How Indigenous People’s Stories Help Scientists Understand Earthquakes in The Pacific Northwest – The Atlantic

This is a great article from The Atlantic about how scientists and historians have begun to use the myths of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest to inform their understanding of earthquakes and tsunamis.

In each of the indigenous communities, scientists found incidences of stories retelling a particular earthquake in 1700.  This has helped to solidify the notion that this region is ripe for another such natural disaster. While the myths don’t necessarily give solid advice for survival or preparations, they do offer a sense of the peoples’ resilience, especially when you consider how they have been orally transmitted from generation to generation. For example:

Younker thinks his uncle told him that story partly so that Younker could tell even younger people how to prepare, and partly to say, “make sure you keep your ropes long and your connections to home are well-maintained so you can pull yourself back to home. Because you really can’t separate the past from the present.”

If you teach about indigenous religions, you undoubtedly talk about myths and how they help reveal the ways in which a culture understands the world. What I like about this article is that is shows myths being used in a meaningful way by current researchers (not just as a quaint relic), and also that it offers some reasssurance about cultural and physical survival, in the face of natural or human-induced disasters.

Read more here: How Indigenous People’s Stories Help Scientists Understand Earthquakes in The Pacific Northwest – The Atlantic

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Another day, another opportunity to talk about religious bigotry…

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the news articles and clips about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-yr-old engineering whiz whose homemade clock was mistaken for a bomb, causing his arrest when he brought it to school to show off to his teachers. If you haven’t, a good overview of the story and subsequent fallout is available from the Dallas Morning News.

It’s another chance to talk with students about profiling and misperceptions–how would this have been treated differently if Mohamed had a different religious background? Or gone to a school elsewhere in the nation, or in the world?

Mohamed’s thank you tweet to supporters is bittersweet–appreciative of the outreach he’s gotten (even President Obama invited him to the White House and encourage him to keep pursuing science) but cognizant of the challenges faced by Muslims in the world today:

Ahmed Mohamed's thank-you tweet

Ahmed Mohamed’s thank-you tweet

Hopefully the online support he’s recieved will translate into real-world encouragement and appreciation, especially since STEM is all the rage these days in the education world. I have a hard time know how to respond to Ahmed’s tweet–how to tell him there are many people who do really care about him, who want all young people to stay curious and inventive. I’d love to hear how high-school and middle-school students would respond to Mohamed’s tweet. How do they think they might respond if they were in his shoes–with an overwhelming sense of rejection, or a push for resilience?

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Good advice on Digital Literacy from EdSurge News

Last spring, I wrote about lessons in my World Religions class that veered away from simply being about religion and religious bias to thinking about how we read, interpret, and interact with what’s on the web. This article reminded me of some of those lessons and gave me some ideas to take it farther next time. Enjoy the excerpt below and keep reading at the link…

Twenty-five years ago, the term “literacy” was synonymous with the printed word. Today, that definition has evolved and being literate necessitates more than simply interacting with text. We must be digitally literate, too…

Source: Three Techniques for Teaching Digital Literacy | EdSurge News

Stunning Photographs of the World’s Last Indigenous Tribes | Brain Pickings

If you are teaching a comprehensive world religions course, you most likely start off the year with a look at indigenous religions around the world. This books is well worth checking out of the library and lugging home (and do use the library! Unless your school will pay for it…) for its beautiful portrayal of a variety of indigenous groups.

It does not focus on religion per se, but by capturing so many different cultures in their native places, it gives insight into the deep link between religion, geography, and traditions that can be difficult to dissect from one another when studying indigenous spiritual beliefs.

Each set of images shows how a group survives, what is important to them, and is complemented by some basic historical and ethnographical details. It would be useful to complement case studies assigned in class, or simply as a beautiful book for students to look through in the minutes before class is starting or as things wind down each day. Some of my favorite images are included in this post, and a link to where I first found the book, on the wonderful blog Brain Pickings, is below.

Source: Stunning Photographs of the World’s Last Indigenous Tribes | Brain Pickings

Preservation with Purpose

Since moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve been thinking a lot about historic preservation. Everything here is old–from the house we bought to the streets to the infrastructure (see: falling apart Greenfield Bridge. Thanks for the press CBS!). And there are an enormous number of former churches and religious buildings that have been both preserved and repurposed, in a way that I had not seen much of in the South. This makes sense, right? In the Triangle, the population is growing rapidly and there’s lots of space, so you see storefront churches and megachurches and new religious buildings all of the time. Pittsburgh, while it may be currently on the rise, has suffered from population loss and as congregations dwindle, folks must decide what to do with the buildings they once used.

In our neighborhood alone, Highland Park, there are several examples of religious buildings that have been repurposed, many of them former synagogues.

This is perhaps one of the most impressive buildings, now used as a charter school by the Urban League of Pittsburgh.

Former Congregation B’Nai Israel, now a charter school.

As you can see, there have been almost no changes to the exterior. This picture is from the 1950s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other synagogues in the neighborhood have been put into private use. The one below, Torath Chaim, was the last to close in Highland Park and is now in use as an artist’s studio. This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article shows some interior pictures from more recent years, while some from 1980 are available at the Rauh Jewish Archives of the Heinz History Center.

The former Torath Chaim in 2015.

The former Torath Chaim in 2015.

Others in the area are now, as far as I can tell, private homes.

Former Machsikei Hadas synagogue, now private home (?).

Former Machsikei
Hadas synagogue, now private home (?).

And of course, there is the Union Project a former church now realized as community space for art classes, yoga, gallery shows, and more.

Stained glass window of the Union Project.

Stained glass window of the Union Project.

Highland Park is one of many neighborhoods in Pittsburgh where these transformations are taking place. Neu Kirche is a Northside gallery slated to open soon, housed in a former Methodist Church. There are hotels, restaurants/breweries, and even the Altar Bar and Mr. Small’s Funhouse, where you can catch some decidedly unholy [musical] acts. Depending on where you live, seeking out this type of reuse could be an interesting class activity. What does it say about population changes or religious communities in the area? About changing values within the urban landscape?

Using the built environment like this also encourages students to really consider the meaning and symbolism in the buildings themselves. Does a congregation, in any religion, need a building to create space for worship? Or can the community itself create that space. Judaism answers this with a hard and fast rule–all you need is ten adult Jews to make a space fit for public worship–nothing is said about the state of the building. In other religions, there may be no set number, but the facility is often secondary to the people that would use it. (Are there exceptions to this in certain faiths?)

Generally, I like these examples of creative reuse. In most cases, they allow the buildings to continue to serve as community meeting places and often act as shelters for new projects and new ideas.  But, this could also be a point of discussion among students. Is it right to use old religious buildings for certain purposes (a bar, for example)? Is commercial development in these formerly sacred spaces in poor taste?

Some additional resources I found regarding reusing religious spaces:

  • Partners for Sacred Spaces is an organization dedicated to helping congregations determine what to do with their buildings and how to best preserve them
  • Repurposing Dying Churches by Ministry Matters argues for using development or repurposing as a way to save buildings and congregations–some spaces can be used part-time for worship and part-time for other activities
  • Hagia Sophia, the original example of repurposing. Might be useful in making the point to students that this is not necessarily a new idea.
  • fancy modern architecture version that is just beautiful to look at.
  • And an opposing point of view, if you want to discuss why some people might be against the redevelopment of sacred spaces.