ANTHROPOLOGY OF RELIGION: CLASS PROJECT
CLASS PROJECT: PROPOSAL (25), PAPER (100 pts) AND PRESENTATION (25 pts)
You will be responsible for a 4-6 page paper (1200+ words, typed in a standard 10-12 pt font with 1 “ margins) about a single, specific example of religious culture (beliefs, values, practices, and/or artifacts of arguable religious significance). I expect you to employ some form of original ethnographic/anthropological research (e.g. the analysis of audio/visual/textual material, participant-observation, interviewing, etc.).
REFERENCE all outside sources you use. Obtain INFORMED CONSENT from any interviewees: clearly inform interviewees what your project is, how information they provide will be used, and who will have access to this information. Use PSEUDONYMS to protect informant confidentiality, and don’t provide unique identifying information without explicit permission.
(be sure to narrow down your topic—e.g. discuss a single ritual or interview one-3 religious experts of the same faith/position or discuss the practices of a specific funeral parlor, etc.):
MYTHS/SACRED STORIES (e.g. origin stories, stories about cultural heroes, stories explaining good
and evil, well known folktales, fairy tales, and influential Hollywood movies)
RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS (e.g. the Star of David, pentagram, cross, Wiccan symbols, etc.)
RITUALS (e.g. church/temple/mosque/synagogue services, yoga sessions, drumming circles, self-help meetings, martial arts classes, Wiccan ceremonies, a bar/bat mitzvah, quinceañera ceremony, birth rituals, funerary/death rituals)
“MAGIC” (e.g. Wiccan magic/modern witchcraft, astrology, Tarot reading, phone psychics,
UNDERSTANDINGS OF DEATH (e.g. the afterlife, ghosts, the undead, reincarnation, etc.)
RELIGIOUS UNDERSTANDINGS OF MISFORTUNE (e.g. explanations of illness or other misfortune,
and/or ideas about sin or evil spirits or religious punishment)
RELIGIOUS UNDERSTANDINGS OF ALTERED STATES (e.g. drugs, visions, mediums, trances, etc.)
RELIGIOUS HEALING (e.g. faith healing, curanderas, prayer, new age healing, etc.)
RELIGIOUS SPECIALISTS (e.g. new age practitioners, priests, rabbis, imams, monks, nuns, or any others
professing religious expertise)
NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS (e.g. neo-Eastern movements, new age movements, new
forms of major world religions, “cults” (a pejorative term!), etc.)
GLOBALIZATION AND RELIGION (e.g. the local appropriation of other traditions, the spread
of world religions, new technologies for communicating religion to large numbers, etc.)
PROPOSAL (25 points): Please submit a 1-3 page, typed, 300 word + proposal detailing the following:
a) Your TOPIC. BE SPECIFIC. Again, the above suggestions are general—you need to narrow your topic down. You can choose a topic other than those suggested, but you might want to run it by me first.
b) A PLAN OF ACTION/TIMETABLE (how will you go about investigating your topic? On what schedule? What sources will you use and how will you access them? Will you need to ask for informed consent—and what will you say, if so? What will you tell informants? How will you obtain necessary information?)
c) A brief discussion of any BIASES you may have, including some consideration of how WHO YOU ARE might affect your access to information (in other words, I am asking you to be self-reflexive here!). Also briefly discuss how you might MINIMIZE any biases you might have.
d) Any questions you might have (you don’t have to ask questions, but please do so if you think of any!)
If you are concerned about your writing, please see me—I am always happy to help!
PRESENTATION (25 points):
Be prepared to complete a 5-10 minute in-class presentation on your research. You can use visual or audio (or other) aids if you want to, and you can submit files/links for me to upload to Blackboard in preparation if you choose. Make sure you can complete your presentation within the time allotted. Include at least some SPECIFIC DETAIL (10 pts) and some discussion of the CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE of your findings (10 pts). Organization/clarity will be worth 5 pts.
CLASS PROJECT: PAPER GRADING STANDARDS (75 points total):
A) Organization: 10 pts.
Coherent organization as a whole and within paragraphs and sections, appropriate use of transitions, coherent flow of ideas and development of ideas, including the support of general claims with relevant evidence
B) Language: 10 pts
Clear, good grammar, good spelling, appropriate capitalization, complete sentences, appropriate word choice
C) Specific details concerning your subject matter: 40 points
You don’t need to describe absolutely everything you witness, but you do need to “paint a good picture” of your subject matter. Include specifics that relate to your particular focus. For instance: What does the symbol you are discussing look like, and where does it appear? What is the gist of the sacred story you are discussing (paraphrase—don’t repeat the entire myth)? What are some of the specific behaviors people engage in during X ritual? What does the ritual space look like/what are participants wearing and saying? What specific forms of dress or speech mark out the religious experts you are discussing, and what about age, sex, and ethnicity?
If informants are quoted, they should be credited by name/pseudonym, and any other source materials over and above material gleaned from participant observation should be appropriately cited. Interviews should be included in a references section at the end, with the pseudonym, date, and place of the interview recorded.
D) Analysis/explanation of the cultural significance of your findings: 40 pts
Provide a clear explanation of ways in which your findings (the specific details you note and describe, or other aspects of the topic you have discussed and observed) might be significant—including ways in which your subject matter might reflect/tie into larger cultural patterns, and/or ways in which your subject matter might relate to theories or ideas about culture we have studied in class. It is OK if what you say is speculative, as long as your claims are clearly related to or supported in plausible ways by your research findings.
This may seem like the hardest part of your paper, but I CAN HELP YOU WITH THIS if you are worried about it! One good way to start might be to think about what we have been learning in class, with respect to the functions often served by cultural behaviors or beliefs.