Site visits and interviews are designed to get you to experience first hand the people and behaviors linked to the Indian traditions studied in the course. Such experience will serve as the foundation for the three observation reports that make up your formal journal. Choose one of the local places of worship from the list below
Once you chose a site, make time well in advance of the first report deadline (March 20) to visit. Make sure to email or call ahead to verify the location and schedule for the event, especially where times listed below are in brackets with question marks. Note that you must observe some type of formal event; you may at other times have very interesting interactions with community members there, but it will be difficult to tell what they normally do when outsiders are not present based exclusively on informal interactions. Further advice about observing and interviewing people there is provided below.
Primarily Immigrant Communities
Primarily American Converts
Sri Siddhi Vinayaka Cultural Center
Vedanta Society of Sacramento
(Hindu Monastic Order)
1337 Mission Avenue , Carmichael 95608
Sundays 9:30 -10:30 am & 6-7 pm
& East Sacramento Gurdwaras
Universal Compassion Center
Laxmi Narayan Temple
Lotus Garden Meditation Center
Due Dates: You will need to choose your site by Wednesday, February 21, and indicate your choice to me by submitting a half-sheet of paper (handwritten if you like) that indicates (1) the name of the site, (2) the date and time(s) you plan to go, and (3) any contact you have made with someone at the site.
When you arrive at the site, remember that you are a representative of the Sac State community. If possible, arrive early and introduce yourself to someone there so that you have a contact with at least one person. In general say as little as possible about this assignment so that you can focus on observing: you may just want to stick with "I'm taking a class on Asian culture, and am very interested in what you do here." Be courteous not simply in talking and asking questions, but also via the non-verbal signals you give as you are observing what is happening. You do not have to participate in anything that goes on if you don’t want to, but try as much as possible not to get in the way of the atmosphere which the group creates and maintains. Also take note of the ways in which you think your very presence might be affecting that atmosphere.
During and after your visit, remember the following:
1. Your job as an observer is to record accurately what you experienced. Be very attentive in noticing the visual, verbal, and/or other sensory details you see & hear (and also feel, smell, and even taste!). Try to observe and include both the formal (e.g., ceremony, public speech, etc.) and informal (e.g., people chatting during a ceremony, a person closing their eyes) aspects of the event you witnessed. Some details to make sure to observe (which will probably be difficult to remember exactly if you don't pay attention to them at the time):
• What does the site
look like, both inside and out?
• How many people are there, and how are they distinct from one another?
• What different activities are going on (noting especially those occuring simultaneously, and the precise sequence of those occuring at different times)?
• To what extent do people seem to know exactly what will happen next, and to what extent are they looking around for cues?
• What different sounds do you hear?
• What types of words are used, and in what ways (e.g., recitation, formal speech, etc.)? Can you detect the language(s) being used? Is anything repeated more than once?
2. Afterwards, try to find out some details from one or more of the worshippers about the extent to which the event you observed is typical, and the extent to which what happened was particular to that day. Ask also generally about the significance of what happened, even if just to note that the persons you speak with say little about it.
* If, rather than conducting an interview, you wish to return for a second site visit, inquire about other types of meetings or special events that might of interest to you. It is also fine to return to, watch, and inquire about the same event a second time if you think you can still learn a lot more from it, as long as you feel you can write a significantly different follow-up report.
3. You may find it helpful to take brief notes while on the site; but please do not bring any type of electronic or photo recording device into the environment, since this would significantly alter the dynamics of the group. Instead, be attentive to what you see and hear during the event, keeping in mind especially the questions listed above. Following the visit, however, write down--as soon as possible after it's over--everything you can remember about what you saw, heard, and understood, including especially answers to the above questions.
CAUTION: At this stage of description avoid noting general moods or judgements (e.g., “the man in front of me seemed really bored;” “I felt really impressed with people's dedication to their actions”), dwelling instead on what you actually saw and heard (e.g., “the man’s face gave no indication of any particular interest in what he was doing;” “I was struck by how clearly and loudly everyone was singing this song.”) You may find it helpful to consult my description of dimensions of religious culture, which includes additional pointers about observing such details.
If you decide you wish to interview a person you met during your site visit rather than visiting the site a second time, make sure you have some reliable way to contact them, and that you'll be able to complete the interview at least a few days before the report deadline (Thursday, November 17). Feel free to interview a previous acquaintance--whether through your family, work, or school (perhaps even this class)--if they are familiar with the site you visited and identify themselves as a member of the religious tradition represented there (vs. simply identifying South Asian ancestors). Keep in mind some individuals may protest they don’t know much about the ideas and history of their tradition; you might need to stress that what you want to hear from them is their personal experience.
In preparing for & conducting the interview, keep in mind the following parameters:
1. Your interview should ideally be done in person, and last about 45 minutes to a full hour. If you find it difficult to schedule this much time, try to hold two shorter sessions. If there are serious constraints on you and/or your interviewee's schedules and transportation, you may have to conduct the interview by phone. As with the site visit, remember that you are a representative of the Sac State community. Make sure to introduce yourself and tell your interviewee a little bit about the class. Be courteous in speaking with them; be respectful of the person’s time in the way you set up and especially keeping your appointment.
2. Your first job
in the interview is to plan and deliver questions. This
is a delicate art: the interview will ideally be a two-way conversation
(admittedly guided by you) between two willing partners rather than the
interrogation of subject by a researcher. Although you should have a clear
sense of what you want to know, you should also let the
person tell their own story in the way they want to tell it. You
will probably think of additional questions as you listen, and should make
sure to ask those questions. The following suggestions may help you to pose
your questions in a flexible and sensitive way:
• start with personal history: were they raised with this tradition, or did they chose it or get drawn to it at some point, and what have been the highlights of their developing relationship with it?
• in your questions try to explore different dimensions of religious life: e.g., urge the person to relate impersonal descriptions of ideas and practices to what they themselves actually do and the communities they are part of, e.g. "that sounds fascinating; I'm wondering what that idea means to you in terms of your daily experience," "to what extent does that type of practice apply to your activities with others?"
• bring up details about some related tradition that you've encountered in the class readings, and ask whether they think such accounts either differ from or resemble traditions they themselves have experienced or heard about.
• work to pick up on and ask about hidden connections between all the details you hear; for example, if a person mentions an initiation experience you might ask about the extent to which that experience continues to influence them, even if they don't consciously think about it.
3. As with the site visit, your other important task will be to record accurately what the person tells you in order to describe the conversation in your write up. The ideal situation is to tape the conversation so you can review the details afterwards. If you can’t get a tape recorder, however--or if you're doing a phone interview and don't have the right set-up to record it--plan to take sketchy notes during the interview and then fill in as many details as you can when it's over. Avoid taking extensive notes during the interview as this will distract from your conversation.
REPEATED CAUTION: Just as in describing your site visit, at this stage avoid noting general moods or judgements (e.g., “Mr. Yee seemed really bored," "I was turned off by his tone of voice,” etc.), dwelling instead on what you actually saw and heard (e.g., “Mr Yee’s shoulders were slumped forward and his facial expression quite flat," “I was struck by emphatically he made his statements, as if he were the final authority”).
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