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72. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Religious Practitioners

Begin this exercise by asking your friends about what they appreciate and look for in a religious practitioner—one who they feel would meet their spiritual needs.

Note if these lean more toward a knowledge of religious practices and dogmas or toward social skills and personality. Does availability factor in? What other attributes do they mention?

Are these positions hereditary (passing from father to son, or held within a certain family)?

  • Or are they earned in some way?
  • Or are practitioners appointed by a governing body?
  • Does the congregation have a say in who their religious leader will be?
  • If so, how is this done?
  • How is the appointment announced to the congregation?

For any of these scenarios, is there a special induction ceremony? Describe.

Who officiates when and where people gather for worship?

  • Is there a hierarchy that is observed, and what terms are used for each (as senior pastor, assistant pastor. etc.)
  • What are the duties of each?

Does educational training or religious experience determine the status of each position?

  • Where and how is educational training obtained?
  • What kind of diplomas or degrees are available?
  • Are courses, seminars, etc. available during the year for further education or for spiritual refreshment? Are these open only to practitioners, or can the public also attend?

71. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Religious Icons

Charms are objects or words which are considered to be magically endowed and thus effective against evil and able to attract goodness. Amulets are charms or inscribed ornaments worn on the body.

  • Are such items used in your new culture?
  • If they are worn openly, ask why the object is worn (just decorative, for warding off evil, illness or accident, for insurance of good health, good business dealings, or good crops, etc.)
  • If none are noticed, ask how a person is protected against evil influences.

What types of objects are used as charms or amulets?

  • How do they get invested with their power?
  • By the prayer of a religious leader?
  • Where are the objects placed on the body?
  • Do they have writings from their holy book inscribed on them, or tucked inside them?
  • Are some of these writings designed to be eaten or drunk in some way?

Are there icons or pictures in the worship place?

  • Who made them?
  • Are they honored in any way during the service? by individuals?
  • Do people have such objects in their homes? Where?
  • What is done with them?
  • Are they on display at all times or only on special occasions?
  • How do these help the individual or the congregation as they worship?

What other charms are used and for what purpose?

  • Look for magical designs hung in public transport, evil eye pictures, black rags hung in certain places, old cooking vessels on the corners of buildings, small pictures of objects used in the business hung on the walls, anything else that seems out of place or different to you.
  • Ask what the meanings of these are.
  • Some may have magical powers, but some may be strictly decorative—but you won’t know the difference until you ask!

What natural things have magical powers (like bits of wood, certain stones or plants, animal parts)?

  • When are these used?
  • Are there certain places that have magical connotations, as a mountain, a tree, a river, etc.?
  • What legend or story is behind such locations?

70. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Role of Saints & Martyrs

What is the definition of a saint?

  • Who becomes a saint?
  • How do they attain this status?
  • Compare this to what you believe a saint is.

What is the definition of a martyr?

  • Who becomes a martyr?
  • How is this status attained?
  • Do martyrs become saints?
  • Compare this to your description of who becomes a martyr.

Is the status of sainthood or martyrdom a generally acclaimed designation?

Or is it a strictly ecclesiastical decision as to who becomes a saint or is declared a martyr?

Are ancestors also honored?

  • If so, what role do they have in contrast to the roles of saints and martyrs?
  • How does remembering saints and martyrs benefit the individual? the community? the nation?

Are saints and martyrs honored at special ceremonies?

  • Does each have a special day when they are remembered?
  • What is done on that day or at that special occasion?
  • Are there certain locations associated with saints or martyrs?
  • Where are these, and what is the association?

Are children named after saints and martyrs? Why?

69. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Communication of God to Man (dreams)

In what ways has God, or the Supreme Being acknowledged in your area, revealed himself to mankind?

  • Is there a holy book, a primary prophet, or some other way in which this has happened?
  • Are these private revelations or are they available for the local populace as well? If so, how are they transmitted?
  • Are there certain times of the day, month, or year when communications from God are more certain to occur?
  • Or are there special places where it has been known that God has revealed himself in a greater way? Where are these?
  • Are these visited on a regular basis? See the assignment on Shrines if needed.

Does God reveal himself through dreams?

  • Are dreams welcomed or feared?
  • Are they considered a communication from the spirit world?
  • What connection is there between dreams and the soul?
  • Are dreams an activity of the soul while the body sleeps?Are dreams an indication that a person has special spiritual capacities?
  • What value is placed on these dreams?
  • How are the dreams interpreted?
  • Can the person come to their own conclusions, or is a special interpreter consulted?
  • Who is acknowledged as an interpreter of dreams and how does he/she arrive at the interpretation?
  • Are special books used or is a special ritual followed?
  • What recourse does a person have if the interpretation is unfavorable—get a second opinion? resign oneself to fate? have a ceremony performed to alter its effects?

Do people talk about their dreams? If so, collect peoples’ experiences and see if there are common themes.

Try to get the whole picture—

    • the dream,
    • how it was interpreted,
    • how the recipient reacted,
    • and its outcome.

68. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Shrines & Other Holy Places

Are there other places which are used for worship or to obtain spiritual help?

  • Where are these located?
  • How are these identified—by their architecture? colors used? Flags or banners hung?
  • Why was a shrine erected at that particular place?

Are some shrines and holy places acknowledged as national shrines? Why?

  • Where are they located?
  • Do people go to them at special times of the year or are they busy all year round?
  • Do people go for spiritual reasons or as tourists?
  • Do people bring gifts when they come? If so, what kind of gifts are brought?

What heroes or saints are associated with those places in your immediate area?

  • Find out as much as you can about historical or legendary backgrounds.
  • Do some shrines hold sacred objects, and if so, what are they and how did they get there?

Why do people go to shrines or other holy places?

  • What special powers are attributed to such places in your immediate area?
  • Are there restrictions as to who can enter?
  • Any rituals which need to be accomplished before entrance?
  • Does special clothing need to be worn?
  • Do people stand, sit or do any other activity while there?
  • How is their sacredness observed by people passing by?
  • Are there repercussions if the proper respect is not paid?

Who cares for the upkeep and cleanliness of such places?

  • Is this a paid position or is it done to obtain merit from the particular patron saint or hero?

67. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Communication of Man to God (prayer)

Is it possible for a person to communicate with his/her god?

  • How is this done?
  • Do certain criteria need to be met before communication can be established, as ritual cleansing, certain clothing, etc.?
  • Do certain actions need to accompany the communication, as body position, bowing, closing the eyes, etc.?
  • Are certain objects used in communication, as rosaries, flags or banners, prayer wheels, etc.?
  • How and why are they used?

Are these communications ritualized? memorized? or is there room for prayers from the heart?

  • Do these prayers need to be made in any certain language?

Are there only certain people who can bring petitions before the deity, and does the ordinary person need to go through that intermediary?

Are there certain times of day or seasons of the year when prayers are more auspicious? When and why?

What are the repercussions, from the deity or from religious leaders, if prayers are not said or if they are not said at the proper time?

Listen to prayers as you attend services in your church.

  • What are some of the “standard” openings and closings, and some of the phrases used frequently?
  • Learn the Lord’s Prayer and become acquainted with “prayer language” so you would be comfortable praying extemporaneously.

66. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Places of Worship

Find out all you can about the places of worship in your town or neighborhood.

  • Are there many kinds, accommodating different faiths?
  • Are there many of each kind? Why? [Reasons could be distance parishioners or members have to travel, or sects and denominations involved, or some other reason].

Ask about the history of each place of worship.

  • Who built it and when?
  • Why is it in this particular location?
  • How many monks/priests/imams/pastors are there?
  • Are they local people, or have they come from another area of the country, or even from another country?
  • Must they have had religious training and be ordained or set aside for such work?
  • Are there interesting legends or stories about any of these buildings?
  • Are any of these the repository for relics or other sacred objects or icons? Are any saints or martyrs associated with any of them?

Are there restrictions as to who can enter?

  • Any rituals which need to be accomplished before entrance?
  • Does special clothing need to be worn?
  • Do people stand or sit during any part of the service?
  • Is any other activity a part of the service?

Choose two centers—the one in which you are worshiping, and one of another faith—and compare them as to:

  • Length of time in the neighborhood – history
  • Number of parishioners, members, or attendees
  • Number of clergy who minister to the congregation
  • Number of lay leaders, teachers, assistants
  • Method of financial support
  • Types of programs used to reach the surrounding community
  • Description of the interior—color, decor, size of the worship area, etc.
  • The place of musical instruments, including bells
  • Interesting people associated with it
  • How many services are held in a week, a month, a year
  • Sample of the order of service – singing, preaching, announcements, etc.
  • Instruction for the younger generation
  • Anything else of interest

How often do your local friends and their families go for worship or for meetings?

  • Who goes? What is taken?
  • How much of the family budget goes for expenses relating to the worship center?

65. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: The Role of Ancestors

Are past generations of ancestors remembered? Are they honored? In what way? Is there a difference between how male ancestors or female ancestors are honored?

How important is this nationally? for the family? to the individual? for the deceased?

Is there a special time locally or nationally when ancestors are remembered? What is done at this time?

Does the family make regular visits to the gravesite(s)?

  • How often do they go?
  • What do they do there?
  • What other activities are done by the family to remember their loved ones?
  • Are there special ancestral shrines?
  • Where are they, and what objects are kept there? How are they used?
  • What other activities are done by family members to care for the needs of their ancestors?

Are ancestors considered benevolent extensions of the earthly family unit?

  • If so, what are the obligations expected to be carried out by the living for the dead?
  • By the dead for the living? For how long?
  • Who in the family makes sure these obligations are carried out?
  • Are there pictures of the deceased in the home?
  • Are they in a special place for remembrance, intercession, or prayer?
  • Are pictures taken of the dead body and put in a special place?

Are the ancestors feared as spirits which might harm the living?

  • How many generations need to pass before the harm is mitigated?
  • What needs to be done by the family to block potential harm?
  • What things offend to the ancestors?
  • If they are offended, what may they do to the living?
  • What must be done to placate their displeasure?

Are ancestors consulted?

  • How often and in what way?
  • Are séances held? When, where and why?
  • What can ancestors do to help the living that the other spirits or gods cannot or will not do?


Is there a belief in a Supreme Being? How unique is this Supreme Being?

  • Is he/she considered to be accessible, disinterested in the world and its inhabitants, stern, loving, aggressive, gentle, approachable?
  • What are the demands of this supreme being on the individual or the society as a whole in order to escape wrath and judgment? How are these met in everyday life?
  • Are there lesser beings that attend the Supreme Being? or are assistants in his/her work?
  • Are they accorded the same reverence as the Supreme Being? What position do they hold in reference to the Supreme One?

How was the universe created? How did it come into being? How is it sustained?

Is there a strong sense of spiritual beings that affect everyday life?

  • What is the connection between the spirit world and the everyday world?
  • What types of spirits are there?
  • Find out as much as you can about the hierarchy of the spiritual beings which are acknowledged by the local populace.

Get as many names as you can and classify them in terms of importance in the spiritual hierarchy, their character (good, bad, or neutral), their role (creator spirit, ancestor spirits, nature spirits, village or household spirits, etc.), and other pertinent categories.

  • What is the importance of each?
  • What level of devotion is given to each?
  • Where do the spirits live? Can they ever be seen?
  • What forms do they take?
  • How do the people refer to them—by name, by characteristic, by their activity, etc.?

Or is it improper or dangerous to even mention their existence or activity?

  • What is the role of these in everyday life?
  • What teaching is given to children concerning their existence?
  • How do spirits help people? How are spirits offended?
  • How do they punish people for offenses?
  • Can spirits be manipulated or tricked?
  • Can they be discarded or changed?

What should be done in order to receive their help or blessing?

  • Can these spirits be harmed by humans? How?
  • What can be done to avoid their anger and its repercussions?

Is there a conflict between the major religion of your host country and the folk religion practiced by the majority of the local populace? What is the reason for this?

Does the present generation have the same attitude toward the spirit world as past generations had?

63. RELIGIOUS PRACTICES: Their Importance

This assignment investigates religion’s importance in the culture in a general sense; future assignments will address each aspect in more detail.

Does religion hold a large place in the life of the local people?

  • or just at certain times of the year?
  • or only for a certain age group?
  • or a certain class of people?

Draw up a list of yearly events or ceremonies which make up the religious calendar or ritual cycle.

  • With what spirits, saints, or special events are they connected?
  • Inquire about what is done, where and why.
  • How are the dates determined as to when an event will be held? Who does this?
  • Who officiates, and who participates?
  • Are some of these observed nation-wide, and others more personal, like for a clan, a household, or even for an individual person?

If your investigation finds that only certain people are affected by religion, try to find out why other groups or classes of people do not feel a need for this.

Talk to those who do hold that religion is important in their lives. Why is this so?

Some topics that can help you with these conversations:

  • Does a person have a soul? If so, why do people have one?
  • Does a person have more than one soul? Why?
  • Can the soul get lost, leave the body, become weakened?
  • What can be done to restore it, or bring it back?
  • What happens to the soul at death? What determines where the soul goes?
  • Is there a belief in purgatory? Who goes there? What is its purpose?
  • Is there anything that family members can do for the deceased?
  • Is it possible for the soul to go directly to heaven? Under what circumstances?
  • Who or what do you worship?
  • How important is this relationship to you?
  • What do you do to maintain it?
  • Is maintenance necessary? Why?
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