While I'm thinking about it, I wanted to brainstorm a few more questions that I will ask people during interviews that I will be doing with them. I had to explain my London project to a friend today, and it's funny how trying to explain your project forces you to make sense of it better than you have before.
So, previously, these the topic of my questions have considered recent statements by the two big camps in religious matters in the UK - at least in the public eye: David Cameron's "We are a Christian country" statement from his December 2011 speech, and a small paragraph published by the British Humanism Association on their website advocating a secular state and the freedom from religion. In addition, I have a question that addresses the large decrease in affiliation with Christian churches by individuals in the United Kingdom as surveyed on the British Social Attitudes survey, asking whether this trend is a positive thing or a negative thing for the country, and another question that cites various studies that have been done that connect religious belief and participation to positive social factors as well as well-known criticisms of religion--the question here will be whether the person sees the net effect of religion as positive or negative.
Now, with respect to these questions, I think some people that I will talk to will have a hard time expressing their real feelings with me. I think they'll probably be fishing around in their responses trying to see what kind of an answer I want from them. I think almost everyone knows that this topic is a pretty hot issue, and nobody really goes around without an opinion on it one way or another. They probably expect that 1) I strongly support religion, or 2) I don't support religion at all, or I support my religion but not others, etc, and they will want to color their responses according to what I seem to want to hear. If they find out I'm very religious myself (which they must if I introduce myself properly, and do not lie, which I won't....because I'm religious and don't believe in that sort of thing....) they will probably try to say things that are positive about religion and religious experience, even if they may have doubts or misgivings personally about it. When they find out that I'm religious, they'll almost definitely take that to mean that I would prefer them to say something positive about churches, or that decreasing religiosity is a bad thing. That does create a real problem, because I must admit that, to some extent, I would like them to say that decreasing religiosity is a bad thing, but I want them to say it if they are going to say it honestly. I'm perfectly alright with them saying that decreasing religiosity is good thing or a neutral thing, as long as that is their honest opinion. I really don't want them to say it's a good thing, only because they think I want them too, when they really don't feel that way at all.
Helping people express how they really feel will depend in large measure on how I conduct each interview. I've noticed that when you ask a question where the answerer feels afraid to say what they really think, they often won't say what it is they are feeling, or they may even say something they don't believe just to save face or to avoid causing offense. I have to project the feeling of someone who would gladly hear the most scandalous and terrifying opinions about religion and not get upset, as long as the person is telling the truth. That's why I've tried to include opinions from both sides of the issue in my questions. I hope that by quoting those who have publicly expressed their opinions on the subject, from both sides of the matter, people I interview will hear an opinion that resonates with them, and open up about their feelings. That's hard, and on second thought it may even be counterproductive, because if I'm trying to fit people's opinions into pre-packaged containers it's not likely that I'm going to get any original material from these interviews, and that's what they are all about. So, although I need to be balanced in my interviewing, I also need to create an environment in the interview where people will express their feelings about religion, even if it's completely different that what I've heard before. It may take some very good observation to sense when what individuals really feel isn't what they're hearing front the two camps that I'll be mentioning, and some real conversational skill to allow that person to open up about their actual feelings without feeling pressured or uncomfortable.
There's a lot of factors to consider...maybe I should practice doing more interviews before I go?