Here are some ideas on how to organize this paper based on the three forms of religious expression. It is assumed that this paper is intended to be a descriptive or “phenomenological” account of the religious activity, neither laudatory nor critical. On this particular occasion, the purpose is just to observe carefully and empathetically, in the way discussed in Chapter One, what is actually done. It is also assumed that this report is to be based on firsthand observation, deliberately avoiding the use of secondary sources, so notes and bibliography are not needed. However, in some cases you may need to get a little background through prior reading or through material available at the religious site to understand better what you see; if used, be sure to cite those. Interviews may also be helpful, as well as perusing the website for the group, if it has one; if used, also be sure to cite those. Most religious places welcome sincere students as visitors. Remember to be quiet, respectful, appreciative, and appropriately dressed.
Here is the outline for a descriptive or “phenomenological” paper:
- Field Information. Give the full name, exact address, and religious affiliation of the group. (For example, don’t just say “a Buddhist temple”; be sure to specify the school, or denomination, and the national background.) Give the exact date and time of the visit; give the name and type of service (if any) attended.
- Preliminary Placing Information. Describe the outside and inside appearance of the building, the way visitors are greeted, and the sort of people in this group (that is, their apparent social class, lifestyle, ethnic background, gender, average age, the number present, and so forth).
- Description of Activity or Symbolism. If you attend a service or formal presentation on the religion, describe what happened from beginning to end. Try to give some sense of the emotional tone and subjective spiritual meaning of the scenario. (For example: Was the opening dramatic or casual? Is congregational participation emotional or reserved? Is much of the service spontaneous or ritualized?) If you did not attend a regular service, discuss in detail the significance of the art, architecture, and symbolism in and around the site.
- Analysis. Analyze the topic in terms of the three forms of religious expression: theoretical (teaching), practical (worship), and sociological (leadership and group type), and include art, ethics, and experience as appropriate. At least one-third of the paper should cover these topics.
- Theoretical. What, essentially, does this religion teach? As far as you can tell from this one experience, what is the main message this religion gives through its sermons, practices, symbols, and so on?
- Practical. What is the basic nature of the worship? Formal or informal? Ancient or modern? Structured or spontaneous? What message about how this group conceives of the role of religion does the nature of the worship communicate?
- Sociological. What kind of group is it? Close-knit or diffused? Does it consist mostly of people drawn to the religion by family or ethnic ties? Or does it consist mostly of committed converts of different backgrounds? What role does the priest or leader play? What message about religious experience and meaning is communicated by the nature of the leadership and the group?
A discussion of the art, ethics, and mystical or other special religious experiences of the group may also be discussed under the above three categories as they apply. For example, the art may have implications for the theoretical, practical, or sociological aspects of the group; the practical aspect may be used to evoke a special experience.
Writing a religious visit paper should be an interesting adventure. Best wishes!