—Vasily Kandinsky, from Concerning the Spiritual in Art (translated by M.T.H. Sadler).
This is one of the quotes Krista is using in preparing for her role as moderator of The Guggenheim Museum’s online forum called “The Spiritual (Re)Turn” taking place this October. Kandinsky believed that there should be a union of art and spiritual thought. This advocacy will be used as an entry point to talking about larger issues of spirituality in the contemporary art world, and what it all means.
The events take place October 19-23, 2009, culminating in a live, one-hour chat on Thursday, October 22 starting at 2 pm Eastern, with panelists:
Artist Huma Bhabha earned a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from Columbia University. She was awarded the 2008 Emerging Artist Award from the Aldrich Museum of Art. Her work has recently appeared in After Nature at the New Museum, New York, and in the 7th Gwangju Biennial, Gwangju, South Korea (both 2008).
Louis A. Ruprecht Jr.
Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. is William M. Suttles Chair of Religious Studies at Georgia State University. The author of six books and a staff writer for the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Ruprecht is currently researching the role of religion in the development of the modern museum.
Mark C. Taylor
Mark C. Taylor is Chair of the Department of Religion and co-director of the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, several of which are on art and architecture.
—David Treuer, an author and translator who spoke to Krista for our show, “Language and Meaning, an Ojibwe Story”
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Colleen Scheck, Producer
I’m intrigued by the wildfire surrounding Dan Brown’s new novel. Frugal people I know who detest buying hardcover books have already purchased The Lost Symbol, have finished reading it, and are now wondering what hairstyle Tom Hanks will sport in the movie version. Even our own host — among illness, travel, multiple interviews, and other production duties — already has read it. Much to her surprise, she sent an enthusiastic e-mail to staff about the book saying we should consider a program on noetics, which she said is not uninteresting, just never well articulated beyond stereotypical New Age speak.
Confession: I never read The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, nor did I see the movies (I know, appalling), but I still enjoyed our program, “Deciphering The Da Vinci Code” with Luke Timothy Johnson and Bernadette Brooten, for its exploration of early Christianity that helps put Brown’s suspenseful mix of fact and fiction in perspective. The History major in me feels the authors of historical fiction have a cultural duty to get it right, even while employing artistic and dramatic license.
A Prince Hall Freemasons sign in Atlanta, Georgia. (photo: Erica Joy/Flickr)
While I ponder picking up my husband’s copy of The Lost Symbol, I’ve kept an eye out for similar thoughtful context for this latest popular culture phenomenon. This week I found an example in an article by Samuel Biagetti. A Columbia grad student in American history, Biagetti studies Freemasonry and uses his academic expertise to evaluate Brown’s treatment of this mysterious movement that is central to the founding lore of the United States. “However naive the novel may be,” he writes, “it testifies to the myths that helped to make the modern world, myths in which Brown places zealous faith. In so doing, it reads like a love letter to Masonry.”
If you’re one of the bazillions enjoying The Lost Symbol, I think his article will help keep you grounded while you enjoy Brown’s clandestine world of Masonic secrets.
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Monday was Yom Kippur and this year I decided to fast. Most of my life I’ve been a fair-weather faster. My immediate family in New Jersey gathers each year for a meal to mark Rosh Hashanah, but Yom Kippur and the breaking of the fast that follows it hasn’t been part of our tradition.
When I moved to Minnesota, I was touched by how Jewish friends — and sometimes strangers — reached out to include me in their holiday gatherings. This year, my colleague Molly asked if I wanted to break the Yom Kippur fast at her parent’s house. She promised there would be a lot of food and she did not disappoint.
Celebrating the Jewish holidays away from home has meant experiencing them anew — with different foods, people, and rituals. I felt motivated to fast this year knowing that, by sundown, I would have a welcoming place to go and break my fast with others who had done the same.
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Krista is away at the Vancouver Peace Summit in Vancouver, British Columbia where, among others, she’ll be interviewing psychologist and neuroscientist Adele Diamond. In April 2009 Diamond was invited by the Dalai Lama to speak at a conference in Dharamsala, India, “Attention, Memory and Mind.”
Diamond is interested in how “Executive Function” (EF) skills develop in children’s brains. As I understand it, EF skills reside in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and they help us to stay focused on a task, even when our impulses and other flashy distractions get in the way.
Diamond has studied an early childhood curriculum called Tools of the Mind that uses dramatic play and other techniques to help foster EF skills in young kids. Some researchers, including Diamond, say these EF Skills are better predictors of academic success than IQ scores.
This past weekend, The New York Times Magazine ran a feature article about Tools of the Mind, “Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?” that cites Diamond and her research. The article really helped me to get a better handle on how Tools of the Mind actually works in the classroom, especially how dramatic play teaches children mental focus. As a producer, I get excited when a person or topic we’re covering reveals itself in the popular culture unexpectedly.
Update (12/23): You can now listen to our produced program with Adele Diamond on the SOF Web site: “Learning, Doing, Being: A New Science of Education.”
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
Last Wednesday was our “cuts ‘n copy” session for Krista’s interview with Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan. Fenyvesi and Hasan are co-founders of NewGround, a project that reaches out to members of Jewish and Muslim communities and brings them together for dialogue and “doesn’t shy away from discussing the tough topics such as, identity, gender, pluralism and Israel/Palestine.” One phrase that grabbed me is when Fenyvesi explained that NewGround encourages “curiosity over assumptions” during its dialogue sessions.
(photo: a NewGround session, courtesy of Aziza Hasan)
It’s a common-sense idea: when going into a situation of existing conflict, one’s assumptions are likely to continue feeding that conflict. But curiosity — about other religious traditions, other ways of living, alternative ways of seeing the world — has the potential to span seemingly unbridgeable gaps.
One thing that seems to drive many of us at Speaking of Faith is a shared curiosity, which has taken the show to many unexpected places. Hearing Malka Haya Fenyvesi’s “curiosity over assumptions” was refreshing in its practical value — as a means of bringing people closer together.
Aaron Spiegel, guest blogger
“Next to being the children of God our greatest privilege is being the brothers of each other.”
We in the religion world use the word interfaith much too often. And in my opinion, most of what passes for interfaith dialogue is not dialogue at all — it’s a lecture about why I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s not that we’re all religious zealots, but most often the forum for these dialogues are set up to create division rather than civil discourse. Put simply, we’re much better at talking than listening.
I recently had a chance to experience real interfaith dialogue. Butler University students from Hillel, a Jewish student organization, and Muslim Student Alliance decided they wanted to organize a dinner and conversation around Eid and the High Holy Days. The two organizations have collaborated in the past couple years on similar events and have a great working and social relationship.
The students formulated the agenda, which was brilliantly simple — let’s each give the very basics of our holiday and then ask each other questions. Let’s eat together, listen to each other, and ask each other questions.
On the surface, the conversation seemed light and conversational. Yet, the exchange was profound. These young Jews and young Muslims genuinely shared with each other. There was no attempt at making nice; they genuinely liked talking to each other. There were no overt attempts at finding commonality; it was inherent. They recognized the humanity in one another. They learned about, and from, one another in ways that are lasting and powerful. I’m sure it will influence how these young adults see the “other” in their lives. I know it’s influenced mine!
Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is campus rabbi for Butler University.
Colleen Scheck, Producer
The Religion Dispatches article “Rum and Gunpowder: How to Take Out a Vodou Doll” caught my eye this week. Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, a religious studies professor, writes about the journey of a Vodou doll that “wreaked havoc” among her colleagues at the University of Miami.
She touches on the irrational supersition evoked by the pop-culture mythology surrounding Voodoo dolls, but also proposes an interesting origin to that mythology from her knowledge of Afro-Cuban religion. And, of course, I’m reminded of our program, Living Vodou, that I appreciate for taking me beyond the mystery and myth of this religion and its symbols.
As the glitz of the Emmys starts to fade, and the cast of 30 Rock laugh and smile all the way back to New York with their third consecutive Best Comedy Series award, I am reminded of our pal Oscar Wilde. The writers for 30 Rock and the late playwright are all masters of wise-cracking, snappy writing and to us impart their brand of wisdom (usually backhanded).
I watched a production of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” last week, which had all the puns, double-speak, and plot twists as any of the best modern day sit-coms. In the last scene of the play, Jack finds out that a lie he’s been telling other people for years is actually true and offers this simple act of apology… sort of.
Jack. Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?
Gwendolen. I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.
Jack. My own one!
Chasuble. [To Miss Prism.] Laetitia! [Embraces her]
Miss Prism. [Enthusiastically.] Frederick! At last!
Algernon. Cecily! [Embraces her.] At last!
Jack. Gwendolen! [Embraces her.] At last!
Lady Bracknell. My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality.
Jack. On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
I recently wrote about the research around an upcoming SOF program exploring the spiritual legacy of Sitting Bull. We’ve zeroed in on some possible voices for the show, including Ernie LaPointe (pictured at right), Sitting Bull’s great-grandson. Ernie lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Krista will be interviewing him at his home in late October.
One of the reasons why Krista wants to conduct the interview in Ernie’s home is because she’d like him to show her things — photos, relics, memorabilia — that are evocative of Sitting Bull’s memory. I needed to find out what artifacts he has so I asked if he could give me a rundown. But as soon as the word “artifact” tumbled out of my mouth, Ernie said I would need to speak with his wife, Sonja. From what I could understand, Ernie follows the traditional Lakota way, and therefore does not talk casually about people who have passed on.
Ernie’s wife, who is German, explained that when Krista comes in October we’ll need to bring a gift of tobacco. “Not a pound, just a little,” she said. Ernie will use the tobacco as an offering to his ancestors when he asks their permission to discuss their lives and memory. Sonia also mentioned that if anyone on our production team is “on her moon” (in other words, menstruating), Ernie won’t be able to present certain sacred objects. Apparently Ernie has a prayer room in his house with a sign on the door that reads something like: “Do not enter if you are on your moon.”
We’ve already started talking as a production team about the tobacco: How much should we bring? What kind? Should it be presented in a pouch or a tin? As an associate producer for this show, I’ll be following up on on these kinds of details in the weeks to come.