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World Religions ECS: Opening Rituals and the Quest for Common Ground

March 02, 2016

Our first day (February 29th) of World Religions ECS started with the ritual that our instructors had created to make an introduction to the fundamentals of ritual. Their ritual started with asking for silence in the room, all three of them standing in different parts of the class with a calming classical music in the background and meeting at the center of the room. It ended with touching the book of Shakespeare and a reading. This opened up a discussion point about the features of a ritual. The constructive discussion that the class had revealed that rituals are a whole coming from different parts which could be both actions or ideas. The main parts of the ritual were symbolic gestures that put a meaning to the actions of people, symbolic objects that represent a value or a significance, a reading that aims to reach to minds, and music which is a significant power of letting the human brain focus and get connected with its emotions. The class was asked to create a ritual which is going to reflect the main aspects of our ECS and the expectations through this experience. The class created a ritual which prioritizes the concept of knowledge and honors the wish to participate for the gaining of knowledge. It has been decided that the ritual is going to be lead by the chosen leader of the day every single morning at 8 am.

The second half of the first day of ECS continued with a guest speaker, Quinn Adam ‘15, who was there to explain the religions in Indonesia. According to the information Quinn provided, the class found out that Indonesia is very diverse in religion. There is an 85% Muslim majority and a high population of Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians too. The main knowledge gained from the presentation was that even though there are many religions in Indonesia, and even though there is a highly populated majority, there are not any any religious conflicts or social problems caused by religion in Indonesia. Quinn shared that, the experience he had in Indonesia showed him that people do not pressure each other about their own religions or underestimate a different religion. This brought a significant discussion point to the class. The reason behind this peaceful and respectful environment held by a whole country was investigated. How Indonesian people retain a balance like this is still a continuing question for the class.

The morning of the second day (March 1st), our World Religions ECS joined the Cuernavaca ECS to go to “Our Lady of Guadalupe” Church. This visit to a catholic church gave us the chance to find out about the important beliefs of Catholicism, especially in hispanic culture. As it is understood from the name of the church, the Virgin Mary has a significant importance for Catholics. We had the chance to learn more about why Catholics value Mary more than other parts of Christianity and had information about the story of the picture Lady of Guadalupe. The questions directed to the priest were mainly about the significance of Mary in Catholicism. The biggest conclusion we are able to draw from the answers we got is that, Catholics see the Virgin Mary as a part of their family. They have huge respect for her because she is the one who brought their savior. The priest explained that what is misunderstood by protestants is that Catholics do not pray to Mary, they ask for her to intercede while they are trying to reach Jesus Christ and pray to him.

Our last session on the second day was to watch a documentary about Jerusalem and its importance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. When the class got exposed to another idea of a community that includes many religions, we thought of Indonesia and the peaceful society Quinn Adam told us about. However, it could be clearly understood that Jerusalem does not have that balance. In contrast, it has conflict because of religious groups’ ambition to hold the old city. The ambitions are intense because it is not just any source, history, or place. It is directly related with the God. All three religions consider this city as the gateway to heaven. It is the home of what people believe and live for. The main conflict of this issue is that people are struggling a middle way because of the religious belief differences. The rock that Abraham had almost sacrificed his son is significant for Judaism, Christianity and Islam as their foundations are the same. Even though there is a big common ground, the naming of this significant place is also able to cause a conflict. Our World Religions class had concluded that, when a person gives a name to that place, that person immediately chooses a side. That chosen side shows which story and which ideas that person believes and as one does this, the other gets offended by the naming or the choice.