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Field Experiences in Religion: Participant Observation

Field Experiences in Religion: Participant Observation

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Published by Stephen Nomura
I attended four religious events over Thanksgiving break to better my understanding of the concepts learned in class. The four events were: a Bahá’í devotional, a contemporary Protestant service, a mainline Catholic mass, and a Latino/a Catholic mass.
I attended four religious events over Thanksgiving break to better my understanding of the concepts learned in class. The four events were: a Bahá’í devotional, a contemporary Protestant service, a mainline Catholic mass, and a Latino/a Catholic mass.

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Published by: Stephen Nomura on Nov 01, 2010
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Stephen NomuraProf. SawyerRS/Soc 3773 December 2009
I attended four religious events over
anksgiving break to better my understanding of the conceptslearned and discussed in class.
e four events were: a Bahá’í devotional, a contemporary Protestantservice, a mainline Catholic mass, and a Latino/a Catholic mass.
e amount of class material that Ifound relevant during these experiences was startling; seldom is the relevance of coursework to daily life so immediately salient.T
Bahá'í Faith
On November 22nd, Sunday, from 10AM till about 11AM, I attended a “devotional” at the Bahá’íCenter of Minneapolis.
e building was about the size of a small barn or a larger than average housein Ames. Both the exterior and interior were fairly plain in comparison to most Christian churches;there was no stained glass, pipe organ, altar, elaborate decoration, or blatant iconography. I becameinterested in and found the Bahá’í Faith through a close friend of mine. Before the devotional, I hadbreakfast with him and his mother, who gave me a quick overview of the Bahá’í Faith.Bahá’ís believe that most major world religions are actually di
erent manifestations orre
ections of the same universal truth.
ey believe that Buddha, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, andZoroaster (to name a few) were all messengers from the same God.
ey believe Bahá'u'lláh is themost recent of these messengers, but not necessarily the last. Bahá’ís believe the diversity of religionin the world is intentional; that is, God created Buddhism in certain parts of the world because thatis what that part of the world needed to hear and believe at that time to move humanity forward.
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is concept reminds me of the readings on universalism versus particularism.
e Bahá’íFaith is almost like the polar type of particularization of the universal, which is the idea that mostbelief systems are just di
erent paths to the same destination. 
e devotional felt like a small meeting or conference because there were only nine of us andno clear leader. We sat in a circle around a co
ee table and discussed several passages from scripturethat were relevant to the
anksgiving holiday.
ere was amazing diversity; of the nine attendees,one was African American, one was Asian American, one was Middle Eastern, two of us were notmembers of the faith, and ages ranged from 18 to about 50. I was one of two men. When asked, theregular members con
rmed that the turnout was both fairly normal in terms of numbers anddiversity.
ey mentioned, however, that normally the ratio of men to women is more balanced. I was also struck by the lack of hierarchy; we were sitting in a circle, no one was wearing anything that would signify rank, and everything appeared open for discussion.
is contrasts sharply with my experiences at Christian events where either one person or a small group are leaders and wear somesort of rank-signifying garment. Along the same line, women and men are considered equal and,more importantly, they are actually 
as equal.
is means the Bahá’í Faith is not patriarchal, which is unlike most Abrahamic religions. As we learned, many NRM’s treat women more equally because they are in opposition to tradition.
e Bahá’í Faith was founded in the 1800’s, sodepending on your timeline, you may or may not consider the Bahá’í Faith “new.” However, it iscertainly a marginal religious movement, which shares many of the same characteristics.
Protestant - Wooddale
On November 28th, Saturday, from 5:15PM to 6:15PM, I attended a contemporary service at Wooddale Church, a nondenominational church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
e church is very large; the main hall can seat 2000 people, putting it right on the edge of megachurch status. It has atwo-story pipe organ and a clean modern style of interior decoration.
e service I attended,however, was conducted in a separate and smaller hall. I would estimate the attendance that evening
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to be about 200 people. Most of the attendees appeared 25-45 years old and were dressed in what I would dub "family formal" (sweaters, polos, khakis,
eece jackets). Members appeared to be wealthy;there was no shortage of nice cars in the parking lot and the church itself was out
tted with multiplelarge projectors, a large
at panel teleprompter, and a dedicated sound man. I chose a this event forseveral reasons: I had no idea what to expect, a close friend of mine is a former member, and I wanted to experience a contemporary service. 
e service began with
music. Guitar, bass, and drums accompanied a combination of male and female vocals.
e style was light pop rock, which is typical of the Christian sub-genre of rock. In the readings, we learned that many religious organizations are turning towardscontemporary services to pull more young people in.
ese generally feature modern music and lateafternoon to evening meeting times.
e service I attended felt like a sort of hybrid; there was rock music and it was held in the late afternoon, but the turnout was still mostly adults.Following the musical appetizer was the main dish, a lecture titled "Who is Jesus?"
espeaker was male and wore nice clothes, but no robes or anything to make him seem more holy thananyone else.
e lecture began with chastising Christians who have constructed a "personal Jesus"and was punctuated with playful jokes about how people who claim to be open minded are actually hypocrites. In spite of this, I tried to keep an open mind (irony intended).
e chastising of otherChristians
ts right in with the readings, which mention that a great deal of con
ict exists betweenmembers of the same religion or class of religions (e.g. protestants) who don’t agree on details withinthe religion, as opposed to concentrating on con
icts with non-members.In terms of delivery, the language used during the lecture was very absolute; the words"never" and "always" came up a lot. Furthermore, they emphasized that this was not even aninterpretation of scripture; it was simply "fact," or "the way it is."
ose who disagree are plain wrong and it is our duty to "enlighten" them. In contrast to the beliefs of the Bahá’í, this isuniversalization of the particular; "Wooddalers" believe that their understanding is the only correct
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