Why Participation Matters to Understand Ritual Experience


  • Kim Knibbe Groningen University
  • Marten van der Meulen Protestant Theological University
  • Peter Versteeg VU University




intersubjectivity, mediumistic consultation, participation, praying, ritual experience


Two cases in which researchers take part in religious ritual show how being a participant enhances the researcher’s understanding of what is happening. Through these cases the authors attempt to shed light on the methodological problems concerning the “intersubjectivity” of research on ritual. Ritual goes beyond the verbal and pulls bodily sensations, emotion and gestures into the domain of intersubjectivity established through fieldwork. Experiencing the emotional and physical sensations that accompany ritual give the researcher a clue as to what other participants experience. But maybe more importantly, the participation of the researcher also triggers reflections on the meaning and efficacy of the ritual. These verbalized interpretations of what has happened may further strengthen the researcher’s understanding. The authors argue that it is exactly through putting this intersubjectivity at the centre of both the actual fieldwork and the subsequent analysis that the ever flexible and contested nature of ritual and the dynamic tension between semantic and tacit meaning can be most fruitfully explored.


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Author Biographies

Kim Knibbe, Groningen University

Kim Knibbe is assistant professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at Groningen University in the Netherlands. She worked as a post doctoral researcher at the VU University of Amsterdam within a NORFACE funded project initiated by the GloPent network on Nigerianinitiated churches in Europe from 2007–2010 (see www.glopent.net). She has published on religious change in the Netherlands, Nigerianinitiated Pentecostal churches, and phenomenology in anthropology.

Marten van der Meulen, Protestant Theological University

Marten van der Meulen is an associate professor in the sociology of religion at the Protestant Theological University in Kampen. His research focuses on religious congregations and civic participation, in particular immigrant churches in the Netherlands. Additionally he is interested in Evangelical movements.

Peter Versteeg, VU University

Peter Versteeg is a cultural anthropologist, working as project coordinator of VU Institute for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society (VISOR), and as a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Theology, VU University, Amsterdam. His research interests include ecstatic religion, contemporary spirituality, the methodology of the empirical study of religion, and religion and fiction.


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How to Cite

Knibbe, K., van der Meulen, M., & Versteeg, P. (2012). Why Participation Matters to Understand Ritual Experience. Fieldwork in Religion, 6(2), 104–119. https://doi.org/10.1558/firn.v6i2.104