Social scientists answer this question in a number of ways. The two most common methodologies are quantitative and qualitative studies. Neither the qualitative approach nor the quantitative approach is inherently superior, but they are very different ways of conducting research.
Some researchers choose to gather quantitative data through surveys (check out the website for the National Study of Youth and Religion research project for examples). Researchers can administer the same surveys and questionnaires in different countries to build multi-national datasets. They can administer them in different decades to track changes over time.
Here we will focus exclusively on qualitative methods. Fieldwork is the cornerstone research methodology of any qualitative ethnographic research design, and it involves three distinct but interconnected activities: interviews, participant observation and taking notes.
You may now continue on to question 2, or for more details about each of these activities, you may jump ahead to the following FAQs:
- Question 12: What is “participant observation”?
- Taking notes: Question 13: What data do you collect in participant observation?
Nalika Gajaweera is a senior research analyst with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
Andrew Johnson is a contributing fellow with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.