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Experience Project – Assignment Guidelines

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In order to complete this assignment, you will attend a religious service of a tradition other than your own.  This assignment will give you the opportunity to learn firsthand about other people’s religious beliefs and practices, and about how religion is experienced by members of a particular religious community.  After attending the service, you will write a 4-5 page paper describing your experience and interpreting what you have seen, using your observations to try to draw some conclusions about the group you visited.  You will also prepare a short presentation based on your experience to present to the professor and your classmates.


Preparing for the Event:

The first step is to choose the service that you will attend.  You are NOT restricted to only the traditions that we will cover in this class.  However, you must attend the service of a religion that is significantly different from the one you currently practice/grew up in.  If you aren’t sure, talk to me ahead of time (NOTE: if you are any kind of Christian – Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. – you should NOT attend a Christian service for this project).  I would encourage you to be adventurous and go somewhere very unfamiliar – it will make your paper/presentation better and your experience much more rewarding.  Attached is a list of religious traditions, along with the websites of national or local organizations from those traditions.  You can use those websites or call ahead to find the times and locations of services that you can attend.  Please be aware that you MUST ATTEND A RELIGIOUS SERVICE for this project – simply visiting a place of worship and taking a tour or talking with a religious leader/believer does NOT qualify, and will get you very little points. A celebration of a religious festival/holy day may work, but only if a religious service or ritual is held during the celebration (not just people eating, dancing, celebrating, etc.).


During the Event:  

You may go alone or with a friend.  Make sure to arrive a little early, so that you have time to orient yourself before the event begins.  You will want to get a pamphlet/program from the event if possible, to help you with details when writing your paper.  You may choose to simply observe or to participate, depending on your comfort level.  Remember to maintain an attitude of respect at all times for the religious practices and the individuals with which you come in contact.  Pay close attention to all the different aspects of the service – what is happening, what everyone is doing, who is leading, what is being said, etc.  You are not required to talk to anyone; however, doing so will help you to gain a better understanding of what the service is like for a believer, and why individuals participate.  Also be sure to pay attention to your own experience of the event – how you are feeling, and your reactions to different parts of the service.

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Writing the Paper:

Write a 4-5 page paper (it should be at least 4 full pages, and try not to go too much over

5) about your experience.

Papers must use standard formatting (1 inch margins, 12 point Times New Roman font, double-spaced pages) and employ correct, college-level grammar, spelling, and style.  In the first sentence, include the date, time and location of event, the name of the local organization holding the event, as well as the larger religious tradition of which they are a part.  Please begin the paper by briefly (no more than half a page!) explaining your own religious background and why you chose to attend the service of this particular group. About two-thirds of your essay should be a description of the event, and a third your interpretation of the event. 


IMPORTANT: This is not a research paper, and therefore you are NOT required to use any outside sources when writing your paper (and in fact, I recommend that you do not use any).  However, if you do decide to bring in any outside material (from the website/pamphlet of the religious group you visit or any website/article/book about the religion they practice), it should only make up a very small percentage of your paper, and you MUST cite your sources properly.  This means that any writing in your paper that is not your own MUST be in quotes (“  ”), and you MUST include a footnote stating the source of that writing.  Changing a few words or the order of a sentence does NOT make it your own writing.  The Turnitin software through which you will submit your paper on Blackboard will catch any instance of plagiarism in the papers, and all papers that include any plagiarism will receive a ZERO – no exceptions.


Description – Your description should address both the service/ritual itself, as well as other major aspects of your experience.  You do not need to address every single one of the questions below, but make sure to include as many relevant details as possible:

Description of the Ritual/Service itself:

  • Who was leading? Was there only one leader or were multiple individuals involved?  What took place (i.e. what were the different elements of the ritual)?  What did participants do?  Was there music and/or dance in the service?  Was there a sermon or talk of some kind?  If so, what was it about?  What was the content of the ritual (i.e. what ideas/messages/beliefs/sacred stories were expressed in the sermon, scripture readings, hymn/songs, etc.)?  Were any material objects used during the service (statues, food, incense or candles, etc.)?  What was the general atmosphere of the event (somber, joyful, etc.)?


Description of other major aspects of your experience:

  • Location: Where is the event held? Is it indoors or outdoors?  What does the building/worship space look like?  Is there interesting architecture and/or religious art?  How are participants arranged/seated?
  • Participants: How many people are there? As far as you can tell, what is the makeup of the group in terms of race, gender, age, socioeconomic class, etc.?  What type of clothing was everyone wearing?
  • Your own experience: Did you participate in the service or simply observe? How did you feel during the service?  What were your reactions to the things you saw and heard?


Interpretation Use your observations to develop an understanding or

interpretation of the religious, social, ethical, and other values of the group.  You

will need to read beneath the surface – much of what you learn will not be directly stated,

but rather implied or expressed through everything that takes place (and doesn’t take

place).  Your interpretation section should address the particular community you

visited, rather than the larger religion of which it is a part (for example, the members

of the particular Hindu temple you visited rather than the religion of Hinduism as a


  • What did you learn about this group from attending the service? What does the event tell you about the values/beliefs/opinions of this group with regard to gender roles, dress/modesty, finances/money, music/dancing, politics, outsiders/non-members, social issues (homosexuality, abortion, etc.), proselytizing/seeking new members, the roles/responsibilities of young people, etc.?  You do not need to address all of these – rather, discuss what you find to be striking or important about the group.
  • How are the sacred stories/beliefs of this group expressed through the architecture, sacred objects, and rituals of this religious space/service/community? What do their surroundings and manner of worship say about who they are as a community?
  • Try to place yourself in the shoes of those in attendance. Based on what you observed, why do you think individuals attended/participated in the service?  What do you think they gain from attending services, both in a religious and social sense?  Why do you think they belong to this particular group/organization?
  • If you feel that you cannot answer these questions simply through observation, it may be helpful to talk to one of the group leaders or members, in order to gain additional insight


Preparing the Presentation:

            Based on your experience of attending the service and on the insights from your paper, prepare a 5-minute presentation to present to your professor/classmates.  The use of visual materials such as a Powerpoint or a poster board is encouraged, although not required. Do not simply read your paper – rather, prepare a 5-minute talk sharing the most interesting aspects of your experience and what you learned from attending the service. As with the paper, you should not simply describe your experience, but also include some of the conclusions you were able to reach based on your observations (the “interpretation” material from your paper). You will NOT have time to discuss the history or beliefs of the religion – you should briefly introduce yourself/your religious background (if you feel comfortable), and then go right into discussing your experience. Students that have prepared appropriately and included both descriptive material and interpretive material in the presentation can expect to receive full credit for the presentation grade.  Points will be deducted if the presentation is significantly shorter than 5 minutes, if it is clear that the student has not prepared in advance, or if the presentation is simply a description of the experience and includes no interpretive material. If you attend the service with a classmate, the two of you can choose to present together or separately. However, if you present together, you must EACH do 5 minutes of presenting – so the presentation would be around 10 minutes long, and each of you would have to present for half of the time. Students are graded individually, so if one student does not talk very much, their grade will reflect that. Regardless of whether or not you present with a classmate, the paper is an individual assignment – each student MUST write their own paper.




Religious Traditions


See Hindu Resources Online, http://www.hindu.org/ for general information;

Durga Temple of Virginia: http://www.durgatemple.org/

Sri Venkateswara Lotus Temple: http://www.svlotustemple.org/

Vedic Temple of Virginia: http://vedictempleofvirginia.org/

Rajdhani Mandir: http://rajdhanimandir.org/ (both Hindu and Jain services held here)

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), http://iskcondc.org/

      NOTE: Make sure you go when a religious ritual is happening! A Puja/Pooja,

Aarti, Chalisa, or Abhishekam are all appropriate rituals to attend. There will likely be both a group ritual and individual prayers happening, and you can describe both in the Service/Ritual portion of your paper.   


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