, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 3-22

The utility of long interviews in the study of American Jews

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Abstract

In the study of contemporary Jewish identity, long interviews offer several advantages over sample surveys that focus heavily on behavior, and that have played a valuable role in helping us understand American Jewry over the last half century. Especially when used judiciously, in conjunction with surveys that plumb behaviors and attitudes alike, long interviews:

  1. Add depth and richness to our observations, even those that are well-established.

  2. Provide indispensable material for conveying the import of our research.

  3. Provide a counter-balance to survey evidence, accessing respondents’ inner voices, or socially undesirable views, or ideas that have not yet emerged into public rhetoric.

  4. Lend insight into unexplored areas that could not be anticipated by survey researchers.

  5. Allow for the emergence of “non-findings,” as well as more powerful findings, by providing for unaided recall, rather than the pre-determined prompting that is almost indigenous to survey research.

Recent developments in American Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness make the tum to long interviews even more necessary and useful than in the past. Of special relevance is the growth in diversity and idiosyncrasy, in the self as ultimately authoritative, and in the search for personal meaning as the driving force behind Jewish engagement. These are conditions and themes that clearly lend themselves more readily to investigation by tools of observation that are more personal, immediate, and nuanced. The long interview is clearly one such tool.