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16 January 2013

The Effect of Witch Hunts on the Study of "Witches"

My dissertation research was on the Prosperity Gospel. I had intended the project to be multimethod. I had secondary survey data to analyze statistically, and I had hoped to supplement that with qualitative in-depth interviews of lay members of Prosperity congregations. As I have written before, I am convinced that a congressional investigation of prominent Prosperity preachers spelled the demise of the qualitative portion of my dissertation research. I couldn't convince clergy to allow me access to their congregants to interview them, and those I did interview, were quite leery about participating, and ultimately, I was forced to drop the qualitative portion of my project. After nearly six years, the offending congressional investigation ended basically in failure. One reporter at Religion News Service put it this way:
Speaking of blockbusters, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has wrapped up his five-year investigation of six major Christian ministries, launched in the wake of a series of national scandals. The bottom line? Meh.
Authority figures are generally ignorant to the power of their gaze. Short of any legal pronouncements, simply looking in one direction instead of another can have unintended consequences. As congressional hearings are more about political theater than actual information gathering, it's probably worth reminding governmental figures to leave the heavy lifting to the experts.

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