Saturday, January 15, 2022

New Year, New Students, New Projects

 It is Spring Semester 2022 and that means I get more into my research as I try to set a good example for a new bunch of SOCL 3000 students.  I can't wait to see what they are doing this semester.

When we left our hero a ridiculous number of years ago, she had just finished up her field research and other stuff. In the interim she collected more data, and presented preliminary findings at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.  I got to meet an author whose work I had quoted, and that was really great.  She had lots of good advice, and we had an email conversation going, but I have not heard from her recently. I hope she is okay.

For the Neopaganism project, I am analyzing that data so I can send it out finally to journals for hopeful publication. Everyone keep fingers crossed.

It is that time again for sabbatical! So I have proposed a continuation of that project, including participant observation this time.  There were so many things I saw during the 2018 field research but since it wasn't part of the IRB approval, it would be inappropriate to include it.

Included in that is my long standing "how do believers in UFOs and alien abduction manage that stigma" project, which will also involve participant observation.  

Two things can screw this up. One, my sabbatical can be denied. That would not be terrible; I could still do the work, I would just have to weave it into my other responsibilities, like I'm doing this term.   This would make it go SO much slower.

The other is this blasted pandemic.  One event I was planning to attend in February 2022 is already canceled by the organizers. I am trying not to take it VERY personally that my career goals are LITERALLY being thwarted by 40 percent of the US population's refusal to participate in "loving thy neighbor."  

BUT...well, that is a good example I suppose of how research can be derailed by things outside of our control, and learning to adjust and roll with those changes. A researcher needs to be flexible, and able to think of a Plan B, or C, or more.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Last Research Site (Kind of)

Here are the rest of the pictures, and this is of my last research site. Or at least the last site at which I took pictures, as there are two after that.

note: I guess I have to divide this up into two updates...

This was in southeastern Pennsylvania, and much like northeastern Pennsylvania, almost everything was up or down a hill.  The "flat" land that was somewhat accessible to those with some limited mobility was off limits due to some storm damage. Other tenting sites had other issues with them, so I decided to take the remaining space in the "bunkhouse," which was  basically a bunk bed. I didn't get pictures, but they were sort of set up in 4-person cubicles.  Since I got there Monday before the actual event started, I mostly had it to myself until Friday.  There was NO air movement in there, though, so I went on a somewhat lengthy trek on Wednesday spanning Pennsylvania, Maryland, and finally a Walmart in West Virginia, in search of a battery operated fan. Thankfully, I found one.

Monday through Thursday was for those folks who wanted to be involved in the 'set up' for the main event Friday through Monday.  Much of  it was physical labor (which, I would have been all over two years ago), but instead I behaved and helped harvest lemon balm in the herb garden, pull weeds in the fire/drum circle, and fold programs.

I took way more pictures of the event than at the others. I was really astounded by the emphasis on community, that all such festivals have, but that I saw in evidence in a bunch of ways.  I wonder if it is just because it was the first time I had been there,  and that I knew absolutely no one there.


The glamor of field research continued...

So at many events there's a 'social hub' and here is the one for this event. They had a permit to sell mead they make there, in addition to coffee, tea, and other snacks when available.  To the left is a seating area for conversation. To the right is a shower house with showers equipped with a token system to control the water flow. Not as big an issue at the event, but at larger ones they've had a problem with people using too much water. The toilets are dual-flush, another water saving feature (and now I want one in my house!)

I was across the road and down a small hill (of course) from this.  In the shower house was the sign up sheet for volunteer work, and I was sort of amazed at first, how much it was filled in, and then also it seemed people actually showed up for what they signed up for.  There was a wide range of things to do.

The highlight of the event was adding a stone to the on-going stone circle.  This was done in the 'old fashioned' way, using rolling logs and straps and person-power to pull a VERY heavy stone (think 'tons') from the field where it was prepped (the first three-four days) and then to the circle.  

Note the hill...

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Belated Updates (Site 4)

I got very much into the work of pre- and post-event prep and then getting ready for Spring Semester to start that I neglected to put this up.  Hopefully students were not too worried about the ax-murderer thing...

Sites 4 and 5 were both in Eastern Pennsylvania. In both cases I still brought all the camp gear (so a full car) BUT each spot also had meal plans to buy into so I only had to get snacks, and a few other things.

I'll take "Signs I Have Only Ever Seen at a PA rest stop for $100, Alex".  Seriously, what up, Pennsylvania?

Things to note about Eastern PA.  With a sample size of two, I feel that I can definitely say that all campgrounds in Eastern PA are built on land at a 45 degree angle.  Walking was fun (and I was glad to have the cane).  At both sites I was able to secure indoors lodging (one expected, one not) so carting the glamping stuff across the state turned out to be unnecessary.  That also means no additional shots of the same tent and set up in a different site. 

This guy was cute, though.

There was an interesting similarity about each event, and that was the extent to which intentional community was created for extended weekend.  That was not the focus of this sabbatical's research, but it's growing in my head as an area for future study and research.  There are some ethnographies of neo-Pagan festival life, but they are largely outdated (1990s-ish) so in an era of #metoo and opiate addiction, they should probably be revisited.

The first site was for an event that was mostly dedicated to the neo-Pagan religion of Asatru and similar designations (Northern traditionalist and Germanic/Norse/Scandinavian reconstructionist are other related terms).  Even so, this even was open to all.  It had a track of scholars to present their work, as this particular set of faiths places a high value on scholarship of the academic variety.  There was a marketplace where venders could sell their wares (as with other festivals), including SEVERAL vendors of mead, a honey wine that is used in Asatru ritual and social gatherings.  Mead is typically drunk out of a drinking horn that is shared and passed around, so there were sellers for those as well.

There was an organized children's program, as with other festivals, although as with others, children did their own thing too, running around in packs (not caring about the hilly terrain).  A brief period of difficulty occurred when the pump ran out and so there was no flushing happening overnight in either the lodge where I was staying or the cabins that each had their own bathroom.  There was a porto-potty in the field where the tents were, but that was way away from the lodge.  Most attendants, though, were pretty nonplussed about the whole thing, and it was repaired by mid-morning.

Two things stood out, in terms of community building.  First, there was an table in the merchant's area for a group called "Heathens Against Hate."  For reasons too complex to go into here, Asatru (who also tend to prefer "heathen" to "pagan") has had it's symbols and religion co-opted by white supremacists, (or whatever they're calling themselves today) and it's an on-going discussion inside heathenry.  The presence of this group at this location definitely is one of taking a stand against those elements.

The other thing was that members brought their own portable shrines, called a "ve" (vay) to set up a sacred area that was the site for rituals (called "blots" and pronounced "bloats") or individual meditations.  Folks had to declare their intention to bring one and if they wanted to host a blot, but basic set up, tear down, and maintenance was a community, rather than organizers, endeavor.  The final bonfire was, in part, processing offerings and godposts for each ve to the main fire.  These videos are me walking around the vestead (vay-stead).

I took two videos, but there are apparently too big to load :( If anyone knows how I can fix that, let me know, because I've got a really cool one from the next site.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Site #3 (AKA The Glamourousness of Field Research)

(wow, I'm all done with my travels but very far behind on updating this! Sorry to you my dozen or so of readers)

Site number three is in Western New York.  I left Site #2 and came home to do laundry, restock some stuff, and then left again. I got to the site on Day 2 of the event which left Wednesday through Saturday for survey things.

I think this was my favorite camp set-up.  I'm back to the smaller tent, since the big tent got broken at the previous event.  While harder to get in and out of, there was more space under the 10x10 outside, so I could leave things out and give me a tad more floor space.  There were two 10x10s and then a large tarp over them, so I was extremely dry.   It was warm during the day, but night times got down to the 50s.  Chilly, yes, but also a welcome relief from the prior week.

This one ran a little differently, because there was no central location like a lodge to just leave the surveys.  Also, the program for the event was already printed well before the event (which is mostly unheard of for festivals to be that organized that early, kudos to them!). So, the management suggested posting signs on their various information boards, which I did, and a few other places as well....

A little light reading.
So, yes I went on my merry way around the entire campground placing announcements in EVERY porto-pottie. I also did for the flushies, but that's not nearly as funny a picture.  So all you students who think that fieldwork is so cool and stuff....

What I ended up putting on the announcement was that I would be at one of the food vendors after they closed after dinner for three hours and people could stop by then. And some did, but not nearly the throngs I had hoped.  I think I got about 10 or 12 there the whole week.  I also allowed I think three people to take them and they SWORE they would bring them back that week or mail them to me. Thus far from that group, only one has been mailed (which was one more than I pessimistically predicted, and I still don't like that a method of collection).

There's also this thing that happened....

Yes, that is my supercool camp kitchen, knocked over when the tapestry I had put up for shade, and stupidly clamped to it, became quite the sail in the really strong winds that came about on I think Friday.  Miraculously nothing was broken and I just had to redo some things.  The winds didn't let up, but everything stayed put. Unfortunately, the back leg of the 10x10 bore most of the brunt of the pressure from the wind and bent, making it impossible for me to take it down that Sunday.  I'm going to continue to pretend it was not the brand new one I had for like three weeks. :/

On many of these festivals, the culmination is a big bonfire on the final night.  Here are some pictures of that:

Management also requested I come back next year to share results and maybe organize a panel on similar research!  Yay for public sociology!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Research Site, I


I'm trying to get caught up before I leave in a few days for the next round.

This is only Research Site II in that it was at a different time, but still the same location as Research Site 1.  They are coded as different events in the data set.  Here's a picture of Field Office II:

Of note, you can maybe tell the tent is a larger 10-person style cabin tent.  It is nicer than the other one, in that I can stand up and there's room for all my things. I even put my big utility table inside to put my duffel bag on.  You also can maybe see on the left the super cool Cabela's Deluxe Kitchen that was a total splurge two years ago (and can be seen in photos from there).  Even though I was on the meal plan, it was so much easier to make coffee in the morning and store some stuff in the cabinets than in just a tote. 

That's my index finger. No I am not flipping off the kids!

Although I am not specifically doing ethnography or participant observation, I did allow myself to make note of times and places to accomodate children.  Both this event and the preceding one had fully developed child and teen programming, with much of the children's events taking place at the location above. There was plenty of unstructured time, as well.  The area was fenced off to keep especially younger children from free-ranging, had shade from both the canopy and a number of large trees towards the back, and was well supplied with a large cooler for water. (I took this picture technically before the event started, so as to not accidentally take pictures of the children.)

I did arrive before the official start of the event, during another event that backed right up to this one.  The prior event was not Neo-Pagan in origin, but instead consisted of people gathering to greet a flying saucer to rescue them.  I had hoped to get there for the expected landing time (because you never know, right?) but I missed it by about 12 hours.  Because the saucer didn't come, they burned their "prophet," Bob, in effigy.  Lest you think this is some sort of Heaven's Gate off-shoot, nothing could be further from the truth.  The whole thing is very much tongue-in-cheek, and I suspect developed out of the 1960s counter-culture as a reason to get together and, um, "tune in, turn on, and drop out."  Something to think of for that other research project on UFO believers I keep talking about...

Anyway, I was a bit more "out there," and went to several of the workshops, including one that was all about family issues in Neo-Paganism. Still, this garnered only 10 completed surveys.  I did get to complete two interviews however, so that will save my time on that, later.  Until the next adventure....

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Field Research Again!

Recall, the reason I started this blog was because certain students were concerned I would be ax-murdered while camping.

Therefore, I've started it up again, and will continue to let students know that I am not a victim of Jason, even though I will be tent-living on Friday the (July) 13th!  Eek!

I have updated the survey to take into account some errors from before that made thing unclear for folks, and to update the language a bit.  When asked about use of religious media, the original survey talks about radio and television. I added "blogs and podcasts" to match changes in media consumption, and to perhaps better reflect what the study population would interact with.  I thought about adding "mythology" to the items that asked about reading of scripture or religious texts, but as I look at the survey, I seem to have changed my mind about that. I have no idea why. (Note for students: This is why I tell you to keep track of these decisions. Definitely a "Do as I say and not as I do moment.")

I was only able to be at this site for 3 days (not including set up and tear down), so I could be home for Comfest. That undoubtedly cut into my survey time, however it saved me from the MAJOR storm that flattened a couple of sites on Thursday.  I ended up getting six usable surveys. (I had to discount a seventh that was filled out by an eleven-year-old.  It went into the shredder.)  Partly that is because I had to leave early, and more people were arriving as I left.  But I think also it just need an extroverted minion to go around and ask people to participate. A friend of mine from Marshall University brings graduate students to events such as this for research, and I am always a little envious of that.

Anyway, here are the pictures! 

The field office!

This was actually a First Quarter moon, but it didn't show up that way on my phone.

The festival was in celebration of the Summer Solstice, and this was the view on Solstice morning.  I'm sure the sun is there somewhere....

This beauty took up residence on my pop up.  I hated to mess it up, but I made sure it was the last thing I tore down.

Berkeley at last!

Very delayed getting this all up....bear with me!

Right before the end of the semester, I had the opportunity to present the research I've been talking about at the International Religion and Spirituality in Society conference, being held at Berkeley, CA. Students and other will probably recognizes this as being Holy Ground for me.  I forgot that I had submitted my GRE scores to graduate school here, but they were apparently not up to snuff. 

I have not as many pictures as I would like, but here are some.

Berkeley was basically ground zero for the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s. We wandered around and did get to see People's Park, or what has become of it. It's overgrown and is "home" to the many homeless people around the area, so not exactly for all anymore.  Those who have taken up residence there are protective of that.  Still, it was cool to see. There was an iconic bookstore at THE corner near the People's Park which had changed names, and was re-closed again.  Still, as seen by the bike racks, Berkeley embraces the history:

I also was able to go to the OTHER Holy Ground, Haight-Ashbury:

I think these are the original street signs, outside a Ben and Jerry's. 
In a lot of ways, both Berkeley and Haight-Ashbury are kind of familiar.  Telegraph Road in Berkeley reminds me a lot of OSU's High Street before Campus Partners came in and ruined it gentrified.  Both of them have a lot of shops that look like Comfest if it were permanently in place. 

THE Corner.

Jim and I at The Corner.

Jim spent a lot of time here.

There were all these sayings on the sidewalk. I only took one picture, to avoid looking more like a tourist than I was already.

We did also hit China Town, but not for as long as we would have liked.  It takes forever to get anywhere, even on the BART,

Oh ... and yes there was the presentation. Here is my photo taken by the spouse on the way to said presentation. It's really fuzzy because of the bright light.  Yes, that is a tie-die long vest I was wearing. Did I mention I was in Berkeley?

The conference was good, my presentation was okay. Note to students: There is a reason I tell you to triple check everything. There is nothing like noticing something is wrong when standing on front of 30 or so of your peers (even though they didn't likely notice).  I also got to meet Professor Dollahite, who's survey I'm adapting for my research. We didn't get to talk very much, as I had to leave on Wednesday.

As I was leaving my presentation this little guy was just sitting in his tree, watching all the people.  I had to take a picture for my dad.

Berkeley Squirrel!

 Finally, we were on our way back to the airport on Wednesday.  What you see in this picture is my failure to capture a SINGLE freeway sign that said 'SAN JOSE'

Now we'll never know the way.