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ethnological investigation and analysis, is centered on cultural and religious activity in a contemporary community situation. Essentially, the aim of this research was to observe various cultural and social behavior patterns as they pertain to religion and spirituality in society. Two faiths were observed over a period of time. A Western religious faith such as Catholicism was compared to an Eastern faith such as Buddhism.
This topic was chosen for a number of reasons. In the first instance religion is a central facet of all cultures and societies. The search for a larger and more existential meaning to life is a cultural trait that can be observed in every culture throughout human history. It is therefore a subject that is central to cultural life and which has enormous ramifications in terms of its influence on other dimensions of cultural activity.
However, religion per se is a very broad and somewhat vague to observe without any defining parameters. Therefore, the central focus and hypothesis that was explored in the ethnographic fieldwork and in the subsequent analysis was the following. Taking into account the modern trend towards materialism and the scientific- rational cultural overview of the universe that tends to predominate in the Western world, it follows that Western culture and people have become more secular in their approach to religion and especially to formal religion. In contrast it can be argued that Eastern cultures and religion are to a certain extent more religious and non-secular in their approach to life and reality.
In order to apply this hypothesis to the ethnographic study, the terms secular and non-secular have to be defined more clearly in cultural terms.
1.1. Background and Overview
When applying ethnographic research one has to bear in mind some fundamental concepts and definitions. In the first instance, the term ethnography has"... come to be equated with virtually any qualitative research project.... where the intent is to provide a detailed, in-depth description of everyday life and practice" (Hoey)
However, in order to be directed and provide research integrity, this study has to take into account certain theoretical stances and trajectories of thought that can interpret and explain the data and information obtained from the actual ethnographic observation and study. Therefore, a more appropriate definition of ethnography is a "...a qualitative research process or method (one conducts an ethnography) and product (the outcome of this process is an ethnography) whose aim is cultural interpretation" (Hoey).
In other words, the ethnographer goes much further than only reporting or describing events and various experiential details, although this is an essential part of ethnographic process. The ethnographer in fact "...attempts to explain how these represent what we might call "webs of meaning" ... The cultural constructions, in which we live" (Hoey).
One must also differentiate between an "emic" and an "etic" perspective in research. An emic perspective in research is often referred to as the "insider's point-of-view"(Hoey). In this process, the interpretation and meaning that is linked to the observation emerges from the observation, rather then being imposed on the data. As one scholar notes; "The emphasis in this representation is thus on allowing critical categories and meanings to emerge from the ethnographic encounter rather than imposing these from existing models"(Hoey).
An etic perspective, by contrast, is the view from the "outside" and is more distant and analytic in its approach. The following is a definition of this approach.
The goal of the research is to understand the culture in scientific terms, by comparing the culture to others and seeking to explain the relations between elements of the culture. The concepts and theories used derive from a comparative framework and may be meaningless to members of the culture.
(EMIC AND ETIC PERSPECTIVES)
Aspects of both these approaches in the ethnographic were used in the present research, with the emphasis on more of an etic approach.
The methodology used in this ethnographic research was essentially observational and qualitative in nature. This approach is concerned "…with the understanding of and integration with the larger context and the different variables that interact within a social or psychological context; for example, the emphasis on studying the individual within his to her cultural and social environment" ( Meyers)
The researcher spent a considerable amount of time, more than two weeks, attending and observing religious institutions in the community. This was limited to Catholic churches and a Buddhist Temple. As stated, the method was essentially observational but included conversations and discussions with members of both the Catholic and Buddhist congregations. Furthermore, notes were taken with regard to the demographics of the attendees of these institutions. A focus in this regards was on the age of those who attended the different institutions. Attitudes relating to religion and society were also discussed with the people who attended meetings and discussions and these were recorded.
From a theoretical perspective, theories such as Durkheim's "anomie" were employed to understand the information and data obtained from the observation and interviews. Various views and theories pertaining to the secularization of society as well as thinking about the modern nuclear and extended family were also taken into consideration.
3. Analysis and discussion
3.1. Main Observations
In the process of observation the following points were identified. In terms of the observation and recording of demographics, it was found that both institutions showed similar patterns, with some differences. The most obvious pattern was that there tended to be more middle-aged as well as older people than young people attending the various services and prayer meetings. However, this was not always consistent and at times, especially with regard to the discussion sessions at the Buddhist Temple, there were at least an equal number of young people and teenagers as older people. In terms of ethnicity and race, there tended to be more African-Americans and Asians at the Buddhist services.
From observation and discussion with those who attended the services over a two-week period, it was found that there seemed to be a greater degree of personal involvement and religious enthusiasm among those in the Buddhist Temple when compared to the Catholic Church. This is of course a very subjective assumption that was also dependent on random interviews and talks. Religious zeal or depth of enthusiasm is extremely difficult to ascertain conclusively, but there was a general perception of more serious and in-depth involvement in those who attended the Buddhist Temple than in the Catholic Church. This perception was also bolstered by the greater number of debates and discussions that were held at the Buddhist Temple, compared to the Catholic Church. There were also many of the attendees at the Catholic services who stated that they attended religious services not out of personal conviction or sentiment but "…because our family has always comes to this Church each week."
What stood out in the discussions and conversations was that there was a high degree of questioning and interrogation of the culture and society in terms of religious morals, the meaning of life and other religious and existential issues and questions.
Some of those interviewed provided some enlightening insights into the link between a religious culture and a secular lifestyle in that culture, which will be explored in the following analysis section.
This refers particularly to the responses received to the question; do you think that religion is a central factor in your everyday life and in society today? While most of church goers said that religion was an important facet of their lives, many also stated quite vigorously that the influence of religious views and especially of formal religion had diminished dramatically in their communities. There was a very high degree of criticism of society and modern culture in general and even of the Church itself in the responses from the Catholic Church goers. This criticism was somewhat less intense in the Buddhist Temple, although they were also unmistakably critical of the materialism in contemporary culture.
Another aspect noted in the Catholic Church observations was the influence of the family and community as a factor in religious service attendance. Church going was often linked to family ties and seen as an integral part of the family and community structure.
3.2. Interpretation and Discussion
One of the central factor's that emerged from this ethnographic research was that there was a great deal of argument and even cultural confusion about the role and function of religion in the society and in the world in general. This debate was particularly active among in the Catholic respondents, who seemed to be more concerned about the reduction of religious feeling in the world. There was also a great deal of criticism of society and the Catholic Church itself among the respondents. The Buddhist respondents however seemed to be at ease with the situation in the world. This could possibly be ascribed to their religious orthodoxy, which perceives the world as an illusion to be overcome. "… we are simply travelers passing through an illusion or misperception of reality" (The Essence of Buddhism).
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