This master's thesis is based on a study of the Israeli Messianic Jewish movement. As I initiated the study myself, I faced the delightful and bothersome „restriction” of a liberty, which a prescribed, ordered or paid study probably would not have permitted. Fortunately, nobody and no body, neither religious nor scholarly, asked me to study the phenomenon as I did. As this study was self designed and conducted, I alone carry the responsibility for it.
Nevertheless, I could not have conducted this study without the kind help of others. First, I must thank those Israeli Messianic Jews who allowed me to share in their joys and sorrows. Only their openness allowed me to gain a first hand perception and unobtrusively to gather data for a social science study. Here, I must admit that I never felt free to reveal to them my scholarly intent. Only once I hinted at it and immediately felt as if losing access. 1Since I regarded the movement evangelical, I was not surprised about such reaction. Occasionally, evangelicalism appears to me not explicitly fond of social science.) Revealing my intent might have become distracting and counterproductive, rendering me either too dangerous for some or too interesting for others. So I chose to remain a voluntary companion. Consequently, I will reveal names neither of individuals nor of groups with which I dealt. To publications I will refer. At the end of my last stay in Israel in 1997, one veteran of the movement regarded my questions „well informed”, and another wished me wisdom to treat the gained insights wisely. I hope I did.
Also, I enjoyed the patient supervision of Professor André Droogers. While he reminded me carefully of the requirements of my discipline, he never made me feel forced into any particular direction. He allowed me experiencing the fermentation of this study and to walk full round the hermeneutic circle: from initial curiosity and reluctance against theory, through data collection and analysis, into the final need for theory to make sense of and with what I had found in the field. I am also grateful for correcting my English and commenting on many details. Remaining errors of any kind still go on my account. Also I must thank Dr. Frans Kamsteeg, for insisting that I revisited and reconsidered certain organization theories.
Last but not least, my dear wife Ineke often granted me „holidays” for this study, if our daughter would not suffer. We believe she did not. So I could spend the required time with PC, audio cassettes, videos, books, printed matter and the Internet. Once our daughter asked why I needed to study so much. „Because I still need to learn so much,” I answered then and would still answer the same.
If any gain comes from this study at all, it will not be monetary, but personally and possibly scholarly. Regarding the latter, I appreciate leaving evaluation, judgement and use of this study with others. I regard this attempt rather as a contribution to „a conversation than a fierce debate” (Martin 1992: 17). I had neither time nor funds nicely to lay out an „ideal” study, but I delighted in being among Israeli Messianic Jews. The particular uncertainty of a qualitative study in a new field thrilled me. The surprising views on an uncommon movement, which cultural anthropology allows, felt inspiring. These, and spinning full round the hermeneutic circle in 1001 nights, are my rewards.
In social science, „hermeneutic circle” (Woldring 1991: 50) refers to the interpretation of a phenomenon and its context, to a process of sense-making through „contextual interpretation” (Van den Eeden 1994). It begins with curiosity, an initial interest for a phenomenon, and a preliminary perception of it. A researcher develops this perception to a systematic social science study of the phenomenon in which he is interested. At the end of the process stands a „conclusion” that may temporarily satisfy the researcher (Swanborn 1987:21). The validity of a social science study lays not in an anyway futile claim of objectivity (Martin 1992: 190-202), but in sufficient transparency that allows others to follow the path taken, to falsify or to verify it (Miles and Huberman 1984: 20). Accordingly, in the first sections of this paper I will account on subjective perceptions, frame conditions, theories and methods of research, analysis and synthesis, that became important for and during this study. In the second part I will present selected data to describe the movement, following its particular fourfold internal structure. Finally, in the third part I will regard some interpretations of the research results in the light of organization theory and religious anthropology. I am well aware, that the studied, dynamic (Van Brakel 1988: 68) movement could be viewed from still other angles.
Placing an important, personal thought in a preface, and lengthen it further, includes the danger that it might be overlooked. Still, I feel that here might be the right place for the following reflection, and probably necessary explanation, regarding the intent of this essay. With this essay as master's thesis I finish my university education in organizational anthropology. Writing it brought back to me seven years of part time study. Reflecting on them, I perceived within organizational anthropology, as special branch of cultural anthropology, a certain drive to theory building for application, appreciating Kurt Lewin's famous dictum that „there is nothing so practical as a good theory” (Morgan 1992: 337). It seemed as if a „more theoretically orientated interest of cultural anthropologists” (Van Brakel 1998:11, English ed.) prevailed at the expense of thorough, „systematic and explicit description” (Kloos 1990: 5) of concrete groups of real human beings. I wonder, can a strong wish for theory also hinder theory development? Can academic activity become dominated by economic interests, for example by consulting activity (Koot 1992: 165-170 and 1995: 32-38)? Contemplating such, it was as if I even sensed a lack, of freedom, of „free science”, of a science free of the postulate of utilisation, of a „slower” science, less subordinate to effectiveness and efficiency (Schipper 1993).
Such contemplation rendered new views on my decisive descriptive intent with this thesis and essay. Could my essay also be an alternative and supplement, to complement and „complete” my study of the special branch of science that is organization anthropology? Could it in the end even be a protest, almost as subconscious as modest, against a perceived boom and trendy cultural trace of a contemporary discipline? Further, how limiting can an application approach be for a social science study of a social phenomenon? In how far could an application approach in social science, resemble a tunnel approach in economy (Goudzwaard and De Lange 1995)? For example, the standard triad for social science writing, question, description, conclusion, appears often understood as if ever the conclusion is the most and really important. Such perception gears and accelerates attention towards the conclusion. Lecturers repeated the „economic” advice to heed the beginning, but especially the end of texts, as there would be the real and important thing to find. Though I appreciate the appropriate „truth” of this advice, I feel also uncomfortable with it. For it appears as if it arbitrarily draws the focus and shifts the gravity of value to etic theory building at the expense of emic observation and fieldwork.
However, I regard the descriptive part of my essay as at least as important as its introduction and temporary „conclusions”. Why should I regard a drive for theory building having greater value than the wish for detailed descriptions of real human beings? Why should I submit my fascination for „common humans and ... everyday forms of life” (Van Brakel 1998: 56), that is, for organization and cultural anthropology, to utilisation or even utilitarianism? Why should I regard my introduction as a springboard to dive away, and not an ascent to a rarely visited tableland? My description a tunnel, which one does not long for to enter but to leave behind, and not a heather to stroll around, to discover common, yet still new traces of life, little plants, odours, remnants? My „conclusion” an exit to rush away back to travail, and not a vantage point to look back over the heather plateau from only another angle? Finally, why should a social science essay not also reflect some joy?
However, to perceive the significance of the presented phenomenon, it may best serve to take a brief look into its historical dimension. Or to say it otherwise, a little journey through time might best bring the visitor to the ascent of the plateau that I intend to visit. Welcome, thus, to a journey, not through a tunnel, but to a social science tableland.