There were two classes today, first on Empirical study methods, and later in the after on Tribal Theology.

Empirical Study Methods

The class began with an extensive description of the lecturer, Dr. Chittaranjan Andrade, who is a psychiatrist from NIMHANS, who also has won many state and national awards, international recognition, has written 6 books and 30 chapters in books, he publishes two journals… phew. If you thought this was all… read on… he also plays four musical instruments and plays in an orchestra. He even composes his own music. Enough? Not really… He is an avid mountain-rock climber and has scaled 6 Himalayan peaks!!! Now how’s that for an intro! :)

Dr. Andrade’s class was basically an introduction to empirical research and an mathematics in data analysis. Being a scientist he was a ardent believer in the method, saying that it was completely (in contrast to subjective research by theologians) “objective”.

“The whole purpose is to collect data in an objective way, to obtain objective conclusions.” Empirical method is the “elimination of subjective elements”. “It draws conclusions on the basis of the science of probability.”

I found that when I overlooked his over-dependence on scientific objectivity, his method had immense implications not only for empirical research, but normal thesis writing as well.

A brief listing of points of Empirical Research. Of course he explained each point, but some of them are self explanatory.

1. First we need to choose an area of study

2. Then we need to read as much as we can in this area.
a. We read so that we discover what is written, what has not been written.
b. So that don’t duplicate research and can also see the possibilities. The preliminary reading is primarily on review articles.

3. We then narrow the area.

4. We read further, this time original articles/research.

5. We formulate our topic.

6. State our objectives.
a. An objective is a “clear statement of what the study hopes to achieve.”
(putting our study questions in words)
b. There can be more than one objectives.
c. There is a primary and a secondary objective.
d. Stating objectives before research helps narrow down our research.

7. Construct your hypothesis.
a. The hypothesis is a “clear statement of what you expect to find as a result of your study.”
b. We need a hypothesis because while objectives are the question, hypothesis are the expected answers. The questions guide our methodology, the hypothesis guides our choice of variables.
c. In the proposal we start with a rough idea of what we will find. Through the research we will PROVE it!

8. Need to choose/define variables. Ie. if you want to research “contemporary research on religion” what exactly is the limit of contemporary.

9. Operationalise variables.
This is a very important part of the proposal process; it’s taking a category like “contemporary research on religion” and problematising/operationalising it. Meaning, making it workable for research. So, I could say, the “narrative research on religion.” This is contemporary, but also workable. This is not simply limiting your study, but making the study understandable/workable.

10. Etc… etc… etc.
Andrade went on to talk about samples, statistics etc. But we don’t need to go into that here. He said that all this is a one-month course. What he was simply doing was getting us aware of the issues in research.

He ended with a story of how data is the wood, and all these tools are literally tools, like the hammer, nail etc. The better you get at empirical research, it’s like you have more tools (like saw, chisel etc) that help you make a better house.

Class ended at 3:00pm… next class at 4:00pm.