Research Methods for the Study of Religion

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Purple horizon
Picture by Michael Holden

Visual methods take seriously the role of images for academic research, challenging traditional preoccupations with data in the form of numbers and words. Visual methods can be a creative and highly informative way of generating interactions with research participants. Images generated through the research process can also be seen as having a distinctive role to play in representing knowledge in ways that cannot be reduced to text or speech.

Discussion paper

Sarah Dunlop explores the value of visual methods, different approaches to visual research, and key issues for conducting visual research.

Key reading

Sarah Pink (2001) Doing Visual Ethnography. London: Sage, pp.1-14.

This is a key text on the theory and practice of visual research. This part of the book introduces theoretical discussions on the role of the visual in social research.
Marcus Banks (2001) Visual Methods in Social Research. London: Sage, chapters 4 and 5.

Again this is another key text in this area. Chapter 4 explores different approaches to using images in social research, and chapter 5 considers key issues in the production of images in research.


PDF version of this bibliography can also be downloaded.

Banks, M. (2001) Visual Methods in Social Research. London: SAGE.

Banks, M. (2008) Using Visual Data in Qualitative Research. London: Sage.

(eds.) Banks, M. & Ruby, J. (2011) Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Becker, H. S. (1974) “Photography and Sociology.” Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication 1 1: 3-26.

Chaplain, E. (2007) Sociology and Visual Representation. London: Routledge.

Emmison, M. & Smith, P. (2000) Researching the Visual: Images, Objects, Contexts and Interactions in Social and Cultural Inquiry. London: Sage.

Dunlop, S. (2008) Visualising Hope. London: YTC.

Dunlop, S., and Richter, P. (2010) “Visual Methods.” Religion and Youth. Ed. Collins-Mayo, Sylivia and Dandelion, Pink. Farnham: Ashgate, pp.209-16.

(eds.) Knowles, C. & Sweetman, J. (2004) Picturing the Social Landscape: Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination. London: Routledge.

McDannell, C. (2005) Picturing Faith: Photography and the Great Depression. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Morgan, D. (2005) The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Morgan, D. (2012) The Embodied Eye. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Pinney, C. (2004) Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India. London Reaktion Books.

Pink, S. (2007) Doing Visual Ethnography: Images, Media and Representation in Research. 2nd ed. London: Sage.

Pink, S. (2007) The Future of Visual Anthropology: Engaging the Senses. London: Routledge.

Pink, S. (2009) Visual Interventions: Applied Visual Anthropology. Oxford: Bergahn.

Pink, S. (2009) Doing Sensory Ethnography. London: Sage.

Prosser, J. (1998) Image-Based Research : A Sourcebook for Qualitative Researchers. London: Falmer Press.

Rose, G. (2006) Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. London: Sage.

(eds.) Van Leeuwen, T. & Jewitt, C. (2000) Handbook of Visual Analysis. London: Sage.

Williams, R. (2009) “Picturing Religion in Everyday Life.” Sociology of Religion: Newsletter of
the Sociology of Religion Section of the American Sociological Association 
11(1): 4-5.

Discussion questions and exercises

  • What is the role of the visual in social research? What kind of knowledge can be generated and communicated through visual images?
  • What is the distinctive value of visual methods in terms of collecting data and communicating findings?
  • How can an understanding of the history of visual research in anthropology and sociology inform contemporary research practice?
  • In what ways are issues of power implicated in the creation, collection and dissemination of images in social research?
  • Exercises: these group exercises (PDF) have been devised by Sarah Dunlop to help participants get direct experience of different ways of using images and to reflect on the methodological, practical and ethical issues which they raise.

Further online resources

International Visual Sociology Association

Visual Studies – the official journal of IVSA

British Sociological Association Visual Sociology Study Group