This past week in class we reviewed and clarified the topic of Ethnography. Breaking down the word ethnography it describes writings about people. When an individual is utilizing ethnography there are do’s and don’t. You can not use ethnography on one person it is a tool to be used during sociological observation of an entire community. Two key components are investigating peoples lives and reporting lives to others. Ethnography is away to see from a different standpoint. Most times starting from a certain standpoint would imitate a sort of bias to sociological perspective however seeing from a standpoint is not bias because there is no way to not hold a Bias because it is in our nature whether we are aware of it as humans or not. Having multiple perspectives allows the sociologist to produce more of an understanding and comprehension of the world around the object being observed. Reflexive Ethnography has four skills sets to be utilized, listening and understanding, willing to be vulnerable, stand up to ones own personal presumptions, recognition of ones personal cultural baggage.
Lastly, there are six stages of ethnography, Investigating primitive peoples, cultural relativism, modernization theory, interpretive ethnography, colonial complicity, focus on representation. Interpretation of ethnography and focusing on representing the results of the ethnography are two key components of the six stages
Today the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was the victim of a fire and currently, no one knows the cause of the fire. Photos show that the spire and parts of the roof are severely damaged. The cathedral is a cornerstone of the Catholic church in Paris, not only bringing in around 12 million visitors a year but also being the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. It’s interesting to think about the community aspect of religion especially in times of tragedy, reports say that there were people outside the burning cathedral singing hymns. Being considered a national emergency the French President Emmanuel Macron came to the area and took post in a nearby police station. Following after arriving he made a post on Twitter saying “A part of us is on fire”, from his post and the reactions of nearby people, the community, including public safety officers, Catholics, and the people of Paris are all trying to do their part and help in what why they seem fit. From this tragedy, we are able to see the influence and many aspects of a community in work. We also see aspects of an outside community (The United States) and their reactions, President Trump has a tweet saying “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!” There is something to be noted about the sincerity and tone of people who are speaking from within the community and from outside the community.
This week we learned about ethnography, which is used to learn about different cultures and religions. Part of being a good ethnographer is being able to identify and put aside your own biases in order to conduct a study from the point of view of the study subjects. I definitely had to use this skill in order to conduct studies during my congregation visits. It is very easy to judge a culture that you are not a part of. When I went to the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation, I found myself wanting to be judgmental of their worldview. When they showed signs of enforcing gender roles, I have to admit I was upset. I consider myself an avid feminist and liberal. However, I knew that I had to put my thoughts aside in order to conduct an accurate study. Therefore, I tried to think from their point of view. The gender roles may have made me uncomfortable, but it made them feel secure. I think it is a useful skill to use even if you are not conducting a sociology study. When we feel uncomfortable or upset about certain customs or traditions, we need to realize that humans are different all across the world. We do not all fit into the same mold. It is important that we try to see the world from a point of view different than our own. Just because something/someone is different, it does not mean it is better/worse. I will definitely use ethnography skills in the future.
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.