The Mission Inn Quaker congregational visit was different and interesting to know because I didn’t have any idea of that religion since it is not really heard of. I thought is very ironic how the building for the church was a small house-based congregation in downtown Riverside. I was unusual to hear that the décor of the church looking like a living room and the chairs were set up in a square shape that way everyone is facing each other. The point of this arrangement was to let the members know about their surroundings. The Quaker religion doesn’t have a set scripture or bible type of layout for a tradition service where the is a priest or speaker because their type of worship was to sit in silence until someone had the urge to stand and speak or say a message. Other wise during the service that our classmate attended didn’t experience anyone speaking thus it felt like a type of meditation but still being aware of the others in their square set up.
Another congregation presentation that I found interesting was The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah Witness because I didn’t know that they offered a Spanish service. The service was interactive and majority Hispanic during the Hispanic mass. Also, to learn that active members at the church combine their religious and social life together. For example, they wont date anyone else who aren’t Jehovah witness because to them it is considered a sin. But for personal experience they are a welcoming group of people who are willing to help new comers join their congregation.
During class last week we learned a little bit about Ethnography and how it differed from a sociologist. Ethno means people and graphy means writing, so in other words it means writing about people. Ethnographers tend to spend very long periods of time at the place they are looking at. During class we learned a little bit of background about how it started. One of the first ethnographers was W.F Whyte. He was hired to hang out with street gangs and find out how they worked, in order to try and get them to comply with society and behave with the middle class. At the time the street gangs were considered lower class and deviant, but still salvageable. What he ended up finding was that the street gangs were still people like anybody else, and he didn’t feel that they needed to be assimilated into the middle class anymore. He started to understand how they ran their lives and believed they still deserved to be treated with respect. Overall what came from this study was the complex picture of human beings that Whyte was able to portray. I think this is the most important job of ethnographers. It is imperative that they can show other people that do not understand them, that just because they have differing views, they still deserve to be treated just like everyone else, even if you don’t agree with them. This is why it is important for ethnographers to be able to realize the viewpoint they are at and express that in an article, so it does not come off as biased.
This past week in class we heard students present about their visits to different congregations within the Redlands area. The diverse religious landscape found within such a small area will never cease to amaze me, and even the differences found within the vast array of congregations that fall under one major branch of religion. The majority of the students in our class visited congregations that identified themselves as “Christian” in some way or another, ranging from Evangelism, to the church of the Latter-day Saints, to Jehovah’s witnesses, and beyond. I appreciate doing these congregation visits, and hearing about other students’ experiences because it has helped me delve further into the world of sociological thinking, in which one listens and learns about other people’s experiences and beliefs without judging. Prior to taking this class I may have classified some of these religious traditions as “weird,” “fake,” or even “cultish,” but I have learned to become fascinated by the world of religious traditions that differ from my own upbringing, and to learn and understand rather than judge or fear. We have begun to form our own small ethnographies of the religious traditions we have immersed ourselves in, and through this I have personally began to understand the criticality of pluralism, and that we must engage this idea in our study of sociology, anthropology, and religion.
In class we learned about the importance and role ethnography plays in the field of sociology. The Greek word “Ethno” means “people” and “Graphy” means “writing,” so together it means “writings” about “people.” Ethnography allows sociologists to both investigate the lives of people, but also to report in writing those lives to others. There are two institutional sources, the first being “Colonial Ethnography,” where sociologists wrote about rulership and observed the “cultural savage,” meaning they followed natives and observed their lifestyles to be able to write about them. The second is the Chicago School of Sociology, the first major body of research emerging during the 1920s and 1930s specializing in urban sociology. There are 6 stages of ethnography: Investigating “primitive peoples,” cultural relativism, modernization theory, interpretive ethnography, colonial complicity, and focus on representation. These 6 different categories focus on different sociological aspects, making sociology and its study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society broad so that all things can be observed, written about, and talked about.
This past week I was able to interview my religious specialist. Although both of our schedules weren’t compatible with each other, we were still able to make it work via email. I interviewed Pastor Rich Cox from the Christian Door Fellowship. He was such a nice, genuine person who has an amazing story of how he was reborn again.
Pastor Rich Cox is currently the senior pastor at his church. He is a very hard working man as he works 7 days a week with 12-14 hours per day. If you didn’t know, the average person works 5 days a week with 8.8 hours per day! I was quite shocked when he told me this. I can’t image how he manages his life outside of his work!
Before he became a pastor, Pastor Rich was a full time police officer for 10 years. He believed that there was too much violence and cruelty that he witnessed everyday, so he decided to withdraw himself from all of it. Although it took him awhile, he surrendered his life to Christ in 1984 and believed that he was called to become a pastor. From then on, it made him love and enjoy what he does for people everyday.
There are a lot of people like Pastor Rich who have surrendered their life to Christ. My pastor at my own church has a similar background story just like Pastor Rich. They both never grew up wanting to be involved in full time ministry. It was both during a certain moment in their life where they believed there is something out there for them that is better. Something that was missing in their life. It’s amazing to hear about all these different stories and to see how each person has grown just by accepting Christ in their life.
Last Thursday, we spent our class time presenting our second congregation visits. While most information in the presentations had been covered during the first round of congregation visits, this time around I was able to focus less on the details of each organization and instead appreciate Redlands’ religious diversity as a whole. I realized that this diversity is what allows people to not only be picky and shop around for a goldilocks church (perpetuating the religious market narrative), but it also encourages more participation in organized religion as a whole. Because they have so many options, people are more likely to find a church that matches not only their belief system but the kind of community and level of commitment they are looking for. If there are fewer churches to choose from, families and individuals might feel too much like they are conforming to something they don’t fully believe in and end up not joining a church at all.
Sticking with the vernacular of the religious market narrative, I think that to an extent it is the responsibility of the congregation responsibility to convince potential members that the “goods” they provide can meet their needs. Extra efforts to recruit could be the difference in whether they decide to return or not, but it is nearly impossible to know exactly what people are looking for. I think it would be very cool if there was an application that helped match people with religious organizations. After entering their basic preferences(religion/belief system, size of congregation, length of service, anonymity or community, etc), the app could find which nearby organization(s) best fit the individual’s needs. Users could see which of their friends go to which churches, and view detailed profiles of each organization. The app could also give organizations access to data that reflects what most people are looking for, so they can adjust based on demand. Perhaps this is oversimplifying, or it has been done before, but I think this app could make the process of joining a church easier, and has the potential to increase membership in religious organizations wherever it is implemented.
On Thursday we heard the presentations of the second round of congregation visits. This time, what stood out to me were the different points focused on between class members who visited the same congregation as well as in general the different aspects of congregations that were focused on among all the presentations. This just goes to show how in sociology who is asking the questions and what questions they are asking shape their observations/ study. Members of our class all come from different backgrounds and experiences. In our congregation visits, we naturally focused on what stood out to us- which varied and in a way can reflect who we are. It is interesting to me that in sociology and anthropology who is doing the research is relevant and says something about their findings. As much as we can try to remove our biases, it goes beyond that. The questions we choose to ask, our position in the group we are observing, etc. all affect our study.
Last week the class presented their final congregation visits. Overall, the information presented was interesting and informative. Though this is true, it was especially difficult to hear about what happened at one of the student’s congregation visits. The student stated that at their visit a homeless individual was kicked out. It was stated that the situation became uncomfortable and became violent. It’s saddening hearing about these events. I was not personally present, so I cannot speak to the specifics of the situation but just the simple fact that it became such a scene and something that could be expressed as violent by the individual who observed it is upsetting. It is saddening that the remarks made were at the expense of the individual who was already being made such a spectacle of.
Other than this circumstance, the other congregation visit reports were interesting. Most individuals had great experiences. It is encouraging to hear that many of the congregations in Redlands are extremely inviting. Every student expressed a sense of feeling welcome and encouraged to attend once again. These congregation visits have been very useful in my opinion. They have shown all of the students that all of these varying religions can essentially create a similar feeling environment and similar mentalities in a broad aspect. They have personally shown me that attending these different congregations is not something to be scared of. I feel more empowered to continue looking into religion and possibly find what I may connect with.
Our last lecture was about ethnography. It was enlightening to be able to learn about this type of study after doing a congregation visit myself. I really appreciate all of the different stages of ethnography and how each form of ethnography generates its own results and conclusions. This was especially interesting given that the congregation visit presentations were on the class following the lecture. It made me appreciate the dedication and effort that goes into observing a religious organization by an ethnographer. We only visited a single congregational service at our assigned congregation and from that wrote an essay and did a presentation. After learning about the process that ethnographers go through it seems funny to think that we can go to a congregational service and somehow leave with a good understanding of the people and the tradition. Ethnographer or sociologist spend months even years with a group before drawing conclusions or writing about them. I also appreciate the connectedness of the entire process. An ethnographer isn’t a judgmental observer instead they participate to an extent and respect and partner with their subjects which seems incredibly transparent and refreshing especially given the religious biases inherent in nearly all observers. Additionally, it seems difficult for me to comprehend the level of analysis and depth that ethnographers are able to gather, as a religious studies major, these types of ‘site visits’ have been a regular occurrence in my life. Each time is nearly the same process, and I leave feeling fairly satisfied with my knowledge of the tradition and what is happening within the congregation. However, learning that an ethnographer spends years observing congregations was shocking!
Last week we presented to the class all of the different congregations within Redlands that we visited. It was really interesting to see all of the similarities and differences between congregations of the same faith, and how even when the same congregation from last time was presented, there was new information and observations about it. What most stood out to me was the abundance of elements besides belief that might lead someone to choose a particular congregation. For example, several locations have longer mass, while others, such as St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, where Robert and I visited, have shorter mass, lasting for a duration of about 25 minutes or so. For those who have busy lives and try to make religion fit into their daily routine, shorter masses before work or school allow them to better fulfill this goal. Another example of non belief related features of congregations were the communities within them. The presenters of the Latter Day Saints Church gave an example of this when they discussed how one man who always attends has “his spot” that everyone knows not to sit in. The UCC Congregation, which has most of the faculty from the U of R attend, is known for its open mind and inclusiveness, displayed through the rainbow flags and banners throughout the congregation, and the female Pastor Jill. Although almost all congregations were types of Christianity, they all exemplified very different morals and atmospheres of worship and community, which reinforced the idea to me that choosing a congregation is less about belief and more about what draws you to it, and therefore, the success of a congregation must have little to do with belief as well.