Project #48299 - Religious service assignment

I have an easy and general paper due tomorrow, it should be 5 pages at least and is supposed to be on a religious service. It is supposed to be a religious service different than my religion (catholic) therefore a paper on any other religious service would do. More detailed requirements for the paper are mentioned below. 








Fall 2014



Talking about religious groups in a classroom or reading about them in a textbook is all well and good, but there is no substitute for first-hand experience of religious rituals, ceremonies, or worship services.  Accordingly, for this project you will attend some kind of service or ceremony at a mosque, shrine, temple, church, synagogue, or other house of worship and then write about what you observe there.



How to Choose a Service


The religious group whose service you attend is up to you, subject to the following restriction:  it cannot belong to a religious tradition that you would say is now or ever was your own.  Part of the purpose of this project is to see a religious group through fresh eyes, but that is difficult to do if the group you visit belongs to the religious tradition in which you were brought up, the one to which you currently belong, or another tradition too closely related to either of those.  Thus, for example, if you are Methodist, going to another Christian service of any kind, even a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox service, doesn't count; you have to choose a different religion entirely.  If you grew up Reform Jewish but are now, for all intents and purposes, atheist, going to a Jewish service doesn't count.  If you grew up Catholic but are now Mahayana Buddhist, neither Buddhist nor Christian services count.  You get the idea.  (Of course, if you are now and have always been atheist or agnostic, you have a pretty wide range of options for this project.)


You do not have to tell your instructor anything about your own religious background, and he will not be checking your membership card or baptismal record or any such thing.  You are therefore on your honor here.  Since the point of the project is to observe a religious service or ceremony that is unfamiliar to you, however, you will be doing yourself a disservice if you do not take advantage of this opportunity to check out something new.


You are welcome to attend a service in the New Kensington/Pittsburgh area or one back home, if you are from outside this area, so long as you turn in the assignment on time.  (Note that the due date is before Thanksgiving Break.)  In the New Kensington/Pittsburgh area there are Hindu temples, Jewish synagogues and temples representing most major streams of Judaism, Christian churches representing most denominations, and plenty of other options.  A search online or in the Yellow Pages should turn up plenty of good options.


You are also welcome to attend with your family or with one or more of your classmates, although your observations, your analysis, and all work you turn in for this project must be your own.  You may find that you are less uncomfortable if there is another newcomer there with you.  On the other hand, you may find that you can make better observations and interact with worshipers and clergy more freely if you go by yourself, since you will not be distracted by people you know or tempted to talk only with them while you are there.

Make Sure You Call First


Whatever house of worship you choose, you should call before you go.  Most houses of worship have some kind of office you can call for information about the services.  Explain that you are a student at Penn State New Kensington, that you are taking a class about world religions, and that your professor wants you to attend a religious service so you can learn about a tradition that is unfamiliar to you.  Ask if there is some kind of service or ceremony coming up that you will be able to attend, and if there is anything else you should know in advance.  Calling first will also accomplish two other purposes:


1.      It will be a courtesy to the group you will be visiting, so they are not taken aback by your sudden appearance.  Most religious groups welcome visitors from outside their tradition, but not all are equally prepared when visitors show up.


2.      It will let you learn some important information not only about when the services happen and where to go but also about what to expect there and what will be expected of you.  Will you have to dress a certain way?  Remove your shoes?  Donate money or goods?  Are there parts of the ceremony in which your participation would be welcome, expected, or forbidden?


When you call, therefore, do not be afraid to ask lots of questions.  The more you know in advance, the better prepared you will be when you arrive.



What to Do When You Are There


Attending this religious service will be an exercise in participant-observation.  That means that you are there not to look in from the outside but to look around from the inside.  Rather than merely sitting in the back of the room and watching, you are encouraged to join in with whatever is going on, to the degree that the group's rules and your own conscience will allow.  (Note that your instructor is not asking you to break the rules of your own tradition in order to observe someone else's—but he is asking you to respect their rules rather than violating them for the sake of being a participant-observer.)


While you're there, observe as much as you can.  What do you see? hear? smell? feel?  Things you might observe include, but are by no means limited to:

·         The space.  How is it organized?  How is it decorated?  How is it lit?

·         Art and other visual adornment.  Is the space plain or ornate?  If there is art, is it abstract or representational?  What, if anything does it depict?

·         People’s postures.  Are they seated? standing? kneeling?  Do they change postures during the service?  Is there dancing, procession, gesturing, or other movement?

·         How the service is structured.  Are there readings? sermons or homilies? prayers?  Is there music?  If there are readings, what sources are they from?  If there is a sermon or homily, what is it about?  Who delivers it—a clergyperson, a member of the congregation, a guest speaker?  If there are prayers, does everyone recite them together, or are they led by a single speaker?  Are they memorized, written down, or made up on the spot?  And what are they about?  If there is music, is it recorded or live?  Are there instruments? singers? dancers?  Does the congregation join in?

·         Who does what.  Are the various parts of the service led by clergy, members of the congregation, guest speakers, or someone else? by men, women, or children?  Who is performing support functions, like running the technology, greeting people at the door, serving at the altar, or preparing food?

·         Technology.  Is it being used in some way?  If so, what kind of technology, and how is it being used?

·         Hallways, lobbies, and other parts of the building.  What other kinds of rooms does the building have?  Are there offices, classrooms, food pantries, libraries, or other kinds of rooms?  Are there bulletin boards?  If so, what kinds of things are on them?  Are there racks or tables with literature?  If so, what kinds of literature?

·         The people themselves.  What kinds of people are there?  What age groups, sexes, racial or ethnic groups, and social classes seem to be represented?  How are people dressed?  How do they interact with one another before, during, and after the service?  Talk to some of the people you meet—clergy, worshipers, and whoever else is there—and ask them what the religion and its rituals, symbols, beliefs, and practices mean to them.

(Note that you do not have to answer all these questions in your paper.  They are here to stimulate your faculties of observation so you’ll notice more things about the service you attend.)


What you should NOT do while you're at the service is take pictures or notes.  Doing these things will almost certainly come across as rude.  It will also distract you from what is going on and limit your observations.  Instead, when you return home, or even when you're sitting in your car in the parking lot afterward, get out a notebook and write down everything you can possibly remember.  Do this as soon as you can after you leave the service so it will be as fresh in your mind as possible.  You may be surprised at how much you can remember this way—and you will probably also find that the very act of writing your observations down triggers memories of additional observations.



What to Turn In to Your Instructor


You will write a paper 5-7 pages long describing the service you attended and showing some thoughtful analysis of what you observed there.  Your paper should have sentences, paragraphs, and some kind of organizational structure or narrative flow; do not simply turn in a list of observations.  Your paper should also include the name of the house of worship, the kind of service you attended (e.g., whether it was a regular worship service or some kind of special-occasion service), the religious tradition of which it was a part (including its denomination, branch, or other division), and the date you attended.  Describe the people, the space, the flow of the service, and anything else you think merits a mention.


Then do a little analysis of what you observed.  What can you infer about the religion and about the congregation or group from your observations?  For example:

·         Do they try to engage the mind, the emotions, or other faculties?

·         Do they try to appeal to the senses or limit sensory distractions?

·         Do they show concern for the poor, the sick, or other disadvantaged groups, and if so, how?

·         How, if at all, do they try to make visitors or newcomers feel welcome?

·         Do they emphasize particular ideas about or standards for families, individuals, the old, or the young?

·         Do you get a sense of the group's general orientation toward social and political issues?  Do they seem more liberal, conservative, moderate, or something else?

·         Does the group seem to be more modernist or traditionalist regarding issues within its own religion—that is, does it self-consciously embrace change, self-consciously reject change, or take some other approach?

·         Was there anything that especially surprised you, whether in a good or bad or neutral way?

(Here again, you don't need to answer all these questions; they are here mainly to stimulate your thinking as you try to interpret the things you observed.)  Include a few inferences like these in your paper, and explain why your observations lead you to think these things.


Be sure that you can back your inferences up with evidence, however, and try to avoid making value judgments as well.  “Many of the worshipers appear to be affluent, because the parking lot is full of expensive cars” is a valid inference.  “Many of the worshipers appear to be doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers” is mere speculation—unless, of course, you talk with someone who tells you that the congregation includes many people with such careers.  “The worshipers are hypocrites who talk about helping the poor and then drive home in expensive cars” is a value judgment, even though it is based on observations, because it renders a moral verdict on the people you observed—something that falls outside the purview of this kind of academic participant-observation exercise.


Since the purpose of the paper is to discuss your observations of the service you attended, your paper should focus on that service; you are not expected to do outside research or use other sources.  (You are not forbidden to use other sources, so long as you cite them properly, but you are not required to use them.)


Your paper must be typed, double-spaced, in a 12-point font, with 1-inch margins, and should be 5-7 pages long.  Your paper should be written in standard English, spelling and grammar mistakes should be corrected before turning the papers in, syntax should flow, and so on.  Naturally, as with all other assignments for this class, you must also fully cite all sources you use.


Your paper is due in hard copy at the beginning of class on Tuesday, November 18.


Your paper will be graded on a 100-point scale and will be worth 15% of your overall grade for the class.



Late papers and rewrites:  Papers turned in late without an excuse that the instructor deems acceptable will be penalized 1 point out of 100 for each day late.  If you are unhappy with your grade, you may, at the discretion of the instructor, be allowed to rewrite this paper in an attempt to earn a higher grade.

Subject General
Due By (Pacific Time) 11/20/2014 12:00 am
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