A critical examination of patterns of research in the academic study of Shona traditional religion, with special reference to methodological considerations.
This thesis is a critical examination of patterns of research in the academic study of Shona traditional religion, with special reference to methodological considerations. I analyse the methods and approaches used so far by prominent writers in the study of Zimbabwe's Shona traditional religion so that we may be able to develop better ways of researching it. I then discuss ways that ought to inform and direct the research methods that are most likely to yield adequate empirical studies of the Shona people. I analyse works of the "early writers", as well as those of Michael Gelfand, Gordon Chavunduka and Michael Bourdillon. Where relevant, I explore the connection between the researchers' religious, cultural, academic or professional "baggage" and how this relates to their research. Discussing methodological issues such as: the "insider-outsider" question, the "emic-etic" issue, value-judgment as well as the questions of reductionism, "subjectivity" and "objectivity" in scholarship, I examine these writers' attitudes to, and the ways they wrote about Shona traditional religion and cultural practices. I assess their approaches and research methods in relation to those from various disciplines such as history, phenomenology, theology, anthropology and participant observation. I analyse the extent to which these writers, for example, utilised the historical approach or presented insider perspectives in an endeavour to reach an adequate and thorough understanding of Shona religion and culture. In view of the fact that Shona traditional religion is a polyvalent and polymorphic community religion, I argue that no one approach and method can be said to be "the" only method so as to attain a comprehensive understanding of the meanings veiled in Shona religion and culture. Furthermore, given the nature of Shona traditional religion, it is essential for researchers to exploit as much of oral history as possible. Thus, researchers also need to learn the Shona language, live in the community for a long period of time, attend and observe every bit of Shona life so as to see, hear and understand how these phenomena fit together. It is suggested that methodological conversion and agnostic restraint need to be forged into a multi-disciplinary and poly-methodic science of religion in the quest of a research model to be used in order to attain a better understanding of Shona religion, culture and society.