Selection Criteria. This virtual immersion assignment is an opportunity to reflect on how different events, traditions, or experiences can—or cannot—“count” as religions, in light of the theories we have engaged in the classroom. It is better if you can join the gathering live via Zoom so that you can have interactions with the congregants. But you are welcome to join via YouTube.com or Vimeo.com or other platforms.
The experience you select can be from a different religion (e.g., Christian students can select a community within Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other non-Christian tradition; Muslim students can select a particular Christian church or any other non-Islamic group, and so on) or a different denomination (e.g., Catholic students can choose from among Protestant and Orthodox churches; Protestant students can select a Catholic church or other denomination, and so on). The event can also be a gathering that you think could count as a religion, according to the theories discussed in class, but which is not traditionally included in lists of “world religions.”
In all cases, your task will be to engage your personal experience and observations of this event, to consider how it aligns with or differs from theories of what constitutes a “religion” according to the theories we have covered in class, and to use those resources to explore noteworthy features that have left an impression on you.
Guidelines for Conduct. You are only required to attend one event of the type that you choose, though if you would like to attend more, that is fine.
The following questions may help direct your observations and focus your thoughts. You do not need to address all of these questions in your paper.
- Ultimate Concern: What is the most important question raised in this meeting? How do you grasp that ultimate concern (from the ritual, the message, the people’s expression, etc.)?
- Space: Where and how do the people meet? Do some of them meet in person at a sacred place? How is the worship/mediation/gathering space laid out? Is there a focal point? Does it create a certain mood (transcendence and awe or intimacy and familiarity)? What does this suggest about the presence of the Divine? Is there art used in this gathering? What is it like? What does art communicate about the sacred?
- Ritual: What happens? prayer? silence? movement? preaching? music? Is it very ritualistic or more free-flowing? Who are the main actors? What is the attitude of the participants? serious? upbeat? inattentive? Does this suggest a sense of the sacred?
- Words: What is said? How is God or the Divine described, if at all? Do the texts of hymns, prayers, or meditations suggest a particular way of viewing the world, human beings, or some form of divinity? Does the Word discuss issues of justice and peace?
- People: Who is there? How are people arranged? Is there a visible authority, and if so, what is her/his role? Is gender significant in this gathering, and how can you tell? How are people (including yourself) responding to the rituals?
- Holy Envy. How are you left with wonder and beauty, ones which you might have not found in your tradition of upbringing and which you desire that you or your tradition can have someday?