The Etic and the Emic Approaches

Read/review the following resources for this activity:

🔹 Minimum of 2 scholarly sources (1 for the etic view, and 1 for the emic view). Your source for the emic view should come from someone who writes with authority in the religion you chose. For example, if you chose Buddhism, you could use a quotation from His Holiness, Dalai Lama XIV. You can pick any religion you want to write about.

🔷 etic and emic views described below.

In an essay, apply the etic and emic perspectives to your own religion or a religion with which you have some familiarity.

How would your tradition be described etically? Remember that this is an outsider’sperspective of what can be measured, studied, or observed.

How would it be described emically? Remember that this is an insider’s perspective as seen by practitioners

Writing Requirements (APA format)

Length: 350-500 words (not including title page or references page)

1-inch margins

Double spaced

12-point Times New Roman font

Title page

References page (minimum of 1 scholarly source)

The Etic and the Emic Approaches❗ ❗ ❗

As we begin to explore different religious traditions, it is important that we have some understanding about what it is that we are intending to do. While religion is often deeply personal, and tied to our own meaning-making processes, it is not the purview of religious studies to evaluate “Truth.” Religious Studies, instead, seeks to understand different religious traditions on their own merits, and within their own social and historical contexts. There is no attempt made in religious studies to validate, or invalidate, the truths offered by any religious tradition. To that end, scholars of religious studies do their best to avoid “I think…,” “I feel…,” or “I believe…” statements, and instead rely on statements such as “this tradition thinks…,” “this religion feels…,” or “practitioners of this faith believe…” The evaluation and determination of “Truth” is the purview of Theology. It is important in a course such as this that we are staying true to this goal, both in the interest of creating a safe and open environment, and in the interest of supporting the most effective environment in which to learn about these diverse religious traditions.

In the study of religion, there are two approaches that can be helpful in informing our exploration:


The first is the etic, or outsider’s, view. This view attempts to evaluate a religious tradition from the perspective of what can be measured, studied, or observed. The etic lens can help us to understand the larger historical context in which a religion exists, it can be used in the analysis of sacred texts, and it can be applied to the observation of the material expressions and culture of a given religious tradition.


Second is the emic, or insider’s, view. This is the view of the religion as it is seen by practitioners. This view, though it may be aware of the objective approach, understands the beliefs and culture of a given religion from within the context of that religion’s traditions and core beliefs. In the emic view, sacred texts would be interpreted from the point of view of belief, rather than from the point of view of literary analysis or criticism. The emic view can help us to understand how a given tradition is practiced, how it has developed in terms of its own theological understandings, and how it locates itself in relation to the world around it.

While both views are valuable and informative, they also have their blind spots. The etic view lends itself to authoritarian interpretations, with scholars making statements about the “true” practice of a religion, while they reject and denigrate the practices and understandings of adherents of a given tradition. We see this often being the case, for example, in Buddhism where many early and contemporary Western scholars, influenced by the values of the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance, have suggested that they (as outsiders) understand “True Buddhism,” free from the trappings of “superstition and magic.” The emic view also has limitations, in that practitioners often have difficulty analyzing their own tradition with objectivity. In many cases the emic view favors a traditional view over a historical one and rejects the insights that come from such disciplines as anthropology, sociology, psychology, or textual analysis. In this course, we will attempt to focus on an etic perspective, with some exploration of the emic view. This is especially important to remember when we study a tradition in which we ourselves practice. Our emic lens can give us some insight into the ways in which our religion of choice is practiced, but it can also cause us to reject other perspectives and insights. For this reason, as scholars of religion, we attempt to limit the emic view, especially as it pertains to our own religious tradition.



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