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What I liked about my dissertation

October 5, 2009

I recently finished writing my MA dissertation, and I must say there have been more pleasant experiences (without going too far, even just my BSc dissertation). But there were some aspects of it that I will miss after all.

It was my first go at primary research. And while it was hard to get to the people I wanted to speak to (I picked a particularly hard-to-reach group), it was great that academia for once brought me in touch with real people with real lives. And what was even greater was that the “real lives” that I discovered were rather interesting and definitely different from my own.

For instance, I got to attend both a Romanian Orthodox church service and an African Catholic mass. They were both incredibly interesting for the tiny anthropologist still residing somewhere within me. The Romanian service lasted a very long time and of course my understanding of it was hindered by the fact I speak no Romanian. I could guess some things though and I could tell the priest was making references to the everyday lives of his followers while preaching about hypocrisy and of course delivering his message which I sadly missed. The service also included a long session when they blessed both people and especially prepared food. I happened to follow the service twice and the first time I was surprised by how packed it was, and how much effort people had made into preparing the food etc.; I thought it was a special celebration like an important Saint or something like that. It wasn’t. The next Sunday I saw exactly the same dedication. Outside, when I was carrying out my survey, I met people who were willing and eager to discuss about religion and about the Church in a meaningful way, about higher things than a blind no to Ru486 (which is what the Catholic Church is getting up to in Italy lately).

But even more blatantly and easily heart-warming was the African mass. Picture the stereotype: women in colourful clothing, a drum-kit in the church, a choir wearing gowns and hats you thought you’d only see in American movies about college leavers, and, of course, the singing and dancing. It also felt very welcoming: the president of the African Catholic Association invited me to sit at the first bench with him, despite my arrival in the middle of the ceremony. I was presented to the congregation, and when I finally left with my precious compiled questionnaires, many other people asked me about my studies and about London.

There were many other extremely satisfying conversations in the course of my dissertation days, but discovering these secretly proud communities in my quiet Italian home-town was by far my favourite part of my research.

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