This seminar considers how ethnography might be employed as a pastoral discipline. Students will be introduced to the process of applying systematic ethnographic methods in a congregational setting. Ethnography typically involves the observation and study of people in their natural settings. Here we focus on churches and their contexts (neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities).

Ethnography’s potency resides in its ability to undermine assumptions and give voice to those who have been previously muted (diverse kingdom and listening well). It allows for reinterpretation and restructuring in a way that nurtures the creation of better maps and better stories. Along the way, though, ethnography may yield more complicated and less linear explanations of congregational culture(s) (life and ministry are complex).

The course will also introduce students to the scholarship of engagement through a central, culminating project that will engage the students in the study of a local congregation. These original ethnographic studies of congregations will give particular attention to two aspects: (1) the nature of a church as a social institution and (2) the vision of society that is implicit in the practices of the congregation.Throughout the course we will be building a theoretical and analytical “toolbox” for considering the church as a social institution embedded within a wider societal context (excellent research). The “toolbox” will, hopefully, allow students to attend to the actual life of the church and, in turn, process those patterns and habits through a theological lens that allows for strengthened congregations (serve local churches and leaders).