“Take me to church…”: A Research Proposal

Take me to church.

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies.

I’ll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife.

Offer me my deathless death.

Good God, let me give you my life.

–Hozier, “Take Me to Church

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Both sides of my family are Italian, so it should be no surprise when I say that I am a baptized, confirmed Roman Catholic. My parents attended Catholic school for 13 years. When they had me, I was baptized in the church at three months old. I was confirmed as a member of the church at 14. Every Wednesday after school for seven years, I studied at CCD in my parish’s hall. I attended church every Sunday with an envelope containing two quarters and labeled with my name so that my attendance would be counted for the week in case my catechist decided to check up on us like she so often threatened. I memorized prayers and the books of the Bible to recite diligently before the class.

At 16, I fell asleep in a pew at midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Those memorized prayers and lists drifted out of memory.

After that, I only set foot in church if a family member died. I was surprised to learn in the spring of 2014 that liturgical language had changed back in 2011.

At 25, the only time I mention church in my daily life is when I sing along to the Hozier song in my car on the way to work. That doesn’t really count, either, because he’s not singing about an actual church; he’s singing about a person, and now I’m wondering if my singing constitutes worshiping false idols and somehow makes me a bad person.

A few months ago, I met my boyfriend, and I began seriously considering the idea of church. While I had grown up and let my religious devotion fall by the wayside, he is a practicing Baptist and asked about my religious beliefs and practices several times in the early stages of our relationship. I was more than a little embarrassed by my utter inability to give a complete and thoughtful answer to the question, “What do you believe in?” I’d like to be able to give a better reason as to why I want my future children baptized other than “because that’s what happened to me.”

20120127-205643The more I reflected on my religious experiences, I realized I am not alone. In high school, many of the classmates I was confirmed with switched churches and began attending a new, non-denominational church in the area. More and more, I hear of people converting. I learn of podcasts by hip “megachurches” like Elevation and Hillsong. I thought all this conversion and religious interest was weird in high school because honestly, at 18, no one in my circle with was thinking about God. I’m now wondering if I’m the weird one because I haven’t given the concept any careful consideration.

So, why are my musings on faith driving me to investigate further?

I think I have a vague sense of occurs at some of the new, more popular churches I keep hearing, but I would like to explore how their practices compare to their Roman Catholic counterparts and whether I’d still be attending Mass regularly if my parish adopted some modern or alternative elements

This is going to be a challenge. Catholic guilt is real. I am afraid of finding out or saying something that will offend my faith and my very Italian, Catholic family. I’m also worried that this going to feel like I am “cheating” on the church I was confirmed into. This is a necessary challenge, though, because I feel compelled to evaluate my own experiences. I hope to be able to articulate why millennials, myself included, seem to be turning away from the highly traditional Catholic church. I wonder if there is anything to be uncovered that can draw my generation back.

I am excited by the possibility of completing this research because it will enable cover170x170me to explore many archives for information. I plan to examine paper archives, such as church bulletins and liturgical readings from churches. I also see myself working to overcome my fear of reaching out to and talking with new people by exploring living archives and potentially interviewing priests from local Catholic parishes and pastors from other church denominations. I can incorporate experiential archives by attending a variety of services at different churches in the community to compare my experiences as well as take note of spaces, populations, and attitudes. This may also introduce me to other living archives with whom I could conduct interviews and understand other religious journeys outside of my own. I also believe I can incorporate electronic audio and visual archives by using podcasts, webcasts, images, and websites.

Because this topic is deeply rooted in my individual experience and local community, at this time, I am planning on writing either a personal experience essay about reconnecting with and studying my faith or a feature article about how different churches compare for members of my generation. I feel as though this will help other my peers relate to the topic and possibly make enough connections to myself and my own discoveries that they also become invested in and curious about my findings. I also think because I will be using my research to compare how my personal experience through this spiritual journey relates to that of my generation, I will be able to propose or introduce trends would be interesting for others to consider.

In searching for publications that may be interested in such a piece include U.S. Catholic, a print and online magazine that considers both queries and unsolicited submissions. Their accepted submission categories include both feature articles and essays about social issues, spirituality, daily Catholic life, opinions, and suggestions of new ways for dealing with old subjects of interest to Catholics. A second print and online magazine I could submit my final work to is First Things, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education with the mission in advancing a religiously informed public. In my search for publishers, I also scoured the Internet and came across an online magazine titled Relevant; I am particularly interested in this publication because in addition to articles, they present a great deal of web-based content, including videos and podcasts. Relevant is also a platform specifically directed at Christian twenty- and thirtysomethings, which I believe connects best with my personal experience and researched age group.Screenshot (33)

More specifically, Relevant’s mission reads, “We try to publish ideas that break stereotypes, challenge the status quo and spur a generation to know God more—and change the world while they’re at it. We want to engage our generation in a deeper conversation about faith, challenging worldviews and causing people to see God outside the box they’ve put Him in. Encountering God changes things.” I feel like this directly correlates to the kind of research I would like to conduct and could, therefore, be more than just a potential place of publication; it could also be an archive I examine very closely during my research process.

One of the challenges submitting to these publications will be writing an essay or article that is less than 2,000 words, as that is the maximum limit of two of the three. The other has a maximum limit of 1,200 words. I have already found so many avenues to explore that I am not sure how I can so succinctly come to any conclusions about this expansive topic.

I am also considering the possibility of submitting to online publications like Thought Catalog and Bustle because, while they are not faith-based publications, they are publications targeting the population I am researching, and a quick search through their archives for the keyword “religion” turned up countless articles about religion and our twentysomething culture.

Other religious publications I researched as possible publishers for a piece of this nature, such as Conscience, The Lookout, and Purpose. However, through my research, I discovered that these publications focus on either distinctly political issues or encouragement for living a life of faithful discipleship. I feel as though these would not be the best place to submit the writing I am planning because it is more an exploratory and reflective piece rather than a ministry piece. During my brainstorming phase, I also considered composing a short fiction piece, though as I looked for publications I could submit my work to, many of the publications with religious interests did not accept fiction or poetry.

Depending on the types of discoveries I make, I will keep the idea of writing a fiction or creative piece in the back of my mind. For now, as previously stated, I plan to focus on researching for an article or personal experience essay because I am most interested in learning, about other faiths, about my faith, about my beliefs, about myself as a writer, and, ultimately, about myself as a human.

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8 thoughts on ““Take me to church…”: A Research Proposal

  1. I was raised Catholic also and am really looking forward to reading your research posts! I love your Communion photo – I hated my veil and wanted the plastic pearl crown so bad!

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  2. Lauren,

    Thank you for this thoughtful and detailed post on a subject that is both engaging and personal. I’ll be honest when I say that I’m on the fence with this topic, however. Though I know looking into one’s faith is always a risk and possess significant challenges, your proposal has two things that always ring off alarms for me.

    First, it is connected to a new relationship. In the past, when those relationships have failed, so too has the interested in the subject or the subject because a kind of place of spite. So, I tend to ask students to shy away from those do the chance of the relationship ending.

    Second, it is clear you have spent a significant amount of time thinking about this. While your new relationship seems to have catalyzed the interested now, it is clear you have considered it in the past.

    What if you turned the subject to look at the spiritual journeys of other people—both to and from faith. (You should listen to Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go of God, which is absolutely stunning. By focusing on others you will be able to reflect on your own but the focus will not just be on your own experience.

    How does that sound? Please reply to this comment to let me know what you’re thinking.

    Thanks,
    BW

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    • I like the idea of considering others’ journeys to and from faith. I think that was something I was hoping to incorporate in the first place by looking at other churches and conducting interviews. I think the reason I was looking to incorporate more personal experience because I wasn’t too sure about finding/identifying subjects to write about and/or profile. It would definitely be something I am interested in examining.

      I was also, in conducting research looking into media portrayals of religion. I know, for example, Katy Perry is a minister’s daughter and has had to deal with a lot of questions about faith in regard to her career, which would fit in line with this topic. I also have been looking at portrayals of the new pope and arguments as to whether or not he’s “revolutionary” for the sake of beliefs and Catholic doctrine or to have more media/mass appeal and stop the loss of followers. I also think this would be an avenue to tie in how social media/technology has helped and/or hindered religious practices and spiritual journeys.

      I suppose I was leaning more toward personal experience because I was going to look into different church practices and kind of do a comparison to my own previous experiences. I also think that my idea for the topic was very broad, and I can’t really pinpoint an exact direction because I did have so many ideas in my head all at once.

      I definitely understand your concerns about the new relationship giving birth to the idea and the dangers that might pose to my interest and dedication to the topic, because it is something I’ve considered before, I am not so sure that is a fear that need be.

      However, being that I have considered it before, if you think that would make me too familiar with the topic, I can work on something else that might be more unfamiliar territory, though I’m kind of at a loss for another idea. It was a challenge to come up with something, and I had thought I was on to something here.

      That was long-winded, but I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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  3. Hi Lauren,

    I think the best bet is to go with others’ experiences and then you can weave in your own. Part of the challenge will be finding people, yes, but that’s what we’re doing this—to gain experience you might need later on in life.

    Sound good?

    BW

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    • I absolutely want to consider and talk to others about their experiences. However, something I’m extremely interested in is also visiting different churches and comparing the actions, behaviors, and populations to that of the church that I am used to. This is more what I mean about my own “experiences.” I’m not necessarily talking about my own spiritual journey.

      I’m really interested, in addition to getting stories about why people turn to and away from different churches, in looking at how environment (physical, spiritual, etc) plays into the experiences these others have. For example, if I speak with someone who is highly active in a young, hip church with young pastors and a heavy media influence, I’d like to be able to compare that church to the church I’m used to and try to analyze what/how those various elements impact the connection they feel with the church.

      I hope I’m not coming across as confrontational. I’m just not sure I’m clearly conveying what I mean in terms of personal experience. I suppose I’m equating personal experience with me being able to have a first hand look (through interviews and visiting) at others’ experiences.

      Is that something I am able to include? Basically, I want to try and draw conclusions about what makes people turn to churches and what makes people turn away from churches. And I want to be able to see first hand what interviewees are talking about. I’m not necessarily going to be writing about different churches in the hopes that I’m going to find one I want to belong to, which is how I feel you may have been interpreting some aspects of my follow up comment, if that makes sense.

      I feel like I’m looking to have an understanding of what motivates others to stay religious or turn away from religion, and ultimately, maybe outside of the scope of this project, relate all of that to my research.

      Does that make sense? I hope so.

      But yes, I definitely want to speak to others, and I may have found someone to interview already who is involved in the process of becoming a minister, which I think would be a perfect example of a person I could speak with.

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      • Hi Lauren,

        Okay, that all sounds good. Thanks for posting the TED talk– I’ve only heard her audio version before. Looking forward to seeing where this journey take you…

        BW

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  4. Pingback: A Research Proposal Update: It seems as though I’m going to church, but I won’t be alone. | Entrances and Exits

  5. Pingback: Pre-Interview Planning: In-Person Interview 1 | Lauren Addeo's Research Blog: Entrances and Exits

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