Teaching Qualitative Research ?

In a recent blog entry from about a month or so ago, Gordon Mikoski raised an important question on the role of qualitative research for the interdisciplinary promise of practical theology with the humanities.  Within these very helpful reflections on the possibilities of working with interdisciplinary studies in the arts, literature, or (from an earlier entry) aesthetics, etc., the hermeneutical character of our work is an important facet is such ventures into qualitative research, as Gordon notes.  We could emphasis within that point the heuristic nature that dominates our fields of inquiry.  The value of qualitative research has been an increasing phenomenon in practical theology for much of the past fifteen years, but obviously not limited to this recent influx.  I have noticed how difficult it is to teach qualitative research that is broad enough to nurture the interdisciplinary demands of practical theology.  Many of us privilege one or two dominant methodologies, perhaps most prevalent have been case studies and ethnography.  Both methodologies are incredibly vital for practical theology and I believe we should continue to nurture and develop them.  I wonder also, however, if our graduate programs privilege one or two methodologies within our doctoral curricula to the undesirable exclusion of others when teaching qualitative research, and thereby risk narrowing our interdisciplinary aspirations.  I cannot claim personal insight into this question aside from what I have learned from team teaching qualitative research with a colleague in the School of Ed. (Bruce Fraser), during my recent tenure at Boston University.  Prior to this team teaching venture across several years, my own teaching of qualitative research was almost limited to the predominant forms in practical theology I used in my own research and even more prior course work in case studies and congregational studies, both of which I continue to use and value.  I had always found it difficult to weave in my own preferences for phenomenological methodologies.  The interdisciplinary approach to actually team teaching qualitative research to graduate students from across the research departments, in the humanities in particular, helped immensely to give me and I believe graduate researchers not only a broader and deeper understanding of the available research methodologies, but more importntly how they differently relate strongly to/within/from particular disciplines, and when and how (including the risks) to use them cross-disciplinarily.  This approach to teaching qualitative research is more overview, and that too has its own risks, but the students are encouraged still to select dominant methods within or related to their foundational disciplines and then to build or branch from there.  I continue to use this approach now as I am teaching qualitative research here at Vanderbilt University for practical theology studies in our “Theology & Practices” concentration/curricular design.  I find the cross-disciplinary approach particularly helpful in nurturing practical theology’s heuristic hermeneutics with the humanities, which holds great advantages, I believe, in developing research methodologies in our field.  In turn, I would be quite interested in learning more about other approaches you may have found helpful in teaching qualitative research along with the risks you’ve encountered. Dale P. Andrews, Vanderbilt University

This entry was posted in From APT. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *