Gardenstoun is a fishing village in the North-East of Scotland with a population of only 700 and six churches, four of which are branches of the Plymouth Brethren. Anthropology "at home" - within our own culture, rather than that of some exotic Other - undermines many of the assumptions that the study of religion is based upon,...

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on-the-edgeIn this episode of the Religious Studies Project, David Robertson talks to Joseph Webster (lecturer in Anthropology at Queen’s University, Belfast) about his fieldwork in Gardenstoun (usually called Gamrie), a small fishing village on the Aberdeenshire coast in the North-East of Scotland. Despite a population of only 700, the village has six churches, four of which are branches of the Plymouth Brethren, an evangelical conservative Christian denomination which originated in Ireland in the 1820s.

The discussion begins by considering how Joe went about doing his fieldwork, and how to go about doing an anthropology “at home”; within our own culture, rather than that of some exotic Other. They consider how work like this is important in undermining many of the assumptions that the study of religion is based upon. For example, inasmuch as we tend to think of millennialism in contemporary Britain, it would tend to be in some exclusionary “cult”; yet here is an example among apparently ordinary working Christians. It becomes clear that anthropology, when applied to “ourselves”, still has the power to make “the strange familiar, and the familiar strange” (Muesse, 2011).

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The Gamrie Brethren: At the Heart of Cosmic Struggle and the Fringes of the Imagined Community

I hope I can place Webster’s research [on the Scottish Brethren] in the wider social and historical context, the ‘national level’ alongside the ‘local’ and ‘global’ ones. In the RSP's interview with Joe Webster, listeners are treated to rich ethnographic data which reveal how an immediate ‘local’ context is embedded in ‘global’ processes and networks. Webster conducted his fieldwork in the fishing village of Gardenstown or ‘Gamrie’ in Aberdeenshire, in the north-east of Scotland.

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