[Home Page]
[ Course Information ]
[ Professional Interests ]
[ Personal Interests ]
[ Curriculum Vita ]
[ Contact Me ]

RITUAL PAPER (75 points)                             

I would like you to participate in/observe and write about a ritual of arguable religious significance in modern-day American society (this is intended to be an EXPERIENTIAL exercise).  This might mean attending a church/temple/mosque service, attending/taking part in a rite of passage of some sort (a bar mitzvah/bat mitzvah, wedding, or funeral), participating in a yoga session, ritualized drumming circle, twelve-step meeting, martial arts class, Wiccan ceremony, or just about anything else you can think of that involves some sort of COLLECTIVE practice expressing and reinforcing a particular orientation toward the universe (use Geertz’s definition of religion as a guide). 

1. TAKE GOOD NOTES (either after or, if possible, during the event).  Be specific, and record anything and everything that catches your attention--even details that initially appear inconsequential.  In particular, make note of the approximate age, ethnicity, and sex of those in attendance, any costumes/ritual dress (or simply similarities of dress) worn by participants, and any special terms/slang/linguistic conventions employed during the ritual.  In addition, be sure to record the time and place of the ritual, detailing any special features of the place at which the ritual occurs, and anything you might know concerning the significance of the timing for participants.  Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, pay attention to the sequence of the ritual itself...if you are attending a rite of passage, you might think about the ritual in terms of the three stages typical of rites of passage; more generally, attend to the ways in which the formal beginning of the ritual is marked, the order of events, and the ways in which the ritual is formally brought to conclusion.  You might also ask/interview participants (both those "in charge" and those simply in attendance) about their own conceptions of the meaning and history of the ritual.

2. Once you have completed your participant observation and compiled your notes, spend some time thinking about what most interested you about the ritual.  I would like you to write a 750+ word typed, double-spaced essay (3-5 pages) on some aspect of the rite.  I DO NOT expect you to cover the entire event, but I DO expect to see at least some DETAILED description of some part of the ritual, followed by an analysis of that aspect of the ritual (i.e. explain how and why the part of the ritual you are writing about is meaningful).

SUGGESTIONS (feel free to come up with your OWN ideas, too!!!!): 
*Discuss functions of the ritual
*Contrast/compare some part of the ritual with other rites we have read about in class.
*Examine the symbolism and/or myths referenced in the ritual
*Discuss/critique common anthropological definitions of ritual with reference to your own experiences.
*Discuss ways in which particular values/norms are reinforced within the ritual
*Discuss how the ritual is gendered, or how the ritual reinforces or challenges particular distinctions of age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class
*Discuss the ritual space, OR the language used, OR the material culture involved

3. Once you have finished, take a moment to write down at least 2 things you learned from the exercise you would be willing to share with classmates.  I will expect to see this at the end of your paper, but you do NOT have to write out complete sentences—the point is to be prepared to share.

GRADING STANDARDS (75 points total):

A) Organization: 7.5 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: 7.5 pts
Clear, good grammar, good spelling, appropriate capitalization, complete sentences, appropriate word choice

C) Specific details concerning your subject matter: 30 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 in the ritual?  What is the gist of the sacred story you are discussing (paraphrase—don’t repeat the entire myth), and how is it referenced in the rite? 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: 30 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. 

As always, please see me if you have questions or would like me to review an outline or a draft of the essay.