What’s not Etic about an Emic Perspective?

The question of who is better suited to describe religious practices, the initiated practitioner or the distanced scholar, the “insider” or the “outsider”, has long haunted religious studies. The question suggests a binary opposition that conceals both the lived experiences of scholar-practitioners and the nuance present in all great scholarship. This binary opposition, or the tendency to dichotomize, also form the basis of the terms “etic” and “emic”. 

The terms were coined in 1954 by linguist Kenneth Pike, who argued that the tools developed for describing linguistic behaviours could be adapted to the description of any human social behaviour. Emic and etic were derived from the linguistic terms phonemic and phonetic respectively, where phonemics refers to elements of meaning and phonetics refers to elements of sound. In the study of religion, emic ha

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