Introduction This project has three purposes: (1) to expose you to a religion other than your own, (2) to have you apply anthropological principles learned in class to a specific situation, and (3) to have you experience anthropological fieldwork.
Choosing a Religion for Study Your first task will be to choose a religion that is not your own. Because we live in a large metropolitan area, we are surrounded by a great diversity of religious practices. This makes this project possible and interesting. Some questions you may ask in selecting a religion to study are: Do you know someone who could be an informant? Do you know the location of a specific church/temple/etc.? Will the ceremony be at least primarily in English? An answer of “no” to any of these questions does not mean you cannot study that religion; it just means it may be a bit more difficult.
If you have no idea what religion you would like to study, consider looking at The Encyclopedia of American Religions. Possibilities include Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Baptist, Adventists (including Jehovah’s Witness), Fundamentalist, Mormon, Coptic, Greek or Russian Orthodox, Unitarian, Christian Science, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, New Age, Pagan, or Wicca. Note that with certain religions you will need to make a further choice between different subgroups (e.g., Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstruction Judaism).
You might be tempted to write your paper on a ritual that you attended in a past. However, the purpose of this paper is for you to apply concepts learned in this class to your observations. Thus you must do real “field work” in order to look for and analyze certain aspects of the ritual. You will miss a great deal if you attempt to work from memory
While you are not required to do any reading on your religion, it might make this project easier. However, the paper is not a book report. Your sources might include an encyclopedia entry, a chapter in a book on world religions, or even a children’s book. You might also find a booklet in the Lobby or Gift Shop of the church/temple. Good information can often be found on the Internet. Another way of obtaining information is to attend or discuss the ritual with an informant who is a participant in the religion.
Doing the Fieldwork The ritual can be a public ceremony such as a Sunday morning church service, a rite of passage such as a wedding, or even a ritual held in the home. Make plans to go to your site. If you do not have an informant to go with, call ahead and make arrangements. Tell them who you are and why you want to attend, find out when and where services are, and ask any additional questions such as how to dress. If you are unsure about this last point, err on the side of being too conservative. Your dress and behavior reflects on the college.
Attend the ritual, watching for things that will help you answers the questions for the project. Consider discretely taking notes at the ceremony if this is allowed. However, never make a tape recording without the permission of the person in charge. If you asked for permission to attend the ritual, then sending a note of appreciation afterwards would be a nice gesture.
Keep all of your field notes. I reserve the right to ask you to turn them in or to discuss your experience with me.
In general, while you are attending the ritual you should do as they do. For example, if they stand, so should you. If they are all wearing head coverings and they are provided, you should wear one too. The exception is when it comes to actually participating in the ritual such as taking communion in a Catholic church. If you are unsure, ask.
Do not wait until the last minute. Fieldwork usually does not go as planned; allow yourself time for unforeseen difficulties. This is not a paper that can be written at the last minute.
Answer the following questions in a paper format:
1) Write a brief introduction discussing your own religion/religious views/religious experiences. If you do not have any religious beliefs/practices/etc. yourself than discuss your experiences with religion indirectly via the culture you belong to. (i.e. if you live in America and watch TV or read a newspaper Religion and Politics have long been intertwined, so even if you did not grow up within a specific religion you have some exposure to religion via various aspects of America culture.)
2) What religious ritual did you observe? Include religion (be specific), ritual, and location.
Include a picture of you that shows that you did the observation (e.g., in front of the ritual location). Do not take pictures during the ritual without getting permission! If you have problems meeting this requirement, please contact me.
3) Describe the ritual that you observed. This should be an approximately three to four page description of what you observed, including a description of the setting, participants and religious specialists. At the end, make sure to include a paragraph or two on your own thoughts and responses to what you observed.
4) How would you classify this ritual? Was it prescriptive or situational? Was it periodic or occasional? How would Wallace classify the ritual (e.g., therapy, social rite of intensification, rite of passage, etc).? Make sure to include all three classifications.
Explain why you classified the ritual the way you did.
5) Describe the symbols you observed, making sure to include the meaning of each. Include symbolic elements of time and space if appropriate.
6) How would you classify the ritual specialist (i.e., priest or shaman)? What characteristics led you to that decision?
7) Was there any evidence of altered states of consciousness? If yes, what characterized the altered state? How was the altered state achieved?
8) What is the worldview of this religion? How was this worldview reflected in the ritual?
9) Compare/contrast the ritual to a religious or secular ritual that you grew up with/are more used to.
The total paper should be approximately 5-7 pages in length using standard formatting.
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