Schedule Revision: Field Notes, Interviews, and Lookings

Last week, I posted a tentative schedule for my research plans. That schedule was certainly ambitious, and while I have been having a wonderful time meeting with and talking to interesting people, I am now backlogged with so much information. I have been trying to process it and analyze it all in drafts of transcriptions, but I am finding I need a bit more time to work through things with a level of thoroughness with which I feel comfortable and prepared.

Therefore, I have revised the schedule to include new anticipated post-interview blog post dates and updated some TBD dates for interviews.

Screenshot (47)Also, I have three other blog posts in the works, and I am really excited about each of them. Over the course of the next week, you can expect to see the following:

  1. An account of my boyfriend’s first trip to Catholic mass
  2. A presentation of the religious freedom act and this lovely blogger’s opinions on it
  3. An overview of Knox Online Seminary, a page which Facebook so kindly suggested to m

Stay tuned, and thank you for reading!

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Pre-Interview Planning: In-Person Interview 1

I will be interviewing Randy from Southern New Jersey on Friday, March 27 at his coffee shop, The Treehouse, in Audubon.

The Background 

Our third week of class this semester was canceled, but Elaine, Kristen, and I used the time to complete some work ahead of time for class. We met at The Treehouse to enjoy the coffee and the ambiance while we worked. About an hour in to our meeting, a group had formed in the space behind us, and they were watching a video via a large projector screen. We halted our conversation for a few minutes to see if we could figure out what the video the group was watching was about, and we begin to hear religious dialogue.

That’s when Elaine, a frequent customer at the shop, had a mini-epiphany. She said that she thought they were a group from a seminary school, and that she thinks they met there weekly. She also exclaimed–she couldn’t believe she had forgotten–that the owner of the shop was a youth pastor at his church and she believed he was still studying at seminary school.

I got in touch with Randy, the owner, through Facebook, and after hearing about his experiences, I knew he would be a perfect interviewee.

Around the time Randy was 13, he said that he felt God calling him to become to serve Him by working as a pastor. Eight years ago, he attended seminary for one year, and there he met the pastor of Oaklyn Baptist. Randy worked with this pastor as a youth pastor for seven years and was named Associate pastor last summer.

He shared that he and his wife, Tina, opened The Treehouse so that there would be a place people could feel God’s love and peace without it being shoved down their throat. They seem to enjoy running the small but warm, welcoming, and family-oriented business.

The Topics

In my research proposal, I mentioned that I had questions about millenials and their church going habits.This is something I hope Randy can shine a bit of light on, as he had been raised in a deeply faithful family and spent three to four nights a week at church in his youth. I’d be interested to see what it was that kept him so actively engaged in the church community. Adding to this topic, I would like to know more about what it was like to receive a calling from God about a path for one’s life, especially at such a young age. I wonder if it would be something obvious or subtle; after all, I’ve heard the phrase “a calling” many times, but I don’t have a clear picture of what that might mean.

As a student, the idea of schooling in preparation for becoming a minister is fascinating to me. I plan to ask Randy about the classes and lessons he had while at seminary. It might be interesting to see how it compares to a secular college experience, particularly in terms of practicality and applicability. I know teaching school was highly theoretical and not as practical as a teacher candidate might hope. I’m curious to see if this is a transferrable phenomenon.

Because he is a youth pastor, I’d also like to hear some of the ways he adapts messages to help engage and reach a younger audience. I wonder if this would include events outside of the weekly church service.

Finally, I would like to see if he can take me through The Treehouse and share some of the ways he feels the elements of the business reflect God’s love.

The Method

I will be preparing an outline based on the topics featured in the section above, and each item in the outline will have a list of potential questions to ask. The outline will have focus, which Brinkmann and Kvale mention as a major characteristic of a qualitative interview in InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. The topics above focus on youth in church, which is a topic in which I have been extremely interested since the start of this research project. This will keep the interview from being too scripted but also too nondirective (34). I believe it will prompt my interviewee to share what he finds most important, and, as he is an expert in this area of the field, I am excited by the prospect of new information he might share with me.

I have already explained the purpose of the interview to Randy, as I included the details in my original introduction, but I don’t necessarily want to get to The Tree House tomorrow and start asking questions. In InterViews, Brinkmann and Kvale suggest that an interviewer can engage in a funnel-shaped interview, an interview that features a roundabout approach with indirect questions until the purpose is revealed later in the interview (156-7). I would like to try and start a general, more roundabout conversation with Randy before I jump into the questions, even though he already knows the purpose of the interview, because I want to work to establish a rapport of comfort and interest. This way, the interviewee will have a grasp of me, the interviewer, so that he can feel comfortable to talk freely and expose his experiences. Brinkmann and Kvale recommend this in InterViews (154), and they suggest that this can be established by showing interest, understanding, and respect for what the interviewee is saying.

I am a stranger, and I know that I would be nervous if a stranger were asking me personal questions about my religious beliefs.

Final Thoughts

Am I nervous? Extremely. This is the first interview I have had to conduct since I wrote for The Whit during my freshman year of Rowan. I used to rehearse interviews and phone calls that I would have to make and my palms would sweat through the process.

Knowing that I’m going into this with a plan, but a plan that is not set in stone, is nervous, but I know that I am taking a risk to develop my interviewing skills.

Practice makes perfect, after all.

Wish me luck!

Pre-Interview Planning: Online Interview 1

I will be interviewing Steven from Jakarta, Indonesia, through e-mail beginning Friday, March 27.

The Background

I met Steven through WordPress about three weeks ago. He commented on the blog post I wrote about Jefferson Bethke’s slam poem “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.” His comment focused on how Christians develop relationships with God, and it was the first comment I’d received from a reader outside of class. This piqued my interest, so I immediately went to his blog and started reading. Steven’s blog is subtitled “A vessel of honorable use,” which suggested to me that he was going to be focusing on serving God. I wondered how he hoped to do that, so I scrolled back through his posts and found his introductory post, in which he described how he wanted to try blogging to work through his revelations about God. He wrote that he had always done this in song form, and, because he enjoys writing, he felt he was ready and willing to try something new.

Steven’s blog has grown tremendously in the last few weeks. He has gone from writing brief posts to lengthy reflections on life and scripture. The development he shows in his writing suggests that his blogging is really having a positive effect on his spirituality, which is one topic I would like to focus on when I interview him. Brinkmann and Kvale in Interviews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing suggest focusing the interview around particular themes rather than directive questions so that the interviewee can bring up what he or she finds important (34). I think this is a theme that would lend itself to a discussion about many significant details.

When Religious_map_of_IndonesiaI first reached out to Steven via e-mail, I was surprised to learn that he is only 17 years old and from a country that is predominantly Muslim. I feel as though it is rare to see someone so young so in touch with their faith and would also like to discover more about how a young man developed such a strong sense of self and faith this early in his life. Furthermore, I’d like to know a little bit about what it is like being a Christian in a predominantly Islamic nation. I am wondering if it develops a stronger sense of community among Christian believers or if it creates challenges in terms of worship. From what I read in his posts, it appears that worship music plays a significant role in his closeness with God. Therefore, this will also be something I hope to inquire more about through our interview process. I wrote two blog posts about worship music and Christian rock to develop a the background knowledge that would facilitate question development. Although Brinkmann and Kvale suggest that interviewers practice “deliberate naivete” or an openness to new and unexpected phenomena as opposed to “readymade categories and schemes of interpretation,” (33)  I wanted to have an understanding of the topic because I will have to form prepared questions and categories for analysis as I am not conducting an in-person, spoken interview.

The Method

I had originally hoped that Steven and I would be able to conduct an interview through interviewsSkype or G-chat because InterViews asserts that a research interview is a semistructured meeting that focuses on the subject’s experience of a theme (29). An online interview through a video-conferencing platform would have afforded the opportunity for conversation to flow naturally around several different topics. However, because of technological differences and a significant time zone difference, we will conduct our interview via e-mail. I do think, though, that because Steven is becoming an avid blogger about his faith that having him write his answers to e-mail questions might provide significant depth of knowledge and insight.

The only thing I will miss through e-mail is the embodied communiation that would come forth in an in-person interview. In InterViews, Brinkmann and Kvale write that “…bodies are never neutral but carry all their signs of gender, race, class, and so on…how people sit and comport themselves, how they smell and move, and how they are dressed…This may or may not affect the interaction…” (115) As a writer myself, I hope, though, that punctuation, writing voice, and style of the responses I’ll receive convey similar information.

The Questions

I plan on starting with ten questions, as pictured in the screenshot below. After I receive responses, I may feel compelled to ask more, and I am hoping that I will have the opportunity to send additional, follow-up questions via e-mail at that time.

Screenshot (45)

My Research Schedule–Tentative

Well, that’s it. Spring break has come to a close. I don’t know if I would call it a break, exactly, as I was very busy with tasks for both work and class. I was also busy working to network and make contacts. If anyone asked me a year ago if I thought I’d be networking, and handing out a business card, I would have laughed at them for hours on end.

That’s exactly what I did, though, this past week. I reached out to others, and I worked to steady my quaking nerves.

Over the last month, I have been working through both digital resources and print resources related to topics in religion and spiritual journeys. Now that I have begun to develop an understanding of some key aspects of faith, I am ready to begin conducting interviews and researching with experts and participants in the field. The image below is a tentative schedule for interviews, both in-person and online, as well as lookings during which I hope to “walk” through church services and the physical spaces of churches with experts in the field.

Screenshot (43)

I have a very busy schedule the next two weeks, but I am excited to get started with the research.

In preparation for these interviews, I am making lists of topics I would like to cover. If you are interested in reading more about the preparation process, check back on the blog on each of the “Pre-Interview” dates in the above table. This will explain what I hope to accomplish during each interview and how I plan to approach it.

Stay tuned!

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.