notably the refusal to transcend lived experience through theory. This discussion will be illustrated from authors' fieldwork. The influence of phenomenology in anthropology also raises some important doubts. At the end of this article, these doubts will be addressed. Copyright 2008 © SAGE Publications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-62
Number of pages16
JournalCritique of Anthropology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2008


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