Reading Response One
Handout in two parts
Part One: Suggested questions
Part Two: Guidelines for writing an academic response paper
1). What is the difference between ritual and ritualization? Do you think Durkheim makes a clear distinction between the two?
2). It seems that ritual (and practice) as the site of the religious requires some ineffable experience (experience of the ineffable) or, following Durkheim, affect, to be effective and to have particular outcomes. Following these points, why do you think Durkheim brackets out individual experience in his approach to studying ritual?
MAUSS & HUBERT
1). According to Mauss and Hubert, what takes place after the ‘exit’ from the ritual sacrifice?
1). How does Bataille define the ‘sacred’?
2). Bataille argues that religious ritual is grounded in economics and modes of production. Discuss how Bataille presents the development of ritual sacrifice in human societies and explain how the violence of ritual sacrifice can escalate into war in pre-modern and modern societies.
1). Give evidence for or against Burkert’s argument that there is something inherently violent in religion, especially with respect to sacrifice. Discuss in particular what Burkert (p. 12) states: the “experience of the death brought about by human violence” is somehow connected with another human, especially in terms of the festive meal of those who participate in the sacred aspects of the ritual.
1). According to Jay, how does sacrificial ritual preserve a community’s identity as well as shape its understanding of descent?
2). Discuss the following statement from Jay (p. 37): “Sacrifice cannot be infallible evidence of begetting and therefore obviously cannot constitute biological paternity. It is the social relations of reproduction, not biological reproduction that sacrificial ritual can create and maintain”.
1). Bloch claims that rituals, especially violent rituals, can have a destructive effect in terms of how religious communities understand their social reality (codes of ethics, morality) because of ritual’s stability and the fact it does not change. Do you agree or disagree with Bloch’s theory?
2). Ordering rituals communicate the “logic of domination” in their societies. On the basis of the reading, what examples does Bloch provide to support his view on the function of ritual?
Focus on one course reading in your reading response.
Goal: Respond critically to an issue that is discussed in this course and which interests you.
What a reader response paper is:
A critical essay that tells the reader what an academic article/book chapter means to you. It reflects a close reading of the work, contains specific examples drawn from the work (documented parenthetically with page numbers), and provides your well-considered opinion of the work’s strengths and/or shortcomings. The essay demonstrates that you have read the article/book chapter, internalized and contextualized its arguments, and can articulate and substantiate your reactions to it.
What a reader response paper is not:
- A descriptive summary of the reading or of the subject matter(s) it describes. Assume your reader has read the reading too, and has a familiarity with the topic under consideration.
- A research paper. You may consult additional sources (other studies of the same subject; other critiques of the author) if you like, but you are not required to do so. Use parenthetical documentation rather than footnotes.
- A classic “thesis” paper, in which you state a thesis argument at the front end and use the course reading to support this thesis, reiterating the argument in the conclusion. The essay must have an organizing argument (see below) but it should be more analytic than descriptive. Its intent goes beyond proving a certain point of fact.
- An opportunity for general opinionating (“I thought it was really good,” or “I thought it was terrible”) nor an opportunity to make statements of opinion that are not supported by evidence drawn from the text.
- A test of whether you had the “right” interpretation of the course reading. This is a venue for you to tell us what the course reading means to you. It should display thoughtful evaluation of the text and express of how it may have contributed (or not contributed) to your understanding of a particular aspect of Religion and Violence, and why.
Ask yourself the following questions as you prepare to write a reader response paper. You don’t need to include the answers to these questions in your paper, but they can help you organize your thoughts and decide what you’d like to write about in your response.
- What were the main arguments of the book (hint: historians and scholars often put these in the introduction, the conclusion, or both)? Did the author, in your opinion, do a decent job of following through on those arguments? Why or why not?
- How is the book “talking” to other parts of the historical literature? Is the author styling him or herself as a particular type of historian (women’s historian, social historian, political historian, etc.)? Who are their subjects? What is their purpose in writing this book?
- What parts of the reading did you like the most, and why?
- How does this reading relate to what interests you about our course topic? What did you learn from it? If you didn’t learn much, why was that?
- What questions did this text leave you with? What would you like to learn more about?
- What about the author’s style and methodology did you like or dislike? How are they using sources and how does this reflect on the integrity and validity of their arguments?
- For useful things to keep in mind as you read the course reading, consult “How to Read a Secondary Source” in Prof. Patrick Rael’s Writing Guide (you can link to it from http://www.bowdoin.edu/writing-guides/).
Sample format for a reader response paper of 2-3 pages:
- Introduction/theme: 1 paragraphs that “set the stage” for what will follow. Possible entry points include: a broader trend that interests you in Religious Studies and how this reading’s contents explain it; another book/article (or school of thought) that this reading either supports or refutes; assumptions or opinions you hold that this reading might challenge.
- Background: 2 paragraphs that introduce the reading, its main arguments and context in which it was written, and place the text in its historiographic context (i.e., how it relates to other literature on the subject).
- Analysis: use the remainder of the paper to hone in on a certain element of the reading and provide your opinion of it. This, as much as anything, is the “thesis” of this essay. You may choose to focus on the main argument of the reading, or just one element of the book (for example, the author’s treatment of gender, or the author’s conclusions about the durability of third parties, or the author’s style and research methodology). The analysis should contain direct quotes or paraphrased examples from the reading (all cited with page numbers) to support your argument.
- Conclusion: one paragraph that brings us back to your entering statement and states the wider significance of this work to you, and to the literature.
And, as you write, do not forget the basic rules of style and grammar.
Please do not think of this assignment as a journal. Your personal subjective responses and experiences are not the focus of this assignment. They may only be included if you can critically incorporate them into your analysis of the readings.
Criteria for Evaluation (see grading scale in second part of hand-out):
Writing skills: well-written, organized, no spelling mistakes, typos or grammatical errors. Uses relevant quotations to illustrate your argument and uses appropriate citations.
Content: Demonstrate comprehension of the major issues as covered in the course lectures and required readings.
Argument: Argument is logical, well-constructed and sustained.
Analysis: Demonstrates ability to reflect critically on and analyze the material.
Tips for writing a great reading response:
1. Prep work: Look at the readings. What themes, issues, questions connect different readings? Choose one reading that will allow you to respond in a thoughtful, interesting and original way.
2. Introduction: Start response with a thesis statement. This should be your first sentence. What is the purpose in writing this reading response? What are you arguing? What 2-3 points/issues/questions will you discuss? All of this information should be in your introductory paragraph (1/3 page).
3. Description: Describe the author’s central argument in the course reading and the points that will be essential to your own thesis statement; this will demonstrate that you understand the material. If you are aiming for a higher grade (B+ or higher), keep this part of the reading response relatively short so that you can focus more on analysis and developing your own argument.
4. Analysis and Argument: Critically respond to each point raised in your introduction individually. Some strategies to consider: identify weaknesses and strengths in an author’s argument. Identify issues or arguments that were neglected by the author. Identify biases and determine how they affect the credibility of the author’s claims. Remember that not all critiques are negative; one can critically identify positive elements as well and this will demonstrate that you understand the material and can think critically about it. This element of the reading response is necessary for a B grade or higher.
1. Conclusion: Conclude your argument in a final concluding paragraph. Restate your thesis statement, highlight the major issues you discussed, and reinforce the claims you have made in your analysis and argument. Add any additional insights or thoughts that you might have (1/3 page).
Establishing Explicit Grading Criteria
Criteria for Written Assignments
Your reading responses and research papers will be graded on the basis of the following criteria:
1. STRUCTURE: Begin your paper with a brief description of the narrative, or a brief episode from it that suggests or illustrates your thesis. Give your thesis statement, which is a concise statement of your central argument. Then build your argument in a series of well-structured paragraphs. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence, and 3 to 5 sentences that clearly support that topic sentence. Each paragraph should explain ONE idea, not 3 or 4. Each paragraph should have a clear connection to the ONE idea, not 3 or 4. Pay attention to transitions! Each paragraph should have a clear connection to the next. End with a strong conclusion that explains what your thesis statement tells the reader, for example, about the Civil War.
2. ANALYSIS: Remember that each paragraph should advance your argument. Support your thesis with evidence from your narrative, always remembering to explain what that evidence means. Where necessary, provide context from other course material. Your analysis should offer specific insights into aspects of the reading you have selected for your reading response that our lectures sometimes describe in general terms.
3. STYLE: Clarity comes from knowing what you mean and saying it plainly. Don’t try to write like a writer–write like a person who wants to be understood. I will reward clear, active, powerful writing. PLEASE do not use the passive voice. Do not start sentences with “It is. . .,” “There is. . .” or “There are. . .” Use active verbs. Revise your paper to remove wordiness, redundancy, passive voice, and inactive verbs. Make sure that your grammar and spelling are correct. Careless errors, especially run-ons and comma splices, WILL lower your grade. One example of BAD writing is as follows: “There were changes in southern society during the war that made southerners turn their anti-government beliefs against the south.” An example of BETTER writing is as follows: “Many white southerners interpreted wartime taxation and conscription as the same sort of interference with southern ‘domestic relations’ that the Confederacy founders had promised to prevent.” What’s the difference? In the first sentence, “There were changes” is in the passive voice and offers no specifics. What sort of changes occurred, and in what context? The passive voice allows you to evade these questions, but specificity and context are essential to good history. “Southerners” is too general; the group in question consists of many (but not all) white southerners. “Anti-government beliefs” and “the south” also lacks precision. White southerners tended to resist some forms of political authority, but not others; this dynamic shaped both the Confederate state (which was not the same thing as “the south”) and the emerging opposition to that state’s policies.
4. ORIGINALITY: Although you can get a good grade (a B) for a paper based on arguments presented in lectures or readings, “A” (and even more so in the case of A+) papers must offer more original insights and arguments. I strongly encourage you to think for yourselves, building on evidence and arguments from the course, but pushing your insights further than what we cover in lectures.
The Superior Paper (A+/A)
Structure: Your thesis is clear, insightful, original, sophisticated, even exciting. All ideas in the paper flow logically; your argument is identifiable, reasonable, and sound. You have excellent transitions. Your paragraphs have solid topic sentences, and each sentence clearly relates to that topic sentence. Your conclusion is persuasive.
Analysis: You support every point with at least one example from your selected reading. You integrate quoted material into your sentences well. Your analysis is fresh and exciting, posing new ways to think of the material.
Style: Your sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and citations are excellent. You have NO run-on sentences or comma splices. Your writing style is lively, active, and interesting. You use active verbs, and do not use the passive voice. You are not wordy or redundant. You not only sustain an argument throughout your reading response, but you introduce to the reader this argument in a clear and persuasive manner.
Originality: Your arguments show a great deal of independent insight and originality.
The Very Good Paper (A/B+)
Structure: Your thesis is clear, insightful, and original. Your argument flows logically and is sound. You may have a few unclear transitions. You end with a strong conclusion.
Analysis: You give examples to support most points, and you integrate quotations into sentences. Your analysis is clear and logical, and even makes sense.
Style: Your sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and citations are good. You have no more than one run-on sentence or comma splice. Your writing style is solid and clear. You use active verbs and do not use the passive voice. You are not wordy or redundant.
Originality: Your arguments show independent thought.
The Good Paper (B)
Structure: Your thesis is clear, but may not be insightful, original, or easily identified. Your argument is generally clear and appropriate, although it may wander occasionally. You may have a few unclear transitions, or paragraphs without strong topic sentences. You may end without much of a conclusion.
Analysis: You give evidence to support most points, but some evidence may appear where inappropriate. Your argument usually makes sense, although some gaps in logic may exist.
Style: Your writing style is clear, but not always refined in terms of word choice and stating your argument. You sometimes use the passive voice. You may become wordy or redundant. Your sentence structure, grammar, and spelling are strong despite occasional lapses.
Originality: You do a solid job of synthesizing course material but do not develop your own insights or conclusions.
The Borderline Paper (B/C)
Structure: Your thesis may be unclear, vague, or unoriginal, and it may provide little structure for the paper. Your paper may wander, with few transitions, few topic sentences, and little logic. Your paragraphs may not be organized coherently.
Analysis: You give examples to support some but not all points. Your points often lack supporting evidence, or else you use evidence inappropriately, often because there may be no clear point. Your quotations may be poorly integrated into sentences. You may give a quote, but then fail to analyze it or show how it supports your argument. Your logic may fail, or your argument may be unclear. Your end may dwindle off without a conclusion.
Style: Your writing style is not always clear and is problematic in terms of clearly stating your argument and supporting your thesis statement. You use the passive voice, or become wordy or redundant. You have repeated problems in sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, citation style, or spelling. You may have several run-on sentences or comma splices.
Originality: You do a fair job of synthesizing course material but do not develop your own insights or conclusions. In many instances, you are paraphrasing what is in the reading without providing any analysis.
The “Needs Help” Paper (C)
Structure: Your thesis is difficult to identify, or it may be a plain restatement of an obvious point. Your structure may be unclear, often because your thesis is weak or non-existent. Your transitions are confusing and unclear. Your paragraphs show little structure. The paper is a loose collection of statements, rather than a cohesive argument. You have relied on summarizing the reading and not departed from the text.
Analysis: Your examples are few or weak. You fail to support statements, and the evidence you give is poorly analyzed, poorly integrated into the paper, or simply incorrect. Your argument may be impossible to identify. Ideas may not flow at all, often because there is no argument to support.
Style: Your writing style has problems in sentence structure, grammar, and diction. You have frequent major errors in citation style, punctuation, and spelling. You may have many run-on sentences and comma splices.
Originality: You do a confusing or poor job synthesizing material presented in the reading, and you do not develop your own insights or conclusions.
The Bad Paper (D or F)
No one wants to do badly on an assignment or in a course. However, a bad paper shows minimal lack of effort or comprehension. The arguments are very difficult to understand owing to major problems with mechanics, structure, and analysis. The paper has no identifiable thesis, or an incompetent thesis.