Cognitively Informed Ethnography

Using Mixed Methods to Capture the Complexity of Religious Phenomena in Two Ecologically Valid Settings


  • Hugh Daniel Turpin University of Oxford
  • Mark Stanford University of Oxford



ethnography, mixed methods, cognitive science of religion


Here, we present two case studies which combine ethnographic fieldwork with quantitative methods to describe religious behaviour in two ecologically valid settings. Case Study 1 describes the use of mixed methods to explore whether different types of supernatural agents are associated with different categories of moral transgression in Burma, a syncretic and multi-religious environment which naturally lends itself to this question. In this case study, ethnography plays a key role in designing appropriate questionnaire measures, generating hypotheses, and interpreting the behaviour of experimental participants. Case Study 2 describes the use of mixed methods to investigate the interrelationships between religious scandals and the emergence of ex-Catholicism in Ireland, a country noted for its recent and rapid secularization. Here, ethnography plays a key role in elucidating the limitations of early experimental designs and generating further hypotheses, while surveying in turn addresses issues of representativeness in the fieldwork. Together, these case studies serve to illustrate a number of advantages and challenges that come with adopting a mixed methods approach. We close by outlining four reasons for mixing qualitative and quantitative methods when studying religious cognition in the field, using the case studies above as examples. These are: 1) methodological triangulation, 2) assessment of instruments and procedures, 3) qualitative/quantitative iteration, and 4) capturing the current context in scenarios where existing ethnographic research is sparse or deficient.

Author Biographies

Hugh Daniel Turpin, University of Oxford

Research Associate, Brain, Belief and Behaviour Research Lab, Coventry University

Research Affiliate, Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford

Mark Stanford, University of Oxford

Research Associate, Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford


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How to Cite

Turpin, H. D., & Stanford, M. (2021). Cognitively Informed Ethnography: Using Mixed Methods to Capture the Complexity of Religious Phenomena in Two Ecologically Valid Settings. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 6(1-2), 107–129.