Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lived religious geography

My first year students hit the jackpot today. I'd talked them through the walk we made (part of) on Tuesday, explaining why I'd chosen each site, and then asked them to think of a few sites in their hometowns they might show someone interested in the "lived religion" of the place. Each then shared her/his tour with a neighbor, and the neighbor reported on something that struck them from this tour. Great things emerged!

My tour:
• Roman Catholic church of St. Francis Xavier to suggest the individuality of congregations, how much bigger and varied a big church may be than its official line, and the paradigmatic lived religion of queer Christians;
• Limelight Marketplace (in erstwhile Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion) to evoke secularization, prise apart religious life from religious buildings, and suggest that nightclubs, if not malls, might offer some "religious" solace;
• Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art to explore the continuum between religion, spirituality and art, and to think if cultural centers like museums might serve religious needs too;
• the Salvation Army to introduce the privatization of religion thesis and the ways religious organizations have reacted to it;
• Village Presbyterian Church for more building secularization but also to tell the story of the cohabitation of different religious communities in the same building (and its limits);
Tiles for America, an example of the spontaneous memorialization which is a prime locus for lived religion, not explicitly religious but symbolic; and finally
• the 2nd cemetery of the Spanish Portuguese Congregation Shearith Israel, to recall the palimpsest of grids in New York, and to raise the question: where are the dead New Yorkers?

What they came up with:
• a church in the Bronx which broadcasts its services live on a big TV screen out front, where they are followed by some people who aren’t comfortable with the community inside;
• a Catholic school, also in the Bronx, elaborately transforming the school auditorium into a church for holy days: altar, new lighting, etc.;
• Prosperity Dumplings on Eldridge Street in Chinatown
• Whole Foods, in London;
• a group which met on Sunday afternoons in Annapolis to solemnly ring fourteen singing bowls;
• the bedroom of one student, which has to Buddha statues as well as the signs of the bat mitzvah she organized for herself;
• stops on the Great Ocean Road where you can leave other people behind and be alone with the raw power of nature;
• a local video store in New Jersey, now closed, which was a family not only for those who worked there but for many others;
• hookah bars in Palestine, and here;
• abandoned churches in Chicago now inhabited by homeless squatters, as well as a Catholic neighborhood with shops selling all sorts of paraphernalia, and a tree a whorl in whose bark reminds some of the Virgin Mary.

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