A Research Proposal Update: It seems as though I’m going to church, but I won’t be alone.

About a week ago, I posted a research proposal explaining how a short conversation and a seemingly simple question sparked an internal philosophical and theological debate in my mind. I think I was so excited and taken by the possibilities of all there was to explore in terms of faith and spiritual journeys that I moved further away from the focus I intended to search for.

A week, and some guidance (the kind of this world, not that of the other-world) later, and I feel confident that I have adjusted my research intentions to a focused, interesting, and thought-provoking topic. I will be examining others’ spiritual journeys to and from God.

To study these journeys, I would like to conduct personal interviews or research in paper/electronic archives with people in various stages of spiritual discovery. This could include a young person who has no association with faith, a young person discovering their faith through schooling or with the help of his or her parents, a reformed believer who may have turned away from God at some point in his or her life only to find the way back, an adult believer who never stopped believing, a spiritual leader (i.e. a priest/pastor/Reverend/minister), an adult who turned away from God and decided he or she was a nonbeliever, an adult who changed religions, and an adult who was never raised in faith.

Katy Perry, for example, might be an interesting figure to look into for starters because her father is a minister. She was raised a Christian, but she no longer believes in heaven, hell, or God in a traditional Christian sense. I could research through paper and electronic archives why and how she may have adjusted her spiritual beliefs. Then, I could compare Perry’s experience to a similar experience of person to whom others might more easily relate. Again, this is just one example, and I would also love to be able to speak with and work with members of my local and surrounding communities for a more thorough, relatable perspective on the topic.

I think it would also be interesting to participate with or engage in the religious practices of those I meet and talk to. For example, attending the church services of an adult who had turned away from the church but found his or her way back to God might help me understand why they were drawn back to a religious lifestyle. Perhaps the messages shared at his or her church are particularly relevant and appealing to the specific age group. Perhaps he or she really enjoys being able to use different media to build a relationship with God rather than listening to a priest read from the Gospel and then give an instructing lecture about the passage.

I feel as though doing this might ultimately lead me to consider my own personal beliefs. In addition to helping me understand what I think about faith and its various aspects, the research will enable me to write an interesting, comparative feature article or editorial article about church, faith, and religious practices in the 21st century.

I would still like to try and publish on an online media source aimed at my age demographic, particularly Relevant Magazine because the research will still be grounded generationally.

So–what exactly will be my first course of action?

At the suggestion of Bill Wolff, I think I’ll begin by listening to Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go of God, the first segment of which she performed for TED in 2006.

“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.