Western Questions and Devout Silence – on Researching Disasters in Highly Religious Settings
Three years after the disastrous events, we conducted research in this area centered around the vulnerability of the people in the face the disaster and their explanations of the events. Accompanying pilgrims on their way up the mountains to remote temples, we were confronted with highly religious people praying and performing religious rituals, who were undeterred by the recent disaster and the permanent dangerous high altitude environment. This situation evoked questions whether it is possible and/or appropriate to ask pilgrims “rational” scientific questions about vulnerability and disasters while they were experiencing the whole situation as devout. This led to deeper reflections on contradicting epistemological foundations of Western scientific rationality and religious worldviews as well as experiences.
Based on the case study we will elaborate on general (research) ethical questions and the implications for disaster research in terms of difficulties and challenges of researching disasters in highly religious contexts where common research methodologies and approaches are not applicable (or appropriate). This also implies reflecting on our own (self-)identity and positionality as Western and non-Hindu researchers and the implicit expectations of the research field.