Ethnographic Study of Poland III: Axiology and Epistemology

Posted: April 8, 2013 in Catholic Church, Ethnography, Europe, Missions, Pope
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ethnographic Study of Poland I

Ethnographic Study of Poland II: Ontology

In the next section of the ethnographic study I did in Poland, with the help of one of my teammates, we look at axiology (the study of values) and epistemology (the study of knowledge, especially how knowledge is acquired). Again, there were 11 respondents in total, and we went through an hour-long interview with each, based on selected questions used in HRAF (human relations area files) from Yale University (subscription needed)

Axiology

1. Ethics

We didn’t ask any questions that related specifically to ethics, but two questions prompted ethics answers. “How does a person gain spiritual power?” and “How would you define spiritual success?” elicited responses that included following rules, especially the Golden Rule, and an inner peace based on knowing you are doing right.

In addition, the question about discerning God’s will usually brought a response connected with doing good. Although 3 people equated God’s will with fate, 2 people said that we could discover God’s will by following the 10 commandments. 1 person said we could discover God’s will by doing what we thought was good – but said that it had nothing to do with what God says. In the section on epistemology, we will see that most people had a relative view of good and evil, right and wrong, based on how they felt. This view showed up in this question as well, with the idea that discerning God’s will, through being good, was more something that was felt internally than an external set of rules.

2. Exceptions

We asked if rules apply equally to all persons, and most respondents said yes, they do. However, most respondents also indicated that in reality, some people got better treatment than others. Different reasons were cited, including “friends in high places,” possessing more money, or political clout. One person said, “those who make the rules think they are above the rules.” Another described the reality as a “hierarchy” in government and business that allowed for more privileges.

Epistemology

The majority of the questions focused on Polish epistemology. This was the worldview component that I most wanted to study, and the one that seems to be least addressed by other sociological research. I will only cover two areas, but I want to continue to explore Polish epistemology even after this project is complete.

1. Authority

Pope John Paul II: Poland's primary authority

Pope John Paul II: Poland’s primary authority

I mentioned in part 2, Ontology, that the Church was not really seen as an authority any longer, but John Paul II still was. Other persons mentioned included Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama. Most commonly, however, people mentioned a parent – especially their mother. Two young men mentioned their father as an authority for them, and two people said that anyone who cared about people and invested themselves in serving other would be an authority for them. Two men also mentioned that anyone who had knowledge and experience in a given area would be considered an authority.

Our sample was small, but the men tended to identify authority with knowledge and competence, while the women looked at relationship, and the aforementioned investing in others. This trend also carried through in the component of truth determination.

2. Truth

We asked the question, “how do you determine whether something is true or not?” The most common answer was: “intuition.” According to most respondents, you just know. A few respondents said you feel it, or have an inner peace, most however made a connection with knowledge that you already possess. Two people also said they would ask others, trusting the opinions of their friends to determine what is true. One person (the oldest male) said that he would search for proof. Opinions, knowledge, and objective proofs formed his framework for determining truth.

No one indicated any kind of absolute standard for truth and falsehood. Although the Ten Commandments were mentioned as rules for ethical behavior, the Bible was never mentioned as having anything to do with a truth standard. In fact, with perhaps the exception of the oldest man, the idea of a standard, absolute truth would probably be unacceptable. Not only was the Bible not mentioned, but the Church wasn’t either. For nearly every respondent, truth was a personal, subjective issue.

Science was trusted, in the physical realm, but all but one person indicated that science could not answer all of life’s questions. And a couple of people were wary of science, pointing out that certain scientific assumptions or “discoveries” had later proven to be wrong.

The responses to our questions led me to describe contemporary Polish culture as animistic, with strong Roman Catholic influences (or Catholic, with strong animistic influences), but with a much larger degree of postmodernism than I expected to see. Postmodernism especially showed up in the epistemological portion of our study, in the subjective nature of truth.

In the final two posts, I’ll share some thoughts that our study prompted, regarding Polish postmodern animistic Catholicism.

Comments
  1. […] Next up: Freedom in Christ from the burden of manipulating God. Ethnographic Study of Poland I Ethnographic Study of Poland II: Ontology Ethnographic Study of Poland III: Axiology and Epistemology […]

  2. […] the questions we used. Ethnographic Study of Poland I Ethnographic Study of Poland II: Ontology Ethnographic Study of Poland III: Axiology and Epistemology Ethnographic Study of Poland IV: Postmodern […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s