Carriers of Tales: On Assessing Credibility of Apostate and Other Outsider Accounts of Religious Practices
by Lewis, F. Carter
published in the book The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements
edited by David G. Bromley
Praeger Publishers, Westport Connecticut (1998). ISBN 0-275-95508-7 Page 221-223, 225-237
Copyright © 1998 by David G. Bromley
Carriers of Tales: On Assessing Credibility of Apostate and Other Outsider Accounts of Religious Practices
By Lewis F. Carter
Practitioners of many religions are periodically challenged to respond to "outside" reports, allegations, claims, and constructions of their practices and ancillary behavior attributed to their members, leaders, and organizations. Several mainstream Christian traditions have recently had to deal with legal and other inquiries into clergy malfeasance (Shupe 1996), and many sects as well as "new religious movements" come under frequent scrutiny triggered by claims of exotic and/or other practices which may run counter to external societal laws or norms.
Although some claims of inappropriate behavior, sometimes even potentially criminal behavior, are dealt with by external authorities, it is often difficult for potential converts, civil authorities, and researchers of religious movements to assess these claims. Part of the difficulty lies in the sources of such claims, usually outside observers (sometimes hostile or defensive ones), dissatisfied prior members (or near-recruits), or representatives of civil authority. On the other side, defenders of specific religious groups (participating members, leaders) will usually contest any potentially damaging claims. This chapter discusses the dilemma posed for researchers in assessing conflicting claims made by more or less hostile "outsiders" (concerned relatives of recruits, critical members of traditional religions, affiliates of the anti-cult movement, and sometimes law enforcement and regulatory officials), as well as claims made by prior members (apostates or leavetakers from a group), "partial members" who may have become disaffected during group socialization, and recruits who will have had somewhat limited contact with groups. The chapter explores the importance of triangulation, especially of genuinely independent corroboration, and internal (rhetorical and other) evidence which should be brought to bear in examining claims. A case study is developed to illuminate these issues. The case involves the social construction of voter manipulation at Rajneeshpuram in Oregon in 1984, as developed through apostate accounts, accounts of recruits, accounts of "victims," and documentary evidence (including some internal analysis of the rhetoric of claims and counterclaims).
It is important for us to distinguish between the content of the claims about the characteristics and practices of a group, the relationships of our sources for those claims to the group, and negotiations or reformulations of claims which may occur when our sources work with other organizations. Zablocki (1996) distinguishes sources of information about religious groups into "believer," "apostate," and "ethnographer" accounts. Focusing on comparisons of believer and apostate accounts, he demonstrates that, in the aggregate, there is very little difference between the reliability (that is, stability across time) of accounts from believers and ex-believers (or apostates). The validity picture is a bit more complex. Believers (current practitioners) were found to be more likely to minimize or ignore negative traits in a community. Not surprisingly, apostates (exbelievers or ex-practitioners) were more likely to identify negative traits which the group did not in fact exhibit. Zablocki contends that ethnographer accounts, written from the perspective of an outsider, usually augment direct observation with considerable reliance on both believer and apostate accounts, and he argues that triangulation - using a number of data sources with differing perspectives - is essential for offsetting the inherent biases in reports from the different frames of reference. In addition to these, researchers also sometimes gain insights from documentary evidence of various kinds, as well as narratives and evidence compiled by "opponents" of religious groups and by officials of various kinds. While the negative motivational bias of opponents of religious groups may be taken as a given and some of their narratives amount to little more than unverified atrocity tales (Chapter 9 in this volume), nevertheless, information assembled by opponents is sometimes quite specific and subsequently verifiable; this is especially true of financial records, incorporation papers, court cases, and other kinds of documentary evidence which some opponent groups will collect in dossiers that sometimes reflect considerable technical skill.
KNOWLEDGE, MOTIVE, NEGOTIATION, AND CREDIBILITY
The researcher's dilemma is that each source of information- of believers, apostates, ethnographers, and opponents- has different strengths and weaknesses. Active members are especially well positioned in terms of firsthand knowledge of the practices of a group, while at the same time being most motivated by both perception and by group pressure to emphasize positive aspects of those practices and to censor damaging perceptions. Apostates, or those ex-members who have taken leave from a group, may be as well positioned as current members in terms of knowledge, but their perceptions are more likely to be equivocal or negative. We shall contend later that both members of and apostates from hierarchical groups well may vary considerably in terms of knowledge about the group, and for this reason it is crucial to know the respondents' location in the group and the degree of access which they have had to inner circles. A skillful and committed opponent may know more about some limited aspects of a hierarchical group than will a lower-echelon member. Professional ethnographers will supplement their direct observations with information from all of these sources, and we will develop an argument suggesting that ethnographers may be seen in some ways as "serial apostates," in that their frames of reference will vary through time - with an emphasis on emic (or internal) definitions when in the field setting, and more emphasis on comparative and etic (or external) definitions when back in the academy. Given these obvious strengths and weakness associated with the credibility of accounts from these sources, researchers (cf. Richardson, Balch, and Melton 1993; Zablocki 1996) conclude that some form of triangulation employing both believer and apostate accounts (as well as direct observation, opponent data, and documentary evidence) may be essential for valid reconstruction of the practices and actions of religious groups. In the Rajneesh case study developed later, we will illustrate the utility of documents - legal identities, medical or educational records, and financial records - in independent assessment of claims, and show specific ways in which triangulation among insider and outsider claims, logs, letters, official records, and personal experience can assist in establishing credibility of the claims of ex-insiders.
I have intentionally switched language here from believer-apostate-ethnographer accounts to the two older terms, "insider and outsider." The reason for this is that the underlying dilemmas of credibility seem to depend on matters of knowledge, motive, relationships, and the social or interactional circumstances under which narratives are produced. Although convenient as shorthand, the categories "believers," "apostates," and "ethnographers" and "opponents" are neither totally distinct in terms of knowledge, motivation, and relationships, nor are these categories homogeneous with respect to what is known, what is told, why it is told, and how it may be reformulated in the telling. Further, access to knowledge and the influence of both inside and outside influences on the narrator will usually vary with the openness or isolation of the group and the extent to which the group is hierarchically organized. Figure 1 summarizes some of the contextual influences likely to impinge on the different types of narrators.
The term "believer" is itself a bit troublesome, in that it too involves a claim, one that we as researchers must generally take at face value based on self-reports. The history of the inquisition and other milder tests of "belief" attests to the problematic and troublesome nature of the identity "believer," even for (or perhaps especially for) official representatives of a faith. At an operational level, the category believer is generally used to refer to the collection of "members" or participants who view themselves and are viewed by others as adherents of a faith or group.
What is special about "believer" accounts then is a matter of knowledge, motivations, and context in which narratives are constructed. Believers are insiders, who are positively disposed toward a group, usually avidly so, whose accounts usually are given in the presence of (or with likely access by) other believers. Such narratives are often intended to justify membership which may involve some degree of sacrifice and often the accounts are intended to attract others. Such insiders share some special knowledge of the group, its beliefs, official practice, and actual internal practice, which will not be so readily available to outsiders. However, "apostates" (those who have abandoned the claim to belief) will have as much knowledge of the internal workings of a group as any current practitioner (member in good standing) to the degree that the apostate previously attained a comparable level of membership. To the degree that the ethnographer penetrates, participates in, and is accepted by a group, he or she may have knowledge of the internal workings of a group equivalent to, or exceeding, that of many members.
To be sure, almost by definition, the more esoteric (and closed) a group, the greater will be the difference in what is known by insiders and outsiders, and the more resistant to external scrutiny will be the group. The point here is that rather than focusing categorically on the identity of the respondent, researchers concerned about credibility of an account should focus on what knowledge the informant can be expected to have, how the respondent's motives are likely to influence what is communicated, and how that communication may have been shaped by any negotiation of status with groups of others.
Especially in hierarchical groups, members may differ radically among themselves in terms of their knowledge of the practices of a group, because of both personal differences and structural ones. At the personal level will be differences in curiosity, intelligence, dedication to learning about prescribed knowledge, differences in accessing outside and perhaps proscribed knowledge, and the amount of interest in processing such knowledge. The stratification of groups means that in all but the smallest and most isolated communal group, knowledge will vary, often considerably, across types of members. Although movements vary in terms of the degree of stratification, the Rajneesh movement, which forms the basis for our illustrative case study, was not at all unusual as a "new religious movement" in that the adherents were composed of a number of clearly defined strata:
- The spiritual leader (Bhagwan, in that case)
- A principal lieutenant (There and often, the CEO of the faith)
- A core group (There the "Ma-Archy" and a few personal intimates)
- Officials overseeing routine functions (There the managers and the "Peace Force")
- Ordinary members in residence or in regular association
- Peripheral members, aspiring to closer contact or perhaps drifting away
- New recruits or inductees
- Potential recruits who have indicated some interest
While members of any of these categories, certainly the first seven, would likely be classified as "believers," they will differ radically in terms of their knowledge of the inner workings of the group. On the point of knowledge, with some caution in terms of motivation, we could expect to learn a great deal more about some facets of a group from an apostate who was once highly placed than from a current believer who is less so. In some cases, the outsider opponent may have more knowledge of financial or controversial matters; Rajneeshpuram was not unusual in terms of residential hierarchical groups in having had rigid limitations on outside news and contacts. On the other hand, matters of motivational profile, personal practice and belief, and psychological profiles of members will be much better served by emphasizing characteristics of current practitioners.
Especially in reclusive hierarchical groups, believers will be strongly motivated to avoid the appearance of criticizing the group. As Rajneeshpuram was shutting down, lower- and middle-level residents reported having been most concerned that any expression of "negativity" would result in their expulsion. Finally, where groups are sufficiently isolated and regimented to control access by outsiders, believers have little opportunity or motivation to explore their beliefs with outsiders. Consequently, consistent and collective narratives are regularly reinforced. The later discussion of ethnographic practice suggests that thi s collectively reinforced frame of reference not only influences members, but can exert a powerful influence on the perceptions of the ethnographer-in-field.
Bromley (Chapter 2 this volume) uses the term "apostate" to designate ex-members who develop an association with other groups, often those of the anticult movement (ACM), and that assumed role involves negotiation of their accounts, usually shaping those accounts in special ideological directions which may be summarized as the "captivity narrative." I use the term "apostate" in the less specifically role-related sense of one who has (or appears to have) abandoned a belief, faith, or cause. Bromley's observations concerning the positive interdependence of the anti-cult movement and "career apostates" should caution us especially about how accounts of such "leavetakers" may be shaped by the desire to be accepted by opponents of the group in which they were a member (just as narratives of current practitioners are shaped by their desire to maintain a good impression of themselves within the group of which they are members). Further, the relationship between informants and journalists, law enforcement agencies, and yes, even academic researchers, can shape the narratives jointly produced in their interviews (or interrogations).
Role theorists tend to focus on what I termed earlier "career apostates," persons who assume an active role in the anti-cult movement (Chapter 2 this volume; Bromley and Shupe 1986). While acknowledging that "career apostates" constitute a particularly important variant of more general "leavetaking" because of the role they play as resources for the anti-cult movement, focusing exclusively on those who have made a career of their apostasy would give a distorted view of both those members who subsequently disaffiliate and the processes by which they come to leave new religious movements.
Bromley's analysis (Chapter 2 this volume) of apostate narratives reveals recurrent themes of victimization and coercion, likely shaped at least in part by some of the circumstances of their exits. Such factors may include explanations for their previous affiliation (Chapter 3 this volume), often in conflict with preferences of earlier family and friends, justification for actions which they may now see as undesirable, the effects of "deprogramming" (or re-programming) experiences, and conditions for retaining the attention of the anti-cult movement, media representatives, or publishers. A notable example of the latter is the book Bhagwan: The God that Failed, in which Hugh Milne (1986), once a trainer of bodyguards for the Rajneesh community, develops a sensational exposé of the movement. Because of Milne's position of considerable trust in the organization, one could argue that he was especially well placed in terms of knowledge. He is most inclusive in his descriptions of negative aspects of the movement, including a number of observations not revealed elsewhere or by others. His story often takes on the "captivity narrative" form identified by Bromley (Chapter 2 this volume). The credibility of his account is, however, rendered questionable by inconsistencies, many claims for which there is no other corroboration, and some items which are simply counterfactual.
A special and extreme case of pressures toward distortion of apostate accounts is likely to be found where members, like the ex-mayor of Rajneeshpuram, become the focus for investigations by law enforcement authorities. In these cases, the motivation to produce something like a "captivity narrative" is perhaps obvious. In the case of central figures in movements this pressure is lessened by the fact that it is less credible, and by the lowered likelihood of a plea bargain. Lower- and middle-status members like the Mayor Krisna Neva, however, may find the temptation to displace blame upward irresistible.
The problem with defining apostates solely as those ex-members (or ex-believers) who have taken on a career role, is that it would lead researchers to minimize the especially valuable potential of those apostates who do not do so. As ex-members, apostates are especially well positioned in terms of knowledge, as well as possibly some elements of motivation. Zablocki's finding that reporting errors were fewer for respondents with "moderate" rather than "extreme" attitudes toward their groups, regardless of whether they were believers, or ex-believers, should be comforting to researchers who are willing to seek out moderate ex-members (and members), for the former may have "insider" knowledge, coupled with an "outsider" detachment. There is also a caution here, since the realities of field research are such that -extremists- (believers and apostates) may be both more visible and more available to researchers than are "moderates."
Ethnographers, and field researchers more generally, constitute an especially problematic case. Most classical ethnographies are written to some extent from an outsider's perspective, although the ethnographic challenge is to translate in ways that communicate across disparate frames of reference. Further, many ethnographies--"have the virtue of a comparative perspective involving an awareness of the theoretical importance of the collectivity … to related social phenomena- (Zablocki 1996). However, the practice of ethnography involves meeting people on their own turf, in their daily activities, using their language, and coming to a greater or lesser degree to share, if only temporarily or periodically, their definitions of reality. It is remarkably difficult to spend protracted periods of time alone, or with few outside anchors, among a set of people who have shared definitions of reality without being profoundly affected by those definitions.
To some extent ethnographers must learn to speak the symbolic language of the community in order to be understood and to understand responses; and in that process, they will find their thoughts and observations shifted toward the frames of reference of the community members. Although 1 neither intended nor did I do anything approaching a classical ethnography of the Rajneesh movement, spending as much of my time with opponents of the movement as with members, 1 found that those associations shaped my language and thought in ways which required some re-socialization upon my periodic re-entry into the academic world. For example, the question, "How did you become a Rajneeshee?" would produce mild annoyance from sannyasin (members), but "How did you find Bhagwan?" produced extensive accounts. The second question implicitly takes an insider perspective. Confusion inherent in this -shuttle- field observation sometimes caused inadvertent mild suspicion from both sides, since members preferred the term "sannyasin" and opponents used the term "Rajneeshee." Similarly, members referred to "Bhagwan" while opponents used "The Bhagwan." There was a constantly shifting frame of reference, from that of adherents to opponents to an "outside" ethnographic perspective which was different from both.
While it would be comforting to imagine the ethnographer to be free of influence from either members or groups in conflict with the focal group, such detachment has not really been possible since the days of "colonial ethnography." Clifford and Marcus's (1996) book Writing Culture contains a provocative set of chapters describing the power relations between early British social anthropologists and their "subjects." The avowed goal was to "translate" the cultures of aboriginal peoples into something understandable to Europeans. However, today aborigine peoples, as well as many religious movements have attorneys, writers, web pages, and other avenues of redress where they feel misinterpreted or compromised. The well-known cases of Synanon and Jonestown, as well as the possibility of litigation and scholarly debate, should alert the academic to the fact that the academy is not as isolated as it once was. Ethnographers are not only open to pressure from the subjects of their inquiries, but from the academy itself which is not totally free from the constraints of "received wisdom" and "political correctness."
Narratives of opponents of religious movements are often dismissed from academic discourse, except perhaps as objects of analysis. However, the contemporary anti-cult movement, as well as somewhat less organized opponents of specific groups often have considerable investigative resources at their disposal. Many opponent groups develop substantial archives of legal documents, incorporation papers, public records, and financial documents. To be sure, these archives are selectively (often admittedly) constructed to emphasize negative aspects of the groups studied. The sophistication of new religious movements, and of their opponents, has developed to the point where both attempt to influence journalists and academic researchers. Further, both groups read what is written about them and their interests, and both groups will utilize academic writings about their positions as ammunition in their cause. There are now two forms of feedback between academic discourse and the political discourse surrounding religious groups. First, some groups will modify their strategies after reading of the problems encountered by other groups. Second, religious movements and their opponents will provide information to researchers, and if this information is published in a form which is desired by the group, will cite the analysis as "objective" corroboration in hearings and other formal proceedings.
The norms of academia make us reluctant to believe or to disseminate negative facets of controversial groups; yet some groups do move beyond the pale of legal or academic tolerance and researchers should examine opponent claims with some seriousness, while recognizing the motivations and pressures which shape opponent data collection and archives.
RAJNEESH HUMANITIES TRUST PROGRAM
Let us now move to an illustration of how information from believers, apostates, academics, opponents, and official records can be used to address the credibility of conflicting claims. The following narrative is a reconstruction of a contested incident in the history of Rajneeshpuram, the controversial charismatic commune established by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in eastern Oregon. Although the story may at times sound rather like a Gothic novel, the composite of insider observations, outsider observations, and an analysis of records permitted development of a narrative which makes sense of several bizarre and otherwise seemingly unrelated incidents-busing of street people to Rajneeshpuram, announcement of write-in candidates for an election, and salmonella poisoning of a large number of Wasco County, Oregon residents. The discussion following the narrative raises questions about the underlying problems in classifying stories as believer, apostate, and ethnographic accounts. The argument is developed that the more basic underlying problem is one of observers and claims based on differences in knowledge, motivation, and some effects of negotiation in the construction of narratives. Knowledge, motivation, and negotiation are presented as variables which cross-cut the categories believer, apostate, ethnographer, and opponent.
One of the most controversial incidents during the years of Rajneeshpuram involved what appears to have been a concerted attempt by leaders of the commune to sweep the 1984 county elections in Wasco County, the county in which the community had been repeatedly blocked by county commissioners in its ambitious expansion program.
Based on testimony from Krishna Deva, the ex-mayor of Rajneeshpuram, it appears that members of the commune leadership intended to elect residents of the commune to two of the three county commissioner positions in the fall election. To this end, they tried to recruit three sets of potential voters:
- all sannyasin (devotees) who were American citizens but not then resident at the ranch
- non-sannyasin who might be sympathetic to Rajneesh candidates
- and when those recruiting efforts appeared to yield fewer voters than required, large numbers of indigents recruited from the streets of American cities.
It also appears that on two occasions salad bars in The Dalles, Oregon, were contaminated with salmonella, apparently as "tests" to see if considerable numbers of county residents could be disabled. The effort was abandoned only after the State of Oregon closed voter registration and the U.S. District Court declined to intervene.
At the time, allegations about an attempt to sweep the elections was dismissed by commune leadership and sympathetic writers as existing "only in rumors circulated by anti-Rajneeshees." Bhagwan's secretary called a news conference in which she claimed that the election bid of the two write-in candidates was merely a "joke." A call by an Oregon congressman for investigation of the poisonings was dismissed as a "rambling incoherent speech."
Krishna Deva's narrative was in the form of testimony given when he was being investigated for suspected participation in the poisonings and other alleged crimes. As one of the core staff members at Rajneeshpuram, his testimony obviously raised credibility questions, and some of the narrative was frankly astonishing even to outsiders familiar with Rajneeshpuram, though it was savored by the anti-cult movement in Oregon. He was a core practicing member of the community whose testimony was used in subsequent prosecutions of other staff members.
Being unwilling to rely solely on a defector's narrative involving such a remarkable election plot, I constructed the following chronology (presented here in abbreviated form) based on information from extremely varied sources.
1. In August 1984, staff at Rajneeshpuram began calling all American sannyasin (devotees) to come to stay at the ranch for the fall, with offers of "fellowships" or "subsidized rates."
2. In August 1984, the staff also sent letters to all "non-sannyasin" who had ever stayed at the ranch to come to the ranch and participate in "a special three-month program" for the fall. Staff response to inquiry about the possibility of a two-week visit was that "this would not likely be possible."
3. In September 1994, a massive recruiting effort began with chartered buses sent to major urban areas of the country to recruit "street people" to come to Rajneeshpuram as part of a philanthropic "share-a-home" program. Over the next month and a half at least 1,455 indigents were transported to the ranch, with the first four busloads arriving September 4-6.
4. On September 9 there was an unexplained outbreak of salmonella poisoning in The Dalles, Oregon which was eventually traced to salad bars in several restaurants.
5. A concerted indoctrination program began at the ranch at this time which urged street people to register to vote in the upcoming election, telling them that the state was trying to deprive them of their right to vote and that groups of people were physical threats to them and the commune.
6. On September 22 (after at least 641 street people had been brought to Rajneeshpuram), a second outbreak of salmonella occurred in The Dalles, this one eventually traced to eight separate salad bars with no common supplier. Samples from the salad bars indicated a single strain of salmonella to be responsible for the poisonings.
7. On October 5 (after at least 1,093 street people had been recruited), Bhagwan's secretary announced the intention to run two write-in candidates for county commissioner positions.
8. On October 7 a ranch spokesperson claimed 7,000 voters at the commune, including 4,000 "Share-a-Home" residents (street people).
9. On October 10 voting registration was suspended by Wasco County (The county received over 2,000 complaint letters from people resident at the ranch who were denied registration.)
10. On October 15 the U.S. District Court refused to order registration to resume.
11. On October 17 (the official deadline for voter registration), five plane loads of sannyasin and one plane of indigents were flown to Rajneeshpuram.
12. On October 18 a spokesperson for the ranch announced the end of the Share-a-Home program
13. When a federal task force entered the ranch the following year, they found among other things a lab facility in Bhagwan's secretary's residence in which were petri dishes with the same strain of salmonella identified earlier in The Dalles.
Assembling and corroborating elements that went into this tale involved:
- Reports from sannyasin residents at Rajneeshpuram at the time of these events, although none claimed knowledge of the salmonella incidents.
- Mail and telephone contact from recruiters from Rajneeshpuram seeking academics to join them for this three-month period.
- Information concerning timing and numbers of indigents entering Rajneeshpuram from an "outsider," a woman in Madras, Oregon, who managed the coffee shop at the bus station where indigents were transferred from chartered buses on which they came from major cities into school buses for transport to Rajneeshpuram.
- Published accounts of interviews with street people, and an account by an undercover journalist who had posed as a street person.
- Records of law enforcement and other public agencies.
- Personal analysis of 2,000 protest letters sent to the Wasco County voting registration office, consistently displaying the themes of fear and persecution, in many cases in the exact phrasing claimed by expelled street people to have been drummed into them over loudspeakers and in mass meetings. Internal analysis of these documents revealed evidence of systematic "coaching." For example, while many of the street people were quite articulate, something over 100 of the protest letters were below a fourth-grade level of literacy in terms of spelling and grammar, yet appended to each was "cc: Rajneesh Legal Services." It was not credible that individuals who wrote as poorly as these letters indicated would have known enough to send a "courtesy copy" to their attorneys.
The ethnographer is vulnerable to considerable confusion from moving in the field among people with competing and conflicting definitions of reality. The immersion of participating in ceremony and exchange in a world which is very different from the academic one produces more profound disorientation. As you learn to talk about and experience the world (physically and symbolically) in a believer community, you find yourself seeing and interpreting the world in those terms. The first return to the university after contact with Rajneesh followers and their opponents was a profoundly unsettling experience, because I came to see my own (previous) world through very different eyes. Field researchers do not just study people in the same sense as survey researchers or library researchers. We develop long-term mutual relationships, expectations, and obligations, some of which may make little sense in other frames of reference. To the extent that an ethnographer is successful, he or she will learn to participate in joy, humor, feast, exchange, suffering, and reflection. Yet, we return to the academy and write our own narratives.
To the extent that the ethnographer's frame of reference approximates that of his/her relations in the field and his/her relations in the academy, he or she may be in a sense a "serial apostate." That is, in each setting there are ways of perceiving, describing, and experiencing the world (belief, if you will) which are simply incompatible with each other. The reformulation of field experience into ethnographic narrative in "the objective language of scientific observation and inquiry" (Zablocki 1996) may itself constitute a "negotiated narrative" in a sense related to what Bromley describes with "apostate narratives." Were I to write an academic narrative of my experiences on a vision quest or in other ceremonies, in the language of those experiences, I would likely raise eyebrows in both ceremonial and academic cultures.
The pressure is somewhat different in its direction from the narratives of career apostates which Bromley characterizes, in that, unlike the anti-cult movement, the academic world does not push one toward extreme negative characterizations. Another difference is that while the "serial apostate" may periodically lose touch with (or abandon) some of the beliefs and orientations of the field context or the academic context, he or she has no intention of abandoning either world; there are long-term commitments and obligations in both. The values of both systems forbid some kinds of narrative revelation, and in this post-modem world the narrative of the academic is available for critique by academic colleagues and members of the other culture alike.
Nevertheless, the ethnographic narrative is subject to a number of constraints in terms of its genuineness (authenticity, perhaps). In many cases, other researchers will have experience in the same or similar cultures and this community of scholars impels both conscientiousness and discretion. Further, post-modem religious and other communities have their own web pages and have access to the pages of others on the World Wide Web, as well as access to libraries and professional journals. A prudent contemporary ethnographer, who honors the long-term relationships, will check with the subjects of his or her narratives as to the accuracy and propriety of a narrative. Finally, members of both cultures are likely to scrutinize conclusions, especially novel or unsettling ones, in terms of corroborating evidence. Both groups will ask questions like those suggested earlier for researchers, questions like, "Does the writer have the knowledge implied in the account?" "What is the motive for the account?" "How may the knowledge base, motive, and relationships with others shape and/or distort the account?"
Since most religious movements have some esoteric components, information differentially available to insiders, researchers must access that insider information to understand and account for the beliefs and practices of those movements. The problem is that in many traditions "believers" (or current practitioners) may tend to edit what they report into terms which show the movement in a positive light. Narratives will tend to justify membership and to avoid any revelations which might jeopardize continued affiliation. Ex-members (apostates, if you will) may have both the insider information and be freed from some of the reporting constraints of insiders. However, many apostates have a countervailing set of motivations for bias in the direction of negative reports about a movement, either to justify their disaffiliation, to please relatives who were disturbed by their affiliation, or to ensure their place in groups opposed to their previous affiliation with the religious movement that they describe. While the conventional academic wisdom characterizes the ethnographer as limited in knowledge by virtue of status in the academic setting, academics reporting on cultures other than their primary one will in fact vary radically in terms of the degree of participation in those cultures.
Triangulation across the evidence provided by narratives of believers, apostates, ethnographers (and other sources) is obviously essential, easy to advise, and difficult to meticulously execute. With each type of informant it is crucial that we ask a series of questions. From what frame of reference were the observations made? Does the narrator have, or was he positioned to have, the knowledge claimed? How might his physical and social location have influenced what was available to be seen or known? What is the motivation for the tailing? How does his interest, motivation, and intended audience affect what is told and how it is packaged?
Finally, the most useful triangulation does not involve a mere summing (subtracting or averaging) of narratives taken from different frames of reference or informants with different motivations, but rather constructing a coherent overview of a movement or tradition which makes sense of the disparate narratives by relating and evaluating their content in some common frame of reference. We should not automatically assume that a narrative is trustworthy or not because of the type of informant. This will sometimes require some evaluation, through corroborating strategies which are difficult to specify in any general sense. In some cases, something approaching certitude about actual events or behaviors may be arrived a(, and we will be able to describe different narratives in terms of the fit between those and that construction of reality. In other cases, researchers will likely be able to do no more than to report and contrast the differences in knowledge, motivations, and perceptions revealed in narratives from different sources. To the degree possible, we seek consistent stories given the expectable, or discoverable, distortions of descriptions from different positions of knowledge, belief, motivation, and social influence.
Finally, it should be noted that while the ethnographic narrative is itself shaped by constraints of both field and academy, we have a dual goal in those narratives: On one side there should be enough insider knowledge to reflect the interrelated web of meanings, beliefs, and perceptions in the culture being portrayed (emic knowledge), and on the other the social analyst seeks to treat that cultural web in a broader cumulative and comparative perspective (etic knowledge).
There is a long tradition of disagreement between researchers who assert that cultural analysis should be based on "emic" principles (insider categories) and those who prefer "etic" principles (outsider categories). There is sometimes the further, almost unstated implication that the etic analysis is (or should be) based in an objective, external reality-the "positivistic truth." See, for example, the contrasting Pike and Harris essays in the book Emics and Enos: The Insider/ Outsider Debate (Headland, Pike, and Harris 1990). Identification of emics with insider knowledge or meaning categories and sties with outsider knowledge or meaning categories is a gross oversimplification of the concepts which these terms are used to reference.
Further, anthropologists are quite variable in the specifics of what they mean by this distinction. Two illustrations of how the emic/etic duality is employed by contemporary ethnographers will highlight the contested nature of the distinction. Headland (Headland, Pike, and Harris 1990, p. 22) notes the following common distinction as capturing some facets of the emic concept, but not all of the implications:
One person will shake hands with you by lifting your hand up to about shoulder height and then drop it, another will move your hand less high and then down again, a third will "pump" it up and down two or three times; in Western culture these may be called etic [external "objective," comment mine] differences and can be viewed as various realizations of the one emic element: "shaking hands" [the internal cultural significance of the disparate physical acts, comment mine]. (quoted from Siertsema 1969, p. 586)
Harris (1968, pp. 48-61) develops the case that emic does not really correspond to "insider knowledge" in that many (or most) "insiders" do not formulate the distinctions made by an anthropologist in emic analysis; they may rather behave as if such internal rules existed, but they are generally unaware of the rules. (I was startled at Rajneeshpuram to find many respondents were unaware of most of Rajneesh's published work; they had been attracted by a single book or discourse.) Harris's distinction may be illustrated by the difference in a Hindu's explanation of why cows (or other meat animals) are not to be killed or eaten as contrasted with an anthropologist or ecologist who might observe that the long-term productivity of land in parts of India is not likely sufficient to maintain so large a population with a meat-based diet (because it takes approximately eight grams of vegetable protein to produce one gram of beef protein). For Harris, emic analysis utilizes the meaning categories and linkages of one culture, whereas etic analysis emphasizes "explanation of human actions in the environmental, the constraints of the 'real world' surrounding human action" (Pelto 1970, p. 83). In spite of the historical value of the emic/etic distinction in making us more aware that these are different cultural frames, there seems to be an emerging consensus that both types of analysis are important for the understanding, explanation, and prediction of human behavior (cf. Humes 1990; Headland, Pike, and Harris 1990).
This is not an argument for meshing the two orientations, but rather for un derstanding and explaining behavior in two different modalities. I could not understand many things at Rajneeshpuram until I learned to accept that Bhagwan's teachings as understood by most of his followers involved a form of radical Advaita Hinduism, radical in the sense that all dualities are dismissed as "illusion" and consequently statements need not be consistent from one moment to the next, certainly not from one year to the next. Indeed, many sannyasin would claim that the very notion of consistency is illusion. This emic knowledge makes it easier to understand the lack of concern for consistency in that community. However, lack of concern for consistency was one of the bases on which enemies of Rajneeshpuram were able to discredit the Bhagwan's varying stories about his reason for moving to the United States-health reasons at one point, and as a religious refugee at another. The surrounding environment, here the European derivative legal and political environment, places great stock in "consistency," especially consistency in stories told to immigration and tax officials. In summary, some of the behavior of sannyasin seemed unfathomable without knowledge of internal orientation and some of the consequences of that behavior mediated by an external legal code are predictable when we view the behavior in "external code." Sannyasin might of course point out that from their frame of reference the notion of consistency is a quaint emic distinction in political/ legal bodies of the United States. Had they been interested in doing so, the community might have fared better had they learned more of the emics of that political culture.
There is a lesson in the classic story of the three blind men describing an elephant as like a thick snake (from the man touching the trunk), a tree trunk (from the man touching the leg), as like a great leaf (from the man touching the ear). The lesson for us is the role of the rhetorically invisible teller of the story, who assumes that both he or she and the audience share a mental model of an elephant, and can thus bring some consistency to the contradictory descriptions.
Figure 1: Contextual Influences on Knowledge, Motivation, and Negotiations for Members, Apostates, Ethnographers, and Opponents
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