REL 226
Spiritual But Not Religious Fall 2017 Division II; Writing-Intensive; Cross-listed as ANTH226 / REL226
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Today, more than one in five people in the United States identify as “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. Yet that does not mean that religious sentiment or spirituality is on the decline. On the contrary, talk of “spirituality” is more pervasive than ever in popular discourse. Increasingly Americans claim that they are “spiritual but not religious” or that they prefer “individual religion” over “organized religion.” This course seeks to understand and investigate this phenomenon. What is the lived experience of being “spiritual but not religious”? What counts as spirituality? Is there a meaningful distinction between spirituality and religion? What does this distinction assume about the nature of organized religion? What is the history that led us to this ideology of individualized spirituality? And what are the social and political implications of this trend? We will explore these questions and study this phenomenon through an engagement with ethnography (the qualitative research method generally described as “participant-observation”). Over the course of the semester, students will be expected to conduct an ethnographic research project within local communities in Williams College and Williamstown. Alongside our central readings on spirituality, we will also be studying some background in the theory and practice of this methodology. Throughout the semester, students will work together on developing the practical skills necessary to conduct an ethnographic project, and will be gradually executing their own individual projects. This will include: designing a feasible project and research question, selecting research sites and interlocutors, taking field-notes and conducting interviews, and finally analyzing data and writing an ethnographic essay.
The Class: Type: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 10-15
Class#: 1324
Requirements/Evaluation: regular reading responses; semester-long research project with frequent small assignments building up to the final product (15- to 20-page paper)
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preference: none
Distributions: Division II; Writing-Intensive;

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