Reading Recommendations

I’m sure, like me, most of you are looking forward to a few days of break from school and work. I am always excited for these moments where I have a little space and time to pick up a new book, or just to start my Christmas gift-ing. If you are looking for something to read in these next few days, might I suggest:

Next, my students recently turned in book review or book covers on a reading of their choice that related to something we’d cover in our World Religions class. I am always fascinated by the choices they make. Below are some of the new picks this year (that came highly recommended by my kids):

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Some of the book covers turned in.

  • Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne
  • Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  • Greater than You Think by Thomas D. Williams
  • My Jesus Year by Benyamin Cohen
  • Annexed by Sharon Dogar
  • Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler
  • My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
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Thoughtful gifts from our speaker today.

Finally, today we had guest speaker in class, the Rev. WongGon So from the Won-Buddhism meditation temple in Chapel Hill, NC. She was so wonderful and lively–her overview of the Won Buddhist beliefs was thoughtful but easy for students to grasp and her fearlessness with the students forced them to get involved–like a practiced teacher she called on individuals to read and share and walked them through various meditation practices. Her review of the Fourfold Graces and an effort to cultivate gratitude felt especially timely as we approach the Thanksgiving break. The Won interpretation of Buddhism was interesting and new to me, and if you are interested I encourage you to learn more about it here.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Untouchables (or, Those Subjects Which We are Hesitant to Teach)

Scrolling through my blog reader feed Friday afternoon, I was struck by an image from Scott Schuman’s street style blog, The Sartorialist. The image is captivating: a young woman sweeping the street in Delhi, her face covered with bright sheer scarves, a floral tunic/kurti bright against a muted backdrop of two others in western dress. I stopped to take it in and noticed the title given by the blog’s author: “The Untouchables.”  I pressed on then, reading through the comments, interested in the response that such a post would draw.

On the Street…The Untouchables, Delhi « The Sartorialist.

The points brought up by readers of The Sartorialist were interesting, if not entirely surprising. While the blog typically includes shots of fashion editors and stylists pre-shows, more and more Schuman has been traveling to worlds away from Milan and Paris and capturing the essence of local style. Typically, I find these images more engaging–I think he has a way of capturing the sense of pride and ingenuity that people from all classes and locales can express in their own clothing. But there are those who comment that these images are out of place on the blog, or out of touch with the realities of life for people in these locations;  that they show a superficial view of the locale. In this case, readers expressed concern about the ethics of such a shot, of evaluating it for beauty, questioning why it was supposed she was an “untouchable” (something I wondered, too), and, from one commenter named “Nina” stating: “Basically, please don’t go to India and be all “wow, look at the poverty, so sad.””

I’m not entirely sure what Schuman was thinking by posting his image, but I am sure he was aware that it would invite questions and perhaps criticism. It reminded me of the challenges I feel when addressing the issue of caste, India, and Hinduism in the classroom. Whenever I ask students what they know about Hinduism, caste is one of the first things that comes up. But I’m never entirely sure how to handle the caste system and its role today in India: I have no firsthand experience of the nation. I find myself, like Schuman, raising more questions than giving answers and I worry about perpetuating stereotypes or misconceptions and even about offending Hindu students in the room. However, from what I can tell based on conversations and readings, there is still discrimination based on class and race in India (as in every other country in the world) and it is connected to, if not reflective of, Hindu beliefs. Therefore it merits discussion in the World Religions classroom.

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