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Sacred Stories, Spiritual TribesFinding Religion in Everyday Life$

Nancy Tatom Ammerman

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199896448

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199896448.001.0001

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(p.313) Appendix 3 Research Protocols

(p.313) Appendix 3 Research Protocols

Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes
Oxford University Press

I. Demographic Data (completed by participant)

  1. 1. Are you male or female? _____________

  2. 2. In what year were you born?_____________

  3. 3. What is your occupation (or what was it before you retired)? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  4. 4. What is your highest level of formal education?

  5. [ ]‌ less than high school [ ] high school diploma [ ] some post-high-school work

  6. [ ]‌ 4-year college degree [ ] post-college graduate work or degree

  7. 5. What is your approximate total annual household income?

  8. [ ]‌ under $20,000 [ ] $20,000 to $39,999 [ ] $40,000 to 59,999

  9. [ ]‌ $60,000 to 79,999 [ ] $80,000 to 99,999 [ ] $100,000 or more

  10. 6. From what part(s) of the world does your family originally come? For example, most people who think of themselves as “White” have ancestors from Europe. (check all that apply)

  11. [ ]‌ Africa [ ] Asia [ ] Europe [ ] North America (i.e., American Indian)

  12. [ ]‌ Latin America [ ] Caribbean [ ] Pacific Islands [ ] Middle East

  13. [ ]‌ Other __________

  14. 7. If your family has come to the United States in the last hundred years or so, about when did the first of them arrive? __________

  15. 8. Who lives with you in your current household? (check all that apply)

  16. [ ]‌ no one, I live alone

  17. [ ]‌ spouse [ ] partner (not married) [ ] other adult(s)

  18. _____ # children under 6 years old _____ # children 6–18 years old

  19. _____ # older children

(p.314) II. Protocol for Initial Life History Interview

Guidelines followed by interviewers for semistructured initial conversations with participants.

Basic Contours

I’d like to start by asking you to tell me the story of your life—not everything, of course, but think about the major “chapters” and for each, tell me about the important things that were happening then, where you were living, what you were doing, who was important to you in that chapter of your life. And if you have been involved in religious groups and activities, include those, as well. But mostly I just want you to tell me about who you are.


  1. 1. Which adults (from your family), if any, typically attended this congregation with you?

  2. 2. Did you attend Sunday school and/or a religious youth group when you were growing up? [if yes] About how often did you do this?

  3. 3. Did religious participation have a major impact on your religious or spiritual life?

  4. 4. Is there a story you sometimes tell about going to church/synagogue when you were growing up?

  5. 5. Growing up, did you celebrate any major religious life rituals (baptism, bar mitzvah, etc.)?

  6. 6. Do you have any particular memorable experiences from your religious upbringing? Were there special people or places that were important to you?

  7. 7. If married and/or with kids, are they in the same religious tradition?


  1. 1. Today, how important is religion to you personally? Do you think your faith makes you a different kind of person? What would other people notice? How do you feel about letting others outside of your close friends and family know about your religious affiliation or ideas?

  2. 2. How has your faith changed over your lifetime?

    1. a. Was there ever a time when you weren’t part of any faith tradition?

    2. b. Or times when you were much more involved than now or made a special commitment?


  1. 3. Have you ever faced a particularly difficult time, like the death of someone close to you or an illness or financial crisis? What happened? Have you thought about why you think it happened? Who and what helped get you through it?

  2. 4. Have you ever been mad at God?

Changes and Decisions

  1. 1. Have there been times when your life has changed in a fairly dramatic way? What happened, and what made it a major change?

  2. 2. When you have important decisions to make, what guides you? How important, if at all, are

    1. a. Your [spouse/partner]?

    2. b. Your other family and friends?

    3. c. The Bible? The teachings of your church or synagogue? Prayer?


Most of us have a few people that we are especially close to, that we could talk to about lots of things. These may be the people you live with or friends you see or talk to or phone or email with. So, I want you to think about the four or five people you feel closest to and write down their first name or initials on this pad, and I want to ask you a few questions about them.

  1. a. How do you communicate with each of these people?

  2. b. Which of these are family members?

  3. c. [If working part or full time] Which of these are co-workers?

  4. d. Which are members or regular attenders at your congregation?

  5. e. Which set an example that helps you lead a better religious or spiritual life?

  6. [OF REMAINING] Set an example that does not help you lead a better religious life?

  7. f. Which do you discuss religious matters with?

  8. g. Which actively try to change your religious views or religious practices?

  9. h. Which would you say hold religious views that are very similar to yours?

  10. [OF REMAINING] Very different?

  11. [OF REMAINING] Which do you not know if their religious views are similar?


  1. 1. Are there habits and routines that are important to you, that you try to make sure you do nearly every day? What makes them important?

  2. 2. Do you wear any special clothing or jewelry that says something about who you are?

  3. (p.316) 3. Are there choices you have made about how you live (food, money, etc.) and what you do and don’t do that have been important commitments for you?

  4. 4. Which holidays are most important to you each year? How do you celebrate them?

  5. 5. Are there traditional religious things (lighting candles, praying, reading scripture, etc.) that you do every day or nearly every day?

  6. 6. How often do you typically pray?

    1. a. At your family meals at home, how often does someone say grace or give thanks to God aloud before meals?

    2. b. [If they have children under eighteen living at home] How often do youTalk about religion or God with your children?

      Read the Bible or religious storybooks with your children?

  7. 7. Do you ever read any religious books or magazines or watch religious TV programs or movies or radio?

  8. 8. Do you have any other spiritual practices that you maintain, ones that are not part of a traditional religion? Where did you learn about them?

  9. 9. Do you ever think of things like exercise or being in nature as spiritual?

  10. 10. Have you ever experienced something that you would describe as a healing?

Beliefs and Values

  1. 1. What does it mean, to you, to be a [Christian]? Is there an example/story you can give me to illustrate that?

  2. 2. What do you think God is like? Is there a story about God that sort of “says it all?”

  3. 3. Are you the sort of person who thinks a lot about “big questions” like the meaning of life?

  4. 4. Have you ever had a time in your life when you have found it hard to believe in anything?

  5. 5. Do you like to have a really firm set of beliefs that you are sure about, or are you comfortable living “in the gray areas?” What makes you sure about the things you’re sure about?

  6. 6. In your everyday life, what sorts of things do you see that you think of as unethical or wrong? What makes these things bad?

  7. 7. Do you ever dream about what a better world would look like, perhaps what you hope the world will be like for your kids? Can you describe it for me? What would have to happen for such a change to take place? Are there things you do to try to make that better world possible?

  8. 8. [Who have been your heroes/heroines at different times in your life? Why?]


  1. 1. Do you currently hold a job outside the home? Can you tell me a little about what you do at work?

  2. (p.317) 2. How did you choose your particular line of work?

  3. 3. Tell me about a time when you found your job especially satisfying? Especially frustrating? Can you tell me about a particular success story or great moment at work? Or a heartbreaking failure?

  4. 4. What are the hardest things you have to decide about at work? What helps you make those decisions?

Leisure, etc.

  1. 1. What kinds of things do you do besides work? (sports, volunteer work, arts, etc.) Tell me about a typical (game, volunteer session, etc.).

  2. 2. What television shows do you watch most regularly? Do you ever notice anything in those shows that you would describe as spiritual or religious? Do you find that agreeable or not?

  3. 3. Do you use the internet and/or email? What are your most common uses? Do you ever communicate with your religious community via email? Do you ever visit any religious or spiritual sites on the web?

  4. 4. Do you usually vote? Have you ever gotten involved in politics? What did you do? Why did you get involved?

  5. 5. Are there any other activities that are especially important to you?

Religious Involvement

  1. 1. How often have you been attending [church/synagogue/mosque/temple] worship services in the last year?

    1. a. Does your spouse/partner/children usually attend there with you?

    2. b. Are you an official member?

    3. c. What year did you start attending this congregation?

  2. 2. Think about a typical time you attended [church]. What is most memorable about being there? Can you describe a typical worship service for me?

  3. 3. Would you say that you feel a strong sense of belonging in that congregation? How close do you feel to the pastor or to the primary religious leader at your congregation?

  4. 4. If you were the leader of this [church[, what would you change about it? What do you like best about the way it is now?

  5. 5. How strongly do you identify with your [church] or [denomination’s] beliefs? Are there things you disagree with? Things that even make you angry?

  6. 6. In the last few years, have you been a member or participated in any other [church]? Do you currently take part in any activities at any other [church]?

  7. 7. Are there any other religious organizations or groups that are important in your life?

  8. 8. Are you part of a religious small group? What does it do?

(p.318) Religious Experience

  1. 1. Are there things you routinely see or hear that remind you of God (spirituality, etc.)?

  2. 2. Have you ever felt like you were exactly where you should be and doing exactly what you should be doing?

  3. 3. Have you ever felt like God (or angels or saints) was really present, directly helping or guiding you?

    1. a. or punishing you?

  4. 4. Do you think there are supernatural forces in the world? Are they good or evil or both? Which is stronger, the good or the evil? Is there a time when you’ve experienced this yourself?

Summing Up

What would you want to tell your grandchildren about your life? [Or what would you want people to remember about you?]

III. Sample Guidelines for Photo Taking

Think about the PLACES that are most important to you. They may be special because of what you do there, how you feel there, what you experience or remember there, or who you are with or think of when you are there. This might be your kitchen table, a favorite park or forest, a memorial or statue, your back porch, your church or synagogue, your desk or easy chair, the golf course where you play, almost anywhere. Often places will be important because of the people in them, so feel free to include people in your pictures.

In each place take one or two pictures. We’re not looking for professional quality—just a snapshot that will capture the sense of the place.

Your camera will take twenty-seven pictures, but if you don’t need that many to cover the places you want to record, that is fine. Please do try to take pictures of at least five or six places, however.

We will send you either a digital file or a set of prints (whichever you choose) of your pictures for you to keep, and we will keep a digital file that will be handled with the same rules for access and confidentiality that govern all the project’s research data.

Discussion of Photos

After the photos are developed, the researcher will discuss them with the participant and will record the discussion on audiotape.

(p.319) Sample Questions

  • What is the story behind this picture? Tell me about where you were? What were you doing? Why is this place or person or group important to you?

  • Tell me about who is in this picture? Why is this person significant to you? What is the person doing? Why was this situation important?

  • Were there places you thought about photographing but didn’t, either because they aren’t nearby or for some other reason? Tell me about those places.

IV. Sample Instructions for Oral Diaries

This portion of the research process will allow us to understand your everyday experiences. Using a tape recorder, you will keep a verbal record of some of your daily thoughts and/or experiences. You may want to think of this as if you were keeping a diary or perhaps as if you were talking to a friend or family member and telling them stories about what’s going on in your life.

With each story, try to include as much detail as possible: Where were you? Who else was there? How did you feel?

You may want to do this all in one session each day, perhaps in the evening or while you drive home from work. Or you may want to carry the recorder and talk about things as they happen during the day. Try to do at least a little every day. Each day’s total journal entries should be approximately five to fifteen minutes.

The prompts below are meant as a guideline, but please feel free to talk about other things that you think are important for understanding your everyday life. Please try to respond to the daily story each day. In addition, each day, you may choose one or more of the other prompts to discuss. You are not required to tell all the possible kinds of stories! Simply use as many of these suggestions as you like as springboards for telling us stories about what is happening in your life this week.

Daily Story

As you imagine looking back on this day six months from now, what do you suppose will be most vivid in your mind? Even if nothing special seemed to happen, what were the ordinary things that happened that are the most important parts of your life right now?

(p.320) Other Suggested Stories

  1. 1. Tell me a story about a recent accomplishment [at work/home/sports/volunteer work/clubs]. What did you accomplish and why is this important to you?

  2. 2. In the past week, have you been thinking about an important decision you need to make about something [at work/at home/with other groups]? Tell me about this decision and what you think the possible outcomes might be.

  3. 3. Tell me about a time this week when you did something religious or spiritual. When and where was it, and what happened?

  4. 4. If you participated in any religious or spiritual group this week, tell me something about what happened there.

  5. 5. If you have a religious ritual you observe daily—for example, praying or meditating—tell me about what you do.

  6. 6. Tell me about an experience this week that left you angry or frustrated. Why were you unhappy? Was the situation resolved? How has this experience affected you since it occurred?

  7. 7. In the past week, have you faced any moral dilemmas? If so, tell me about those. Where did you face this dilemma [at work/at home/with your family or friends/with a religious group/with another group]? What were you faced with? How did you deal with this situation?

  8. 8. Tell me about something you did this week mostly because you felt you had to, rather than because you really wanted to.

  9. 9. Think about the most significant relationship you have in your life at present. Tell me about something that has happened with that person this week (something you did together, a conversation or correspondence).

  10. 10. Have you interacted with your family at all this week? If you have, tell me about one thing you did or talked about and how it felt. How was this family time similar to or different from the way things usually are? If you have not had any interaction with your family, tell me about why you think that is.

  11. 11. Tell me about a conversation and/or an experience you had this week that reminded you of your childhood? What about the conversation/experience was reminiscent of your childhood?

  12. 12. Tell me about a recent experience where you tried something new.

  13. 13. Tell me about a movie or TV show or radio program from this week that you found especially inspiring or challenging. Did it make you think about your faith or your spiritual life?

  14. 14. Tell me about the music you’ve been listening to this week. Was anything especially memorable? What did it make you think about or feel that made it special?

  15. (p.321) 15. Tell me about something you saw on the web this week (something you learned or a site you visited or a chat or blog or game you participated in). Was this something that “stretched” you, or did it reinforce the things you already think are important?

  16. 16. Tell me about a time when you did or heard or saw something that reminded you of God.

  17. 17. Did you spend time in any place that you see as sacred? Tell me about that.

  18. 18. Did you talk about politics or do anything political this week? If so, tell me about it.

  19. 19. Tell me a story about something you did for fun this week. Who was there? What did you do? What made it good?

  20. 20. Tell me about something that happened at work that made you feel really good (or really bad). (p.322)