Archive - What is Religion?


Having been raised Catholic; I come from a conservative religious background. I thought that going to the Asbell Center would be a good idea for two reasons. I had not been to a Jewish service since a Bar Mitzvah during my childhood. I was also curious to see what (if any) changes a college setting would have on a traditional religion. I was surprised to see that the sanctuary was relatively bare except for the Ark and stained glass. I had assumed that the area for worship would be more ornately decorated.
The service began with a short prayer and readings from the Torah. The rabbi invited a woman from the congregation to speak, and we eventually were engaged in conversation. Following the presentation, more prayers and passages were said.
I was surprised to see the resemblances between Mass and a Jewish service. The formats of the worships are very similar, with readings from holy books (both using the Torah) and the delivering of sermons. The most striking difference, however, is the lack of separation between the congregation and the priest. At Mass, there is a clear boundary between those who are giving the sermon and those attending it. At the Asbell Center, however, that line was dissolved. The atmosphere was more like a discussion class versus a lecture.

Response to the Asbell Center

This Friday I went to the Asbell Center on campus. It was a very new experience for me as I have never been to a place outside my own religion. First of all, I was surprised at how small the room was. Normally, I believe that there aren’t many people who attend the service, but on Friday there were because there were several people from our class and from another class which surprised the people who normally came. Because of this, the woman who was running the congregation explained the things that they do and why. For example, she explained why their Sabbath is on a Friday and that the services are dedicated to celebrating this day. She also explained which readings were in Hebrew and which readings were in Aramaic, which was the language that Jesus spoke.

The part of the service that I thought was the most interesting was the part where they discussed a reading of the Torah, which they do every week. On Friday, there was a girl of about twelve years old who got up and discussed the part of the Torah she had read for the service. She made a joke about how many people were there that night, so that was another hint that normally not many people go to the service. She discussed topics like sacrifice and the Dietary Laws, which were basically created to protect the people. The forbidden animals were mainly carnivores because they were considered sacred to the religion. What was interesting to me was the fact that the people of the congragation discussed the topics that the girl had just talked about. I learned even more about these things. This showed that there was a close relationship among the members of the congregation, and I wondered whether there are discussions in normal synagogues which have more members in their congregation.

Overall, I was glad that I went to the Asbell Center. It gave me a different look on religions, since I had never been to a different place before. I learned many little things also, such as the fact that during certain verses of songs you had to stand towards the door or you had to bow. Another thing I learned was the Kaddish, which is a prayer in memory of those who have died.

On Friday, April 14th, I visited a Muslim Mosque in Harrisburg Pa. This was definitely a different experience to say the least. It was hard enough the first time visiting a Christian non denominational church but visiting a Muslim Mosque was quite the opposite, at least from my Catholic services. First, this mosque is in what used to be a church, so its shape might be a bit different from other mosques, at least different then what I expected. I was told to wear loose clothing that covered me as much as possible, and I did. Once we arrived at the Mosque I had to wear a scarf over my head to hide my hair. I was taken aback by this because I just thought I could be an observer in the back watching it all. Then came another surprise: I had to enter the mosque through a different door, and before entering I had to wash my hands. This made the experience a bit more difficult because I would not have my friend to guide me through everything, but he said once inside there would probably be someone to help. Well, I found my way in after asking for directions a couple of times, and I took off my shoes and kneeled down with all the other women, BEHIND A CURTAIN. That was my next surprise, I knew that the women would be seperated but I thought it would be men on the right and women on the left. No, we had maybe a 10 by 10 foot space surrounded by a green curtain, where I could see the shadows of the men moving.
All I could do was listen to the voice lecture while I knelt with the women and children. The Imam talked about a monkey who outwit the villagers who tried to poison him, which I believe was used to show that even animals have some love or faith in God, and so we as humans should too. The rest of the prayer was in Arabic and so I had no idea what he said, but according to Ellwood they were all praises to God. I knelt when they knelt but did not put my head to the floor. Then the noon prayer was done.
I was able to talk to the woman next to me who told me that this was not always how the prayers were celebrated. She said in her mosque they did not have children running around and although the women did sit in the back they were not hidden behind a curtain. She explained to me that the calligraphy on the stained glass windows were a few of the 99 names of God. I thanked her, and headed out the mosque where I joined my friend who told me I could not take off the scarf until after we left the parking lot of the mosque, and so ended my encounter with Islam.
Overall, this was a great learning experience. I was faced with a whole new religion I knew nothing about and I embraced it, and reading the Ellwood chapter I was able to better understand it. There were some parts I did not like such as the subordination of women, but I do love the submission of all the Muslims to God.

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