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Prof. Sakarya ANTHR 210 Spring 2021 Oral History Religion Project: Home



Guidelines for Research Paper: “The Role of Religion in a Person’s Life”

For this paper, you will investigate the role of religion in the life of a person based on an analysis of their oral history. The paper consists of 3 steps: 1) Find an oral history based on archives or resources found at libraries or other academic resources (see the list of online links below); 2) Listen, study, and take notes on the oral history (if the oral history is already transcribed, this step is easier; 3) Decide on key points that are significant with respect to religion and using insight you’ve gain from our course; 3) Organize the paper around a thesis, create an outline, and write the paper.

You will need to go back to your textbook(s) or to outside sources in order to verify information and support the specific thesis you develop.

Length & Specs: 6-7 pages long, 1” margins, 12 size font, double-spaced

Value: 30% of the final course grade


The person you’re researching does not have to be a well-known or famous person; that said, you will need to find sufficient information from a primary source, which oral histories provide, in order to write the paper (many oral histories are available in written text form and not just the oral/video interview). If you choose to study a live person and do the oral history yourself, the process will be extended and the transcription process lengthy but valuable. I do not recommend conducting your own oral history unless you relish the challenge. Below is a list of links to resources, including oral history databases and links to specific complete oral histories.

The objective of this assignment is to answer the following question and by doing so, reprise some of the fundamental issues of religion and its role in human society:

What role did religion play in a person’s life?

Things to consider in your analysis …

The three sociological functions of religion:

  1. A way of answering questions about the unknown or unknowable (e.g., genesis of life, the afterlife, does another realm exist, should I behave morally)
  2. Promotion of social solidarity (belonging to a group) through the transmission of cultural traditions and moral guidance on acceptable social behavior (your own and others)
  3. A means of achieving a degree of comfort that through prayer, devotion, or other forms of worship, spiritual forces will come to your assistance during times of crisis

In considering these, you might ask why the person made certain life choices and if s/he experienced any outcomes, positive or negative, from these choices during their lifetime. For example, did the person embrace religion for the social solidarity it provided? Did this person turn to religion in a time of anxiety? Did the religion simply transmit values and traditions to this person, i.e. it did not imbue him/her with spiritual fervor? Did this person rely on religion to control factors in his or her life s/he was insecure about? How so? Did this person find religion to answer existential or difficult questions? Was religion the primary moral guidance in this person’s life or did s/he have other forms of guidance?

Specific questions on which you should take notes as you analyze the oral history …

  • When did they join their faith community and was it by choice or due to circumstance (the family they grew up in)?
  • If they joined their faith community as an adult, what was their motivation, i.e. was it in response to a traumatic life event or other need?
  • Did they practice their religion exclusively? (no other practices at the same time)
  • How religious were they? In other words, did they “live” their religion devoutly or merely at key holidays? Were they religious only in word and not deed? Did any events change their practices in a negative or positive way?
  • Did social pressure play a role in their religious practice either consciously stated by them or according to your opinion, reading between the lines of their oral history? (feel free to conjecture and use your imagination, that’s part of interpretation)
  • Did they ever struggle with their religious beliefs? Why? What was the outcome?
  • Were they a leader in their religion or simply a follower? Explain with details.
  • What aspects of this particular faith community appealed to the person? Did they leave their community at any time and convert to another religion? If yes, why?

You must integrate and compare this person’s lived experience to the actual religion he or she aspired to. Use outside sources to support your analysis, such as the materials used in class and at least one other academic source.

  • What are the main principles of this particular religion?
  • How does this religion provide comfort or answer questions about the unknown?
  • Did this person’s particular sect/group diverge from the main religion? How?
  • How do adherents view the genesis of the world and the role of humans (or this particular community) in the world?
  • Did this religion (or specific members) support/comfort the person or fail him/her? How?
  • Do you think this person was a true believer from your understanding and research on this religion?
  • In terms of trends in religious affiliation and faith in the world, how does this story fit? Is it a new community of the faithful? Is it typical or atypical? Are other people joining this religion currently? Is membership decreasing? Why or why not?

Paper-Specific Checklist:

  1. Your paper should have a thesis or argument.
  2. Your paper should have a structure that supports your thesis (introduction, supportive paragraphs, and reiteration of your thesis and conclusion).
  3. Your paper must include a bibliography that cites the oral history and other resources.
  4. The paper should be the right length.
  5. The font and margins should be according to the directions.





[1] If finding the right oral history proves difficult, or you really wish to write your paper on a well-known person for whom published autobiographical materials are available, please see me for permission.

[2] If none of these links give you inspiration, you can always search YouTube using “oral history + Religious Experience (or specific religion)” and see what you get.


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