Length: 8-10 pages
Due Date: TBA
Introduction: When I was in the 6th grade, I was taught about the great explorers of the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th Centuries. Magellan. Hudson. Drake. Polo. Columbus. I distinctly remember imagining myself on deck of Drake's ship, The Golden Hind, circumnavigating the globe, pursuing high adventure through unknown, undrawn lands. These great men uncovered the dark parts of the globe. It wasn't until college, until I read books like Lies My Teacher Told Me and The People's History of the United States that I realized I had been lied to--viscously and repeatedly, though I expect unknowingly. Somewhere in the vast cultural milieu of my schooling I felt I had been promised that learning meant trusting my teachers. I believed my teachers. I think I must have foolishly and naively believed in a hierarchy of fallibility with myself at the bottom and my teachers at the pinnacle, closest to an error-free life. Two things never occurred to me: (1) the great men and women of the past were human, flawed, greedy, and occasionally downright evil. And, (2) my teachers, too, were human, flawed, embarrassed, and occasionally misinformed. This would become a recurring theme. Lightning, it seems, will not give you superpowers. Wishing hard for something doesn't make it come true, and thinking of someone before the phone rings doesn't mean I have psychic powers or that I'm mystically connected to my friends. Did I believe these voodoo dreams at one point? Maybe. Maybe I still hold to the belief that a certain incantation to my wife will protect her from harm when she's away from home. And maybe I find comfort in this.
Belief, in short, is a powerful thing. It creates religions and cults, presidents and jokes. My hope for you and this paper is a chance to explore a belief, recent or distant, and ask some of the questions. Ask, as Julia Kristeva does in her book, why we have This Incredible Need to Believe? And ask how it came about.
The Assignment: Write an 8-10 page research paper about why people believe what they believe. You should feel free to define belief as broadly as you'd like. However, you may not write about one of your own beliefs. Choose something you can be skeptical about, whether it's crypto-zoological, spiritual, religious, or historical. Then, with sympathetic research, ask yourself why so many people believe in your topic. The reasons for this belief may vary from psychological to neurological to educational. Or, perhaps, an amalgamation of all three. Perhaps more. Whatever the case, you must engage in an argument relevant to today that answers how and why people believe what they believe. A simple illumination of a belief system, a report on Scientology for example, does not constitute a good research paper. You must instead, explore all of the reasons why someone might be induced to believe. Finally, you must be able to construct a logical, entertaining and compelling demonstration of your points. Even the brightest truth is tarnished by poor construction.
Methodology: Your introduction should be enticing and clear. Perhaps most importantly, it should introduce your topic and your argument. While your thesis does not have to be explicit, it should begin its development in your introduction. That said, your introduction need not be artificial or adhere to any inorganic structural rules, but it should orient your audience. It should provide the purpose, highlight your voice and style, and its themes might reasonably recur throughout the essay. The body should spill naturally out of the introduction. The majority of your evidence will be collected in the body in the form of paraphrasing, summarizing and integrating quotations along with the necessary accumulated data, anecdotes, etc. This evidence should be intelligently introduced and more importantly, thoroughly analyzed and explained. Use They Say, I Say as a guide for the proper way to manage an academic argument. An A paper will have mapped out a structure and an organization for the body. Idea will flow into idea in an effortless and intuitive manner. Because the evidence is organized, your transitions should be nearly transparent -- practically unneeded. Your conclusion, then, should be neither abrupt nor repetitive. Rely on the construction of the essays we read in class to guide you.
Process: Before you turn your final draft in, you will complete a series of minor tasks including proposals, annotations, summaries and analyses. Each of these should help you on your journey to research your paper.
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