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Field Paper #2 Anthropology
Social Scientific Approaches to Religion
As weve been reading, religion is often a way through which communities, even pluralistic ones, create and reform the identities of their members.
Your job in this assignment is to become an anthropologist of religion for a few hours. Choose a site of religious engagement on the SMU Campus (worship service, campus ministry activity) in which you do not normally participate and attend with the goal of understanding how that religious community forms the identities of its members as college students at SMU. Where might the group understand its religious commitments to support college life? Where might it find tensions or misalignments? As you seek to understand this, is there a particular theory of religion that the group seems to reflect? Is religion functional in a way Malinowski might support? Are there elements of liminality or communitas? Do they use symbolism in a way that reflects Geertzs theories? Are there practices that Luhrmann would recognize?
What you need to do:
1. Choose a site for your observation. This may be a religious service, or another social gathering where you believe you can learn something about the use of ritual in local religious life. Textual sources or media are not acceptable as primary observation sites. You need to be in the company of live people. So a discussion of The Passion of the Christ would be an acceptable site, while simply going to see the movie would not. Remember, please choose a site/group to which you do not normally belong.
2. Write up a description of what you saw, heard, etc. The sooner you can take notes, either during the event or immediately after, the better your description will be. Be detailed in what you record and be sure to note the time and place of your observation.
3. Follow your description with an analysis of what you observed. How did the community you were with understand religion as a part of college life? Is it functional in a way Malinowski might recognize? Symbolic in a way Geertz would find familiar? Something else? Please keep the whole thing between three and five pages in length, 12-point font, regular margins.
You can find a list of religious groups/activities on campus through the Office of the Chaplain website:
Some general guidelines and suggestions-
1. Be Not Afraid. It takes some courage to walk into a foreign setting. However, most people at religious services or other public events will welcome your presence if you smile when you meet them. Even for the shyest of us, observations get easier once they actually start.
2. Be Honest. Tell people what youre up to. If they know why youre in their midst they can better answer any questions that you have, and as a scholar you have an ethical responsibility to represent yourself truthfully.
3. Ask Questions. You will do a better job of representing people if you give them a chance to represent themselves. This doesnt mean that you have to agree with the answers they give. In fact, your analysis may be quite different, but it will give you a greater pool of material to draw from and make your work more nuanced and complete. Use those dialogue skills!
Due: April 6th at the beginning of class on Canvas. As always, late papers will be penalized 5 points per 24 hours, and papers without a cover sheet or with your name on any sheet other than the cover sheet will be penalized 2 points.
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