Question Description

Observation Paper

Students are expected to visit four different worship services or religious events and write a reflective paper summarizing, analyzing, comparing, and contrasting them. Students are encouraged to choose religious traditions different from their own. If you belong to a particular local church, synagogue, temple, etc., please do not use your home worship center as one of the experiences.

The goal of this project is to encourage students to experience a variety of religious cultures. Usually there is great variety even within one’s own tradition. Try to think of yourself as anthropologist going to a different culture and making observations for a report to be written later.

Items to Consider:

  • Use your own discretion about bringing worksheet into a service and writing. In other words, be respectful.
  • It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. Try going with a friend.
  • Fill out the worksheet as soon as possible while the experience is fresh on your mind.
  • The more you can interact (or even interview) people or leaders-the better
  • Integrate your notes from the four observations into a single paper.
  • Your paper should be at least six pages, double-spaced.

Name of Church/Synagogue/Temple/Event:.

Place and Time of Event: .

Personal Connection to this place (I like to know how you chose this particular place or what led you here): .

1) Note the exterior and interior architecture of the facility. What is distinctive about it? How does the architecture inspire a sense of the divine or otherness? What religious characteristics or themes does the architecture suggest? (community, etc.)

2) Try to find out any history related to the building such as age, circumstances, why it was built at this location, etc. Describe the setting of the building—what is the building’s setting in the surrounding neighborhood? What type of artistic expressions (i.e., iconography) do you see?

3) Describe the form of the worship and the leaders involved. Include descriptions of their dress or vestments. Note the type of music and instruments involved. Describe the mood and spirit of the worshipers.

4) Note and describe other items from the experience that are prevalent to you but not mentioned previously, such as order or form of worship, style of sermons, and prayers. Why do you think these items are important?

5) How do you think the form of the worship communicates or expresses the theology or beliefs of the group? Was there a message or sermon delivered? What was the theme and content?

6) Does the architecture of the building or the structure of the service invite a sense of otherness, sacredness, or holiness?

7) Describe your own feelings through the experience, both positive and negative. Did you feel welcomed or like a stranger? What did you learn?