Secrets, Gossip and Betrayal

Doing Fieldwork on the Role of Religion in Moral Orientation in a Dutch Catholic Province


  • Kim Knibbe Groningen University



Catholicism, fieldwork, gossip, moral orientation, Netherlands, secrets


This article discusses the process of doing fieldwork on the role of religion in moral orientation and then writing about it as a series of small betrayals. During the research it became clear that to gain insight into the ways in which moral worlds are constructed and the place of religious institutions and their representatives in these moral worlds, it was very important to understand how individual "shameful" secrets were produced. Furthermore, it was through gossip that I became familiar with the ways people related to the church as an institution with a moral discourse, and with its representatives, the local parish priests. Both in sociology and in anthropology, gossip is seen as a way of creating a shared moral universe. This article examines the ways in which the researcher becomes part of social processes through the sharing of secrets and gossip, and the ethical difficulties that arise from this: on the one hand, it seems imperative not to betray secrets, not to repeat gossip, not to betray the atmosphere of complicity surrounding this. On the other hand, not analyzing how individual secrets are produced through social and cultural processes and ignoring the role of gossip meant leaving out some of the most significant data. Furthermore, it shows that by paying attention to the ways in which gossip and secrets circulate, one can go beyond the “case study” approach that limits much qualitative research on religion.


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Author Biography

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 She has published on religious change in the Netherlands, Nigerianinitiated Pentecostal churches, and phenomenology in anthropology.


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How to Cite

Knibbe, K. (2012). Secrets, Gossip and Betrayal: Doing Fieldwork on the Role of Religion in Moral Orientation in a Dutch Catholic Province. Fieldwork in Religion, 6(2), 151–167.




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