Truth in Society

October 6, 1994

Prompt #22

Taking stock . . .

We'll spend a few minutes reading, thinking and talking about the inkshedding that took place at the end-of-the-beginning meeting on Tuesday. The focus was on what worked and what didn't work for you during the past four weeks in the Truth in Society section, and your hopes, expectations and concerns for the coming two months. The passages that were marked have all been transcribed; you should have a copy of them in front of you now. Take a few minutes to read them. Then we'll do a "round."

Gearing up . . .

On an attached sheet are the three focus groups we've put together. In all cases, we've been able to accommodate first or second choices; there were some people who said it really didn't matter, though, and we took them at their word. And a few people never did send us a choice: we put them where there was room. It's OK to switch to another group, if you can find someone willing to trade places. Please make sure we know about it, though.

Meetings of focus groups have been scheduled for later today, as follows (all in EC 120):

9:00 - 10:00 Scopes Group with Thom and John
10:00 - 11:00 Salem Group with Russ and John
1:00 - 2:00 Jonestown Group with Thom and Russ

Before your group meets (if you're in Salem or Jonestown) you might want to take a look at the plan for the next few weeks, under "Moving ahead" below, and begin exploring what you might want to read. You might go to the library or dig around in the boxes of documents.

Your focus group meeting will begin with a round. Each member will take a turn exploring aloud what at this juncture seems to her most intriguing and significant. By the time we've moved around the circle, we'll probably have a fairly good sense of the range of issues that we might pursue.

At some point in the proceedings, we can begin to talk about how these issues might be addressed from the three disciplinary perspectives of Religious Studies, Sociology and Literary Studies. As we do that, new topics and issues may come into view. Then we'll have to figure out how best to form perspective sub-groups, taking into account members' interests while trying to maintain a fairly equal three-way split.

Moving ahead . . .

During the preliminary phase of our investigations (which culminated in the decisions we made on Tuesday) our aim was to collect enough information about the episodes so that everyone had a reasonably coherent picture of "what happened." The "big questions" kept coming to the surface, but we tried to restrict the amount of general discussion by concentrating on a fairly narrow "band of time - space": Dayton, Tennessee during the middle of July in 1925, Salem Massachusetts in the fall of 1692, Jonestown Guyana in November of 1978. Our first task was to sort out the "particulars," the details about what happened, in what sequences, in what concrete immediate setting, involving what key players.

Now we've arrived at a point where it's necessary to move back a step or two in order to begin shading in more of the context of the episodes. That means widening our time - space band. Of course, we don't want to let it become so wide that the specifics are no longer discernible on the horizon. We want to be able to distinctly see the particular events, but now against a background that encompasses decades and not just days, and settings beyond the localities in which the main protagonists interacted face-to- face.

So our question now becomes: What background reading might be useful so that we come to a fuller understanding of the issues (as they were variously defined then-and-there, as well as here-and-now)? Maybe some members want to read books on the social and political context, or books written in or influential at the time, or books concerned with related incidents, or dramas or novels based in these incidents or relating to them.

What we need to do is some reading of entire books. Looking at longer accounts and interpretations will allow us to get inside what someone else makes of the incident or a related incident, and perhaps thereby to see what we're overlooking. As we read, write and talk about various accounts, we'll discover that commentators (even those writing years or centuries after the fact) often come up with very different and even conflicting interpretations of what really happened, and what it meant to the participants, and what it means for us today.

Between now and Tuesday start thinking about what you might want to read -- not so much the specific things, but the kinds of things that might be helpful. Bring to our opening meeting on Tuesday a written reflection on the sort of thing (or sorts of things) that you'd like to sit out in the sun and read for a while next week.

To get primed for this, you may want to borrow an item or two from your episode box to look at over the weekend. Some of these snippets, chapters and articles may whet your appetite, and you may decide to go to the books from which the excerpts were taken. You might even decide you want to read the whole book a particular snippet came from.

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