Accepted paper:

Between God and the faithless fieldworker


Mythily Meher (University of Auckland)

Paper short abstract:

Troubled by my atheism, Didier, like my other Christian informants, often sought to convert my faith. Here, I draw on one such conversation to consider how admitting godlessness shaped my field, opening some lines of enquiry, closing others.

Paper long abstract:

As an atheist, I was a moral anomaly amongst my Christian, Burundian informants in Sydney, Australia. If asked, I would respond frankly about my personal beliefs; I imagined this to be customary in the long history of anthropologists building relationships with people with whom they do not share a faith (even though such admissions and their effects are seldom written up). In my case, being honest instantly withered some connections, and often tilted hanging out towards discussions of my atheism, particularly with one informant, Didier, whose curiousity and concern about my godlessness often surpassed my interest in his faith. In this paper, I take seriously the questions posed to me by Didier and others: how did I, a non-believer, expect to understand faith's role in healing and resilience, as I sought to in my research? Was I not morally unequipped? I present one conversation with Didier on our respective moral orders (and their unlikely potential to change), and use it to structure a consideration of how anthropology's moral agnosticism shaped my field; the co-created lines of enquiry it opened, and those it foreclosed.

panel Ethn03
Intimacy & information: dilemmas of power, trust and property in the informant encounter