One of the trade-offs of my recent vacation and research trip to the U.K. was that I had to miss the first week of classes. In our “Inquiry Studies” class we were simply doing introductions, so I joined the class by video for a few minutes. But in my “Introduction to the Religions of the West” I had a more difficult task.
Even without meeting them I knew that this relatively small class would be a mix between local, Canadian, American, and International student. They would have profoundly different experience of religion, including passionately committed Christians and Muslims, Sunday School and Catechism drop-outs, hard-boiled New Atheists, Chinese students with no experience of religion, and students committed to progressive politics of identity. I also know that there will be a mix of learning styles, a diversity of language abilities, and a number of students with identified and unidentified learning disabilities.
How do I get that mix of students ready to explore some of the more complex and profound traditions of human culture when I’m not even there?
I decided to take a risk. I approached the questions sideways by creating a number of short videos–minidocs or mini-Vlogs–with the hope of triggering interest in a single question: Given that we are in an increasingly secular, post-religious world, why does religion matter today? In a series of short 3-5 minute videos on location in various parts of the U.K., I take up one of the reasons why the study of religion matters. From Stonehenge to old London, from cathedrals to synagogues and community centres I explore this question with a quick thought about why religious studies are profoundly relevant today.
I decided there was some value in sharing them with you all. This is a faith and culture blog, after all. And the majority of readers of A Pilgrim in Narnia are American, where an upcoming election will be decided in part by people trying to work out how their faith commitments align with the political commitments of the candidates and their parties. There are deeper needs, though, than a moment of heightened tensions. Not least of which is the way that we live as neighbours in our increasingly diverse, globalized, and religiously ambiguous worlds. The story of the 21st century will be, I believe, the way in which religious commitment has profoundly changed.
Now, a word of warning: These are not highly produced videos. Quite the opposite, actually. One is held by my son and is pretty shaky. The last one is quite windy and in a busy street. You’ll need headphones for them all. They are all produced on cell phones with almost no editing. I don’t have dramatic music, or even the right clothes. People are walking in and out of what really are rogue videos–filmed without permission in public and protected spaces. They are loosely scripted, and there is a factual error in one of the videos. At one point the sun set right in my face in the middle of the video and I couldn’t see the camera four feet away. We had no budget, and we spent it all.
Still, you might find these videos beneficial. I think the question is a good one and this kind of series helpul. But the teachers amongst us must be intrigued about the ways we can invite creativity and new kinds of learning experiences into our classrooms. This is my amateur attempt to spice up student learning, so I hope you enjoy.
#1: Why Religion Matters: Stonehenge and the Religion of the Ancients
#2: Why Religion Matters: Bath and the Old Gods
#3: Why Religion Matters: The Chester Cathedral and the Marketplace
#4: Why Religion Matters: The Tower of London and the Church of England
#5: Why Religion Matters: Art and Life in Wales
#6: Why Religion Matters: Hyde Park and Sharing Faith
#7: Exile and Home: Jewish Life in the UK
#8: Religion in the Heart of the City
Hope to catch up with them, soon: the ‘subject’ seems very Lewisian (his application of ‘Tao’ sprang to mind at once)!
Speaking of religious diversity – “there is a factual error in one of the videos” reminded me of the lovely film of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen – waiting to see which student will catch the rabbi’s (Socratic?) deliberate error…
I didn’t know there was a film … Yes, I put that error in to test you all!
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What a really neat idea. The fact that you were on location for those lectures was a great move, and now you don’t have to feel guilty to not being in the classroom that week! It was totally educational to be abroad and gives a great idea of the spread for the meaning of faith, religion and how they are practiced. Very cool. And the videos, other than maybe the last one, were not as poor-quality as you made them out to be. Thank you for sharing! I learned a lot!
Hard to feel guilty when I get to got to visit Stonehenge! Thanks for the encouragement!
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Ah, but did you visit nearby Woodhenge?
When we went there and explained to our young kids that the wooden structures/posts could serve the same Neolithic ritual purposes, despite the fact that they would need to be replaced after a number of years… our oldest suggested, “Why didn’t they just make them out of mud?”
Quick and cost effective… although not so durable in the rain.
To this day, “Mudhenge” remains a beloved feature in our family lore.
I wonder if a ‘henge’ built out of turves would leave any discoverable traces? Where can we build one (and which ‘we’) to start to find out? (Maybe the delightful Turf Tavern in Oxford could be enlisted to help sponsor (and/or ‘lubricate’) the project?)
As a minister of the Church of England I could not resist looking at the film you made outside the Tower of London. What a fascinating location to choose for this subject. To this day it remains a symbol for the power of the state built, as you say by William the Conqueror, to declare to the English that he was now their king and that he would remain so. It might be worth noting that William took great pains to gain the blessing of the Pope for his venture and was always deeply religious throughout his life.
There is so much that I could reflect upon on the matter of the Church of England but will limit my thoughts to this observation. There is a genius in the English settlement regarding the relationship between church and state. Despite early attempts to achieve uniformity England has been a plural state since the Reformation. For a long time the Church of England sought to maintain its privilege over and against every other religious community. This has rightly been eroded over the years. But by settling the question of which church or faith would be established it has actually removed a great amount of competition in this area of public life. Former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, who has written insightfully on these questions argues that the English religious establishment is a guarantor of religious liberty. He has argued against trying to create some kind of plural religious establishment.
Nothing ever stays the same and I think we are entering another phase in our history in which this will be contested. Different religious communities (and this includes the new atheists) will fight for greater privilege within the public sphere. The present establishment will probably survive the death of the present monarch, who is an extraordinarily powerful symbol of that establishment, but during the reign of the next monarch it will be increasingly challenged. To quote again from one of my favourite poets, “Your don’t know what you’ve got till its gone”!
This is a well-thought out response to what is a quick generalization in the video. The English church continues to fascinate me. A lot of my evangelical peers have moved into the Episcopalian-Anglican church. Part of that is the draw of mystery, eucharist, liturgy, and a community that strives to appreciate the magnanimity of God. Part of that is the flexibility that the church offers in theology and history–and that these things matter.
I’ve not had this liturgical draw, and my tradition has space for theology and history, but I understand why people go there.
I haven’t heard many put it as you do on the political side. I appreciate that perspective, because it is a hard thing to work out. THe reminder of the space for disagreement is a powerful story in the history of the English church–even if that space is somewhat limited. We have our intellectual and religious freedom now, at least in part, because of those early experiments.
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It all got kicked off by your choice of location. And a certain annoyance at the people who say, dismissively, that the Church of England exists because Hen7
It all got kicked off by your choice of location. And a certain annoyance at the people who say, dismissively, that the Church of England exists because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. By the way, I don’t accuse you of that!
Somewhat tangentially, I just read Pieter Geyl’s The Revolt of the Netherlands, 1555–1609 (1932), which paints a fascinating picture of a broad traditional (and Erasmian) Catholic and various ‘Reformation’ combined resistance to expanding ‘modern’ centralizing Spanish monarchical Catholic power, sabotaged in practice by equally ‘modern’ Calvinist unwillingness to countenance promised and agreed-upon religious tolerance. (I’m not sure what Geyl would say to that summary… But it seems a good companion piece to various parts of Lewis’s OHEL contribution.)
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Seems like a world more diverse than our history outlines have led us to believe.
I read Pieter Geyl as a young undergraduate student of history many moons ago but have not thought of him since. I would certainly agree with the depiction of both Calvinist Geneva and Counter-Reformation Spain as states that refused to countenance compromise. The unhappy wars of religion of the 16th and 17th centuries flow from that intransigence to a large degree. I fear that we are entering such a time again.
As a young man I was definitely a roundhead in sympathy both in my politics and religion but while I continue to think that Charles I was politically inept and that Laud was little better my sympathies are now with the great Anglican Divines of the early 17th century and less so with their Puritan critics. The same is true of Francis de Sales the saintly Bishop of Geneva who never entered the seat of his diocese.
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A fascinating collection… and very well done. Kudos.
It did, however, make me miss the U.K. more than usual. I wonder if the Lord will get us back there someday?
If he does, I doubt I’ll take the opportunity to set up in Hyde Park…
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