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In the last week of the Religious World institute, our summer scholars conduct original field research in small groups, exploring the religious life of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  We hope their work will inspire teachers throughout the country to develop student fieldwork projects.  We’d love to see teams of students fanning out across the United States to document and interpret the religious diversity of their own communities.

Our summer scholars explore Sacred Gotham from the bottom up, looking for “religion” wherever it might be found and however it might be defined — in houses of worship and faith-based organizations, but also in statues and shrines, murals and graffiti, bookstores and businesses, yoga studios and rest­aurants, and countless other sites.  They create multimedia fieldwork reports, which they share with each other on the second-to-last day of the institute.

Click the Left and Right Arrows to View Excerpts from Sacred Gotham Reports

In the 2012 and 2014 Religious Worlds institutes, our summer scholars also pinned accounts of their fieldwork sites to a custom Google Map — creating a collaborative, multimedia map of the religious life of the Upper West Side.  This mapping exercise ultimately proved too time consuming for a brief, three-day fieldwork project, but it’s a great idea for tech-savvy students with a bit more time to conduct research.

Click the Left and Right Arrows to View Excerpts from the Sacred Gotham Map

If you’re designing a student fieldwork project, you may want to take a look at these texts and online resources — including field methods handbooks, an etiquette guide for visiting diverse houses of worship, and a discussion of the importance of community-based learning.  The field methods handbooks are primarily intended for use in college courses, but can be adapted for use with K-12 students.

Helpful Resources for Designing Fieldwork Projects

Julia Crane and Michael Angrosino, Field Projects in Anthropology: A Student Handbook, Waveland Press, 1992.

Practical, down-to-earth approach to key methods and issues in ethnographic field research.  Structured around a series of fourteen student projects that represent common data collection techniques used by anthropologists, including field research in a house of worship.

Nalika Gajaweera and Andrew Johnson, Studying Faith: Qualitative Methodologies for Studying Religious Communities, USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, 2016.

How-to guide for students studying religious groups with qualitative research methods, including interviews, life histories, and ethnographic research.  Organized as a set of seventeen frequently asked questions, you can read the sections in sequence or jump to the questions you find most relevant.  Available for free online, on the website of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California -- click the link above to access now.

Stuart Matlins and Arthur Magida, How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, SkyLight Paths, 2015.

Easy-to-read guidebook, to help guests feel comfortable at unfamiliar houses of workship and religious services.  Not recommended as a sourcebook on religious diversity, as it tends to overgeneralize and oversimplify, but nevertheless quite helpful in preparing for student site visits to houses of worship.

Studying Congregations Project, Studying Congregations Toolkit.

Downloadable resources introducing a range of methodological tools for the study of congregational religious life, including the use of survey data, archival research, photos and video, interviews, participant observation, and more.  Developed by leading theologians and scholars of religion, the website also includes reflections on the significance of congregational life.

Bonnie Stone Sunstein and Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater, FieldWorking: Reading and Writing Research, Bedford-St. Martin's, 2011.

Fun and practical guide to field research and writing, including examples of field writing by accomplished scholars, novelists, and journalists alongside student research projects, to empower students to observe, listen, interpret, analyze, and write about the people and artifacts around them.

Michael Umphrey, The Power of Community-Centered Education: Teaching as a Craft of Place, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.

Inspiring discussion of the pedagogic and civic significance of community-based research projects by high school students, grounded in the author's experience as a classroom teacher, principal, and director of the Montana Heritage Project, as well as psychological, sociological, historical, and philosophical reflections on the importance of community as an organizing principle for secondary education.

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