he backbone of this course is the reading journal you will keep throughout, with entries for each assigned set of readings (so two entries per week). Entries should be completed by class time on the day the assigned readings are due.
Each journal entry should be at least , and ideally should not exceed 1,000 words. While your writing may be less formal or structured than in a typical college paper, your train of thought should be clear and expressed in complete sentences and paragraphs. No in-text citations or bibliography is needed, but when referring to a specific quote, claim or anecdote, do give the page number.
Make sure to leave enough time so that, after you do each day’s readings, you can sit down and spend at least half an hour reflecting–on paper–about what you’ve just read. Don’t feel you have to come to any hard and fast conclusions; instead think of this as exploratory writing, a chance to record your initial reactions and insights. This should, however, not be in outline or ‘note’ format, but should be connected prose. I think you’ll find that the very act of putting your ideas into full sentences will make you see more connections and possibilities in the text you’ve just read than merely jotting down scattered notes does.
If the reading has been very complicated, you may want to begin by summarizing the main ideas or arguments, or any key facts or anecdotes, in order to sort out the information covered. But you should not stop there. Go on to tell me what you think of what you’ve read– try to make sense of it in light of what you’ve read or previously known about the subject. Some specific questions you might answer are:
- What connections to previous reading or information do you see in this material? Does it alter earlier opinions you may have formed? Does it deepen your understanding of the subject? You can think in terms of what we are learning about “Islam” from the reading, but also in terms of what we learn as anthropologists interested in human social and cultural life in general. What anthropological concepts or themes that are relevant to the reading? Do you note interesting comparisons with other cultural contexts?
- What did you not understand? Were there any unfamiliar words or references? What else would you need to know in order to make sense of the author’s arguments or the ethnographic vignettes presented? What things do you hope will be explained further as you read more or hear more in class?
- Would you argue with the author on any points? Can you imagine others who would? Do you think the author is ignoring anything vital or misrepresenting reality in any way? Does this seem to be a conscious or unconscious choice?
- Have you had any personal experience with the subject that makes you see it in a different light? Have you talked with anyone else who has?
- What seem to be the major concepts key terms in this piece of reading? How important are they likely to be in the course in the long run? What significance might they have for people outside of this course or this discipline?
These are just a few of the hundreds of questions you can ask of your reading. The main point of this kind of writing is to use it to take some time to reflect and to examine the reading in a more thoughtful and rigorous way than we do when we read casually. But at the same time this should allow you to do freer, more creative writing than the focused, structured essays teachers may usually ask you to write. In this writing it may help sometimes to think of yourself as talking back to me (the instructor) or to the author you’ve just read.
Good journal entries will do more than summarize the claims or report on the facts covered in the readings: they will engage thoughtfully, critically and/or creatively with the ideas and information and above all will make connections—between different ethnographic anecdotes or cases, between data and ideas, between different readings or between what you are learning in the course and what you knew previously (including what you know about popular images and understandings of the subject).
I will read and respond to your journals once a week for the first three weeks of the course, and then at three-week intervals after that. These journals represent a significant portion of the writing and thinking you’ll be doing in the course, so you will get credit for them. I will evaluate them as follows: