USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Studying Faith

What are typical interview questions?

Biographical questions:

Typically, a good way to start an interview is by beginning with a biographical or a life-history question. For example, you can ask them about their own spiritual or religious upbringing.

“Grand Tour” questions:

These can help you get a good sense of how the individual is connected with the group you are studying and how they engage with the group and its practice. For example:

  • How did you get involved in this congregation?
  • What are the different duties and responsibilities that you have as a volunteer?
  • What is a regular service like?

Guided tour question:

This kind of question allows you to obtain specific information about an issue or topic. For example: Can you describe to me the steps involved in “waking the bell” in the Thich Nhat Hahn tradition?

Long descriptive question:

These questions let the interviewee give rich details answers about issues you are interested in. For example:

  • In what ways does this group participate, if at all, in the local community?
  • What was it like growing up as part of this community?

Nalika Gajaweera is a research associate with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Andrew Johnson is a contributing fellow with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.