Project Proposal: Contextualizing Baptism

Since 33AD there have been countless people who have identified as followers of Jesus Christ. Throughout both time and location the meaning of that identity has changed radically, yet all call themselves Jesus-believers. One of the few rituals that has been maintained across centuries and territories is Baptism, yet even this fundamental Christian practice has not gone unchanged.  This project seeks to explore the changes in practice and interpretation Baptism has undergone by focusing in on one town, Hebron, CT, which is home to five churches: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Congregational and Non-denominational.

The project seeks to describe Baptismal practices leading up to the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Congregational and Non-denominatinal traditions. This will be accomplished by showing Baptismal material culture from the earliest known Bapistry (Dura-Europos, Syria, 2nd century), then from churches I will select that were the first (or nearly the first) built after a schism, and lastly from Hebron churches. The website will then draw comparisions and contrasts between the traditions and between periods.

The second part of the website will explore how Christians have interpreted Baptism as part of their lives.  I will select a representative sample of accounts from past churches (again, I will need to develope a methdology, but I will likely select the voices of authority (clergy) and of parishioners (where possible) of the specific buildings I discussed in the first part).  I will then supply responses of Hebron residents, both church leaders and layity.

Part One of the project will use digital photographs as the main body if evidence. These photographs will be organized in an Omeka exhibit, and hopfully in an interactive image-map. Part Two will use mp3 files for recorded interviews and text organized as an archive. I will also use a comment box for users to submit their Baptism stories  and comments to be vetted by me before being posted.

I chose Hebron because I live here and will have consistent access to my audience. My primary audience consists of the approximately 2,300 Christians living in Hebron, CT.  Of that 2,300, I am targetting an even smaller subset- those active Christians who are interested in church history and interdenominational communication. I anticipate my users can be divided into two main categories: life-long learners and faith formation educators.

Life-long learners are induviduals 50+ who are active members of their congregations and, most importantly, interested in expanding their own education independantly. I am thinking of retirees, filling  their time with learning and community involvement. Many 50+ adults use the internet for religious purposes and would find my project personally enriching.

Faith formation educators are church leaders engaged in teaching catecism, CCD, RCIA, and Sunday school, as well as adult programming. This is primarily a female audience, with a wide age range.  Many of these educators seek out engaging resources on-line for their classes. I want to provide them tools they can utilize to teach their students about Baptism in their specific community and where the tradition comes from.

A third group, which I think will mostly be composed of members from the other two, is people interested in interdenominational dialog. The town of Hebron, CT already has an Interfaith Human Services, and interfaith events; this project will hopefully serve to fascilitate continuing interdenominational coversations and events. Through the contribute function if the website, I hope members of the five faith communities will learn about each other and open up to conversation.

A secondary audience are people engageed with religious studies, including religious seekers. My website will provide case-studies of modern American Baptismal practices that scholars and interested public can draw from to inform their research.

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