Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich


September 8th, 2009 · 1 Comment


Jack Sturges (American author and photographer) once said that “The world is shrinking as we see more and more of it in the media, and the more we see of the world, the smaller we are, the more aware we are of how insignificant any one of us is.” This is how I felt today at The Sir John Soane’s Museum, as if the world had shrunk into one house (a work of art) and I was there, insignificant.

I was surprised to arrive at the museum and realize that it used to be someone’s home, self constructed and designed. While waiting in line to enter I attempted to make friends with the doorman, and so I asked him to tell me a little bit about Sir John, who he was and what the museum was about. He responded by saying: “Well why are you here then? Why did you come to a museum that you knew nothing of, you should have done your research.” Him and I were off to a bad start. I expected him to enthusiastically respond, after all, I knew the basics and thought he could have shared a few things about the museum I didn’t know. I forgave him for making me feel stupid at that moment, but I guess he had a good point, I should have done my research. He did tell me about the importance of sunlight to Sir John and how he designed the house to have as much sunlight as possible entering in every room; I was now on the look out for the infamous windows.

The house was lit up with sunlight. Today was a sunny day and I was able to appreciate the house’s illuminates passageways and sculptures in the various rooms. His collection of artwork, as well as sculptures and treasures was breath taking. For someone to design such a marvelous home, and to spend their life collecting such amazing works is truly admirable. He had a piece of the world in different corners of his home and in any given room/space one can experience Egypt, Rome, Britain and even the transgression of time through paintings or within the pages of Soane’s 6,857 books.

In one of the rooms filled with paintings, one of the museum’s curators opened up the wall-sized doors where suddenly more paintings became visible to our eyes. There, were the paintings of buildings Sir John had designed, for he was a prominent architect, including sketches of the house itself and a statue of a women (whose name I cannot recall). Hidden treasures.

To be inspired to build such a home, as well as to collect such magnificent and priceless pieces of art is the kind of inspiration I seek. The one that goes beyond boundaries to further personal growth while engaging the outside world. Although Sir John Soane lived from 1753 to 1837 his life, his collections and his home will live on as an example to the rest of us of a rich life. So that one day we can rest knowing that we have completed our lives significantly.

Tags: Flow

Why can’t we all just get along…

September 8th, 2009 · 3 Comments

religious symbols

…simply because we allow our differences to overpower our commonalities. As both groups and individuals we spent a ridiculous amount of time investigating and calculating the differences between who/what we are and who/what we are not.

For example:

From the moment we are born, traditionally, we are dressed in colors that represent our assigned gender. Those wearing anything different must then be who/what we are not. From that moment on, we are being taught to differentiate people by the category of gender.

What happens when we grow up to realize that we are all, actually, just human? A definite challenge that will continue to trouble our society and many more societies to come. Religion, is a complex term that encompasses multiple definitions, it all depends on perspective. It can simply be a devotion or, as described by Kile Jones (a Ph.D student at the University of Glasgow (i found his quote while doing some research on the meaning of religion), “It is apparent that religion can be seen as a theological, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological phenomenon of human kind. To limit religion to only one of these categories is to miss its multifaceted nature and lose out on the complete definition.” Jones definition clearly being  a more complex one, suits my personal ideas of religion.

A “phenomenon of human kind” which only exists to further divide our global population into sectors that have indefinitely branched from one another, to define our purpose in life. I would like to state that if I had to choose a religious denomination I would categorize myself as an atheist, for I do believe that “God” (when defined as the Supreme being, creator and ruler of all) is a human-made construct. Thus, I am aware that religious ideas and believes are made up of layers after layers of tradition, philosophical, sociological and anthropological values, therefore, I attempt to understand them (from an analytical/academic perspective).

When reading the various world religions profiles on BBC news I realized that they are all not so different from each other. Lets take Christianity and Islam, the two with the most followers in the world, both are monotheistic religions that have existed for thousands of years, are based on a holy book and teachings of God’s prophets. Christian believes can also be found in Santeria, which borrows some religious sense from Christian practices. Like Santeria, Rastafarians worship in ways that are somewhat uncommon, for instance, Rastafairians smoke marijuana to enhance their spiritual connection with their God, meanwhile Santerians sacrifice animals for their God. Both marihuana and animal scarification are illegal in the United States. These are only a few of the multiple comparisons that can be drawn along multiple religious practices and believes. They are all so similar and yet so different.

[Sometimes I want to ask people: Since when do you believe in your “God”? When did you decide that this is the “God” that you wanted to believe in? If you’ve believed in that religion your entire life, then someone had to decide for you… right? So you’ve been taught to believe in something that you never decided to believe in. It has been taught to you why? I think it’s all about power and control, and so many are immersed in a religious world that will never allow them to answer the above questions for themselves, after all, I may just be tempting “evil” thoughts!]

Sometimes, I wish we could break through religious barriers, bring down the walls of churches and temples and unite everyone under one roof of religious acceptance (not fake tolerance). Maybe if we start by deconstructing gender norms and stop dressing our children in either blue or pink when they are born, then that could be the first step towards deconstructing a religiously segregated world. After all, various religions still evoke a gender hierarchy in their practices, such as Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam are four religions which are obviously male-oriented. For example: In Christianity women are not allowed to become priests (a position of respect and religious power within the church), in Hinduism women are not allowed to become either monks nor Guru’s (leaders of the spiritual community) and in Rastafari women have an entirely different code of religion. For now, gender will continue to be a category that further separates us, physically, socially and within religions.

…we can’t all just get along. Globally, we have divided ourselves, and we are all too deep in it. BBC features nineteen different religions on their “Religion and Ethics” site, which one defines you? Which one have you chosen to be the one that separates you from everyone else, from all of the others? Why can’t we all just get along? We’re all just humans.

Reference: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/

Tags: Flow

Aidan’s Diversity and Religion Post (with Muslims, too!)

September 8th, 2009 · No Comments


I’ll start by discussing our trip to the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir on Sunday, which I think was on balance a positive experience, despite my serious reservations about the implications of some aspects of their tour. I liked best having a chance to learn about all the functions and spaces of a Hindu temple and also getting a sense of Hindu prayer, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never really looked into. On the other hand, I really disliked some aspects of the tour, particularly the Hinduism exhibit and what I’ll call the “wall of famous white people who approve of us.”

Some of the former was presentation of simple facts about Hinduism as a whole, but not nearly enough of it was. The rest of it sought to elevate their particular sect above the rest, elevate Indian civilization above western civilization, and at the same time imply that quotes from white historians and writers about Hinduism should be what convince the British masses to accept Hinduism. I can understand being proud of one’s particular sect, but the last two do a disservice to the exhibit. I approve of recognizing the formidable achievements of Indians throughout history as part of a Hinduism exhibit, but I cannot support essentially saying that every innovation in history is proof of the superiority of Indian civilization (the most silly panel was something like this: Indians invented the concept of zero, think how many times those crazy Romans would have to write M to get to 10 million before we set them straight!)

The quotes from white historians and “wall of famous white people who approve of us” are altogether more problematic. The fact that they were a centerpiece of the tour makes me feel as though the Mandir has more of an interest in making Hinduism superficially palatable to the UK population rather than really providing a place where the curious and faithful alike can get a better and deeper sense of the true meanings of Hinduism. Although I may not like it, the wall is proof that this particular mandir does a good job (of superficially) getting its name out there and interacting with the community around it and indeed the nation’s leaders. While I understand that not every Hindu temple has the resources or inclination to do this, the fact that such a large one manages to do this can be seen as proof that Hinduism is on track to do better rather than worse in acculturation. If there’s anything working against Hindus on that front, it’s likely current population. Hindus were only 1% of the UK population in 2001 (which really surprises me) and this might be detrimental to the population’s visibility within the country.

Sikhs appear to face a few unique challenges to acculturating. The first of which is dress, which is more distinctively strict (at least among devoted Sikhs) than in Hinduism or Islam. While I think it is certainly possible to acculturate with strict religious dress, some groups in history (Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side, for instance) have relaxed religious dress as sort of the first step to full scale integration into their new nation. If this would also be true for Sikhs, it will have the negative side effect of forcing individual Sikhs to choose devotion to religion or the possible benefits of acculturation, and perhaps put a greater gulf between the older and younger generation of Sikhs (which if we are to believe our tour guide Mr. Singh, is already there). I’d like to do a bit of research into the Sikh population as a whole in Britain, perhaps to see if there’s a guardwara in London that serves a similar kind of function as the Mandir does (in terms of outreach). If so, that would likely be beneficial for them in terms of becoming part of getting Sikhism in the national consciousness. The Southall guardwara seemed less used to public relations and (while in a diverse community) seems a bit cut off from the whole of London.

Although we haven’t discussed them in a bit and didn’t get the chance to go to a mosque, I felt the need to mention Muslims in Britain and where they may fit into all of this. Muslims, too, have a unique problem as evidenced by the cover of last night’s evening papers.  British Muslims, though they make up the largest share of the population among these three religions, seem to mostly get in the papers in relation to extremism or terrorism. Over the weekend, there were violent protests of Islamic fundamentalism in Birmingham which led to ninety arrests (it’s unknown if the protesters or counter-protesters started the violence, but unfortunately it looks as though it all might happen again). Our reading from about a week and a half ago about police and national relations with the Muslim community mentions that one of the scariest things to many Britons about 7/7 was that one of the planners spoke in his tape with a broad Yorkshire accent, making British Muslims to some seem like the frighteningly hidden enemy within.

That same article outlined ways to improve relations between Muslims and national institutions like the police and the press through mutual respect and cooperation. Hopefully this will come about. Working for Muslims, although I’m not sure of the more recent immigration trends, is that they make up a slightly larger percentage of the population, closer to three percent than the one percent of Hindus and Sikhs. Muslims have already made large parts of the bigger English cities (London and Birmingham, for example) their own, so they likely don’t have the exposure problem Sikhs and Hindus might. Now it’s just a matter of getting better exposure. Predicting acculturation into a new national identity is always tricky, and without foreknowledge of events and immigration trends I won’t bet on any of these three groups to be there first. Each seems to have unique advantages and challenges, and how each community will manage them doesn’t yet seem clear to me.

Tags: Aidan

Religious Identity, Are They Really All That Different?

September 8th, 2009 · No Comments

In the past week the Norwich Humanities group have visited numerous cathedrals, temples and Gurdwara ‘s and in these visits I have learned a great deal. In many of these religious venues I was uncomfortable simply because the ideologies/beliefs of these particular religions did not complement my own. Being taken out of my comfort zone to learn an experience the ways of other cultures, has given me some insight as to how these groups must feel when they are in a culture, and the majority is viewing them/. But as I went into these diverse places of worship, one major similarity caught my attention. In fact the concept of religion itself is all very similar to me.

Religion, in my definition, is when people have a shared belief in some form of the supernatural or higher power.  It is a man made construct, that gives some people meaning and purpose for their lives. When visiting the places of worship over the past few weeks, this as a very prevalent commonality. But what was even more interesting was that the ideals and beliefs of these different religions were not all that different. Each form of religion has a belief system of what is “good religious behavior” and then “sins”. Every religion, has a written documents that tell the story of their lord, and some form a prayer, followed by various religious customs, and of course commandments or laws that must be followed accompanied by a place of worship. Why is it then that there are so many religions?

Visiting the different cathedrals temples etc. I found that when people have a faith, it can potentially be the strongest force that a man or woman can feel. So much so that even if others are unable to understand another person’s religion, to that specific individual, their religion is like second nature. I found this true for every religious venue I went to. Each person speaking about their faith had such a strong passion and emotional connection, that even if I could not understand “why”, I could not deny that their faith was beautiful. 

The idea of religion is something that I can definitely appreciate but the reason that I am indifferent to religion in general (or at least the ones I have studied) is the prejudices and hypocrisy that comes with it. When I used to attend church I found that most of the people, who were attending this place of worship, were not holding true to the beliefs of Christianity. They would come in and do the general routine work and then leave. No one that I encountered had true faith or belief in not only what they were doing, but why. Then I began to research the history of various religions, and discovered that many besides being sexist, were prejudice and hateful towards other people in the past. Religion in my eyes became something that people followed blindly never questioning its routes or asking why, and as people began to ask why, newer religions began to form and others just followed along.

Religion is a very touchy subject, one that can never be understood. The fact that their now exist over 200 religions that all claim to be the truth or the chosen people is a battle that I don’t wish to enter. People have faith and I can respect it, but that is as far as I am willing to go, because at the end of the day, religion is just another hegemonic apparatus that is used to keep the subordinates in line. At least in my opinion. I have faith in people and their abilities and do believe that there is some force that is watching over me. This maybe lost loved ones, people who are far from me, family, or a higher power, I am unsure yet, but for right now faith is enough for me.

Tags: Anthony

I’m…British?: Thoughts on Religious Sites and British Identity

September 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Over the past few days we have visited both a Sikh Gudwara and a Hindu Mandir, each of which presented very different public images and provided very different experiences. At the Sikh Gudwara we were met awkwardly by a man who led the female members of the group out of the entrance and back inside through a side door where we were instructed to remove our shoes and wash our hands. I found this entrance uncomfortable. On the other hand, when we visited the Hindu Mandir, we were able to enter together as a group of men and women. However, we all entered together through a  metal detector with security guards surrounding us and x-ray machines for our pocket items. At the Gudwara were waited about 30 minutes before a man welcomed us and gave us a rather informal tour and presentation on Sikhism. At the Mandir we began our planned, scheduled, and timed tour as soon as we stepped into the temple. Both these religions use different methods of dealing with their place in British society. But both find that the best way is openness to outsiders.

While our Sikh guide seemed optimistic about future harmony between the “British” and the Sikh community, the BBC religion page on Sikhism tells a less hopeful one. In an interview posted on the site with Sody Singh Kahlon, a second generation Sikh, Kahlon says, “Seventeenth century India, Mogul emperors butcher and mutilate to curb Sikh popularity. Twenty-first century Britain, western influences butcher and mutilate Sikh identity.” According to Kaholn, he spent most of his childhood defending himself and his Sikh identity against bullies of all ages, sometimes even his teachers. In Tarquin Hall’s Salaam Brick Lane, we see the way looking different can lead to becoming an easy target for violence. From his window, Hall describes the violence he sees and the lack of assistance even from law enforcement.

So it’s not surprising to hear Kahlon note the pressure Sihks feel to conform to the western identity. He says, “it is a well known fact that scores of western Sikhs are visiting the barbers and abandoning their identity to look like the majority. But those who denounce the Sikh identity are conveniently overlooking the first step in being a Sikh – i.e. to accept the Guru’s instructions and wear the ordained Sikh uniform.” Kaholn continues throughout the interview to highlight the tension between “British” culture and identity and his own religious identity. But ultimately he ends the interview by explaining, “I wear my turban out of love for my faith and I am proud to stand out from the crowd as a Sikh.”

On the other hand, Hinduism allows for a little more blending in. But yet, when I entered thought the metal detectors I couldn’t help thinking why? Perhaps they were one of the greatest symbols of Hinduism’s ability to mix, coexist, and eventually find a place in British culture. If Hinduism is accepted, and welcomed, why does it need so much protection? Yes of course, the Mandir we visited is a he tourist attraction. But so is St. Paul’s, and there were no metal detectors there. According to the BBC Religion page on Hinduism, this religion follows the idea of karma, birth death and rebirth based on good or bad deeds done in life and it is polytheistic with a center on one supreme being. So when we visited the Mandir I expected to see the images or icons of many various gods—which I did—but what I was not expecting was the degree to which they worshiped their spiritual leader, the inspirer, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. There were cardboard cutouts, photographs, and other images of this man all over the Mandir, even on the alters alongside their gods. This was the most surprising thing to me. The man is still just a man, despite his training, yet the guide spoke about him in such a godly way, and his images is worshiped, it seem to me that the was elevated to god-status, which was not evident from the BBC page.

In terms of coping with British culture, the BBC page did provide one interesting thing. It was a small section on the caste system, which is central still to Indian culture, despite the struggle against it. The section explained that in large cities the caste system had almost disappeared. But, the system did still offer a sense of community to the Indian people. In most western societies, a caste system is looked down on and seen as unequal. But, in many ways the caste system fits the classist prejudice that we have studied in Britain. British classism is essentially America’s racism.

Will or how these religions fit into British culture is hard to say. In many ways Kahlon exemplifies the British man of a foreign religion. He refuses to give his religious identity up, but constantly questions his decision when faced with persecution. And there will always be persecution. Hopefully religious difference will become so common that one different religion can no longer be singled out. But until then, people will always fear what is unfamiliar to them. In that way, the open attitude of both places of worship is the only way that religious tolerance can ever be achieved.

Tags: Megan

Unrealistic Dreams, Practicing What You Preach and Deference

September 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Over the past few days we had the opportunity to visit Sikh and Hindu holy places.  Both were quite eye-opening in regard to immigration, identity and to us as a group in general.  I have to start by saying that I won’t deny that both faiths are quite distinct and different from one another, but both also share the goal of trying to fit into life in the UK.  I think this is fairly obvious enough.

Though the Sikh Gurdwara was a much simpler place than the Hindu Temple, it still cost a few million pounds to build.  Like most religions, Sikhs preach helping their fellow man, but surely the cost to build a Gurdwara could have been substantially reduced to help others.  One could argue that the Gurdwara brings a sense of community to the area, but what would be wrong with cheaper building?  I’m sure that the individuals who donated money to build the Gurdwara were not thinking about the recognition they would receive from the community for doing so…but then again practicing what you preach has always been a problem for the religious.

Our Sikh guide, though difficult to hear at times, seemed to genuinely believe in what he said.  To me, it appeared as if he was desperately looking for acceptance.  Being in a country where he would probably be seen as an outsider, the Sikh guide just wanted to fit in.  I found it interesting when he said something along the lines of “I wish for the day when a person can see Sikh in an airport and recognize that he is just a Sikh.”  It was a nice thought, but one that probably won’t happen because it is unrealistic.  People need to label things and each other; it’s part of the human condition to have insiders and outsiders.

The Hindu Temple also gave me the impression of a religion and culture trying to fit into life in the UK.  Whereas the Sikh Gurdwara took a “simpler” approach, the Hindu Temple, as National Geographic put it, was a “London landmark.”  Its enormous size, Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone made this quite evident.  One thing that struck me was the pompous nature which seemed to pervade throughout the entire structure.  The exhibition really brought this to the forefront by showing multiple times how Hindus did this or that before the person (European for the most part) we usually associate with a particular invention or discovery did.  That really turned me off quite a bit and I don’t think it is a good idea to act so pretentiously if you are looking for acceptance.

One problem I had this both trips was that we went as a large group.  At the Sikh Gurdwara we all had to wear scarves, but no one knew the proper way to wear them.  I think everyone (jokingly and with no malicious intent) fooled around with ways to wear the scarf.  For me, if I was a Sikh and saw that I would feel quite disrespected.  Another problem I had was that at both holy places we had to show “respect” (i.e. bow/take part) in their prayer halls.  I think if we just simply observed it would have been much more respectful.

Jumping to the BBC Religion and Ethics site, I found that internet matchmaking sites are becoming quite popular with Sikhs and Hindus and I think this is a great thing.  It’s natural for a human to want to find a proper mate; the internet makes this much easier.  But what I thought was fascinating was the how many people do not have a picture on those matchmaking sites.  This seems like a good idea, but I feel as the world becomes more globalized and as more Sikhs and Hindus “assimilate,” the demand for a picture will be inevitable.

Tags: Andrew F

Hanging with the Hindus

September 8th, 2009 · No Comments

I have been drawn to all things Hindu and Indian since I was about twelve years old. I’m not sure what sparked my interest, nor am I sure what has kept me captivated, but I was quite excited to visit Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.

My first impression of the Mandir was overwhelmingly positive: I fell in love with the architecture and design. I couldn’t help but stare at the elaborate carvings all the way up the walls in the main lobby and wonder how long it took to get everythingso perfect. While admiring the architecture, I also got a more upbeat, “fun” vibe from the entire place: when we waited in the lobby of the gurdwara, we all spoke in hushed tones and were worried about respect and protocol. The chanting over the PA system in the gurdwara as well as the quiet, sometimes hurried passing of Sikhs through the lobby gave the place a somewhat stern vibe, whereas the lobby of the mandir was full of people, loud voices, and movement. This automatically made me (and I believe others in the group) more relaxed, despite the high levels of security outside.

Part of my interest in Hinduism has always been because of the “honour[ing] the whole of creation, see[ing] the presence of God in everything,” as stated in the Understanding Hinduismexhibit and pamphlet at the mandir. However, despite feelinga connection to the foundations of the religion as outlined in the pamphlet and at the beginning of the exhibit, some of the things our guide said as well as the entire “SwaminarayanFaith” section of the exhibit didn’t seem to completely mesh with my previous experiences with and knowledge of Hinduism. Our guide was plain to us that all decisions, from interior decorating to finances, were made by the current Guru, and no one was allowed to question his choices. Additionally, much of the BAPS sect of Hinduism focuses on worshipping someone named Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who was seen as “the incarnation of the Supreme God” back in the 1800’s. If Hindus are supposed to be able to see the presence of God in everything and everyone, I have a hard time understanding why some people are allowed to be venerated and obeyed without question (and have paintings, wax figures, and marble sculptures adorned in gold and surrounded by food all over the mandir). I suppose this is a question I’ve always had about the faith in its entirety: the “ground rules,” so to speak, seem to be grounded in equality and the perception of the holy in everyone and everything, yet historically, women and members of lower castes have not been given equal status in Hindu societies, while some men are allowed to be venerated simply because they have done good deeds and have become ascetics. This leads me to the conclusion that all religions are fundamentally the same, for better or for worse: the basic ground rules and mission statements always promote love, seeking out “truth,” and doing unto others as you wish to be done to yourself, but in practice, these messages often get skewed and can end up in bloody wars, idol worship, and ignorance.

Shifting gears, however, I found the worship in the temple proper to be one of the most enjoyable and upbeat religious services I have ever attended. Though I would have appreciated a bit of a carpet on the marble floor (as well as equal seating status between women and men), the hymn was celebratory and beautiful, everyone was allowed to join in, and after the statues of various had been blessed by fire (at least, I think this is what waving the flames in front of them did), the fire was then allowed to be “enjoyed” by every member of the congregation. I loved the overall joyous mood, the celebratory and upbeat vibe, and the simplicity and general brevity of the entire worship. Some good music, some pyrotechnics, and a chance for everyone to get a bit of the love: that’s my kind of religious service.

The blog prompt asked us to consider the differences between Sikhism and Hinduism and think about how these differences make life in the UK easier or harder for the various devotees for the religions. Much like Anya said in her post, I feel somewhat reluctant to answer this question for several reasons: one, because we have nearly beaten this topic to death in class discussions, previous blog posts, readings, etc, and I feel like we are repeating ourselves and each other. Secondly, since we come from such different places, traditions, and experience and have only cursory knowlege of the religions and life experiences of the people we are observing. I feel a bit presumptuous in sayingthat the Sikhs may have a harder time acclimating to life in the UK because the markers of their religion tend to be worn on heads and faces and arms and their difference is not only marked by the color of their skin. Perhaps I’m not looking deep enough or I wasn’t perceptive enough while attending the gurdwara and the mandir, but I didn’t see much of anything else in the beliefs or customs or houses of worship that would concretely signify greater or lesser ability to adapt to British life between Hindus and Sikhs. When it comes down to it, both religious groups are groups of immigrants from India with different religions, skin colors, foods, customs, rituals, and lifestyles than the white Anglo-Saxons commonly thought of as definitively “British,” and I don’t necessarily think a common Brit judging the foreignness of a Sikh or Hindu would care about the religions’ specific dogmas: they would just see a foreigner.

Tags: Chelsea

Tell Me you Will Open your Eyes

September 8th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Upon entering the Sir John Soane Museum, I had a preconceived idea that it would be boring, and a complete waste of time. I had heard it was very small, and somewhat strange; meaning it would have absolutely no appeal to me. I refused to do research on the topic, so I walked in completely blind to the subject and unaware of what I was soon to see.

Lets just say the word “acquire” gained a new and more powerful meaning as I walked though the restored home of Sir John Soane. I can’t tell if I had the same feeling as I did when I first saw the Colosseum in Rome or Buckingham Palace here in London, but the feeling is in some way comparable.

[ Insert negative opinions here]. I won’t go into my thoughts on ego and pride.

How beautiful is it that a man of such stature would create a museum in his home to be of some help to those desiring education. What I found to be most interesting was Soane background in architecture, a talent which led him to build this home. Through out the house, alongside different statues, books, paintings, etc., there are few of Soane’s sketches and plans for different buildings in London, including Parliament. I also enjoyed the variety of artifacts in the museum. It was just so random, but strangely they all complete one another.

Museums, stores, and restaurants like this are what I believe to make London so unique and eccentric. These small parts of British history and fun hole in the wall joints make the city exciting. I am disappointed that I allowed what others thought of the museum influence my first impressions, however, I am glad that it was required so that I was able to develop an opinion of my own.

What are we missing in London? Do we notice every little cafe, charity store, Lebanese restaurant, or historic home?

Could you live here forever and never really see anything?

Tags: Museums · Patsy

My thoughts for now..

September 8th, 2009 · 1 Comment

My high school was a very small all girls, Catholic, private school in the outskirts of Boston.  When most people hear this they imagine a few things: uniforms (which we didn’t have), nuns roaming around the halls (which we didn’t have), and very strict Catholic religion classes (which we also didn’t have).  It is the last of those things that I am most proud of, at my school I was fortunate to study all different religions during my time and my senior year I was exposed briefly to Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. This being said, I had previously visited a Hindu temple and experienced the lives of those Hindus living and adapting to life in Central Massachusetts. I assumed that my visits to the Hindu temple and the Sikh gurdwara would be easy, peaceful, and educational as other locations that I had visited, however I was surprised when both of these visits took a different turn for me.

We visited the Sikh gurdwara first, before our journey I investigated the BBC religion site to learn some of the basics of the Sikh religion.  Learning that Sikhism was a practice where its worshipers were completely and totally devote to one God.  They believe everyone is equal to one God, and dedication to ones community is of the utmost importance.  The man who took us around the temple was just a local from the community rather than a trained tour guide.  For me this was a valuable experience because instead of just learning about Sikhism from a book we were getting an inside perspective of the religion.  His opinions, feelings, fears, and love of this one belief.  He discussed his community, and the special place the Sikh temple holds in the community. They were very open and receptive to us coming in and appreciated our interest.  There aren’t many Sikh gurdwaras outside of India, and so making a place outside of India will take some time, and open minds.

Going to the Hindu temple I expected a similar experience to visiting the Sikh gurdwara or the Hindu temple I visited three years ago in Massachusetts, however I was shocked by what I saw instead.  Walking through the London neighborhood not knowing exaclty what to expect I almost stopped short when I saw the enormous temple rising above eyesight.  We put our bags in security, walked through a metal detector, and then met up with an official temple tour guide.  There were so many people in the area, old and young, Hindus and visitors– it was a strange discovery.  And then walking around and listening to the guide talk about all of the large Hindu temples around the world and seeing all of the famous visitors I realized that Hinduism is really beginning to be a major player in worldwide religions, especially in London.  I felt that the Hindu temple I visited before was in a place where they were struggling to find their place.  I did not feel like it was as much as an issue here.  I don’t mean to sound cynical, but with so much funding and exposure to me this community is widely accepted in London society.  Some may argue with me, that the Sikh temple we visited also received large sums of money, but from my own personal eye I felt that this community was not as acclimated to society as the Hindus.

Both are religions that initially came from India.  Sikhism is more surrounded around communal prayer, and Hinduism around individual prayer.  Although similar , they are also very different, and I think these differences may play a factor in how they fit in with London society. Both religions came to London relatively around the same time, Hinduism may have more followers which is why I feel it fits in with society better, but I don’t think I’ll ever truly know.  I’m also fairly certain my opinion on this matter could change from day to day as I am exposed more to these two religions, but this is what I thinking/feeling now after much contemplation and a little research on the BBC website.

Tags: Amanda · Uncategorized

Mary Poppins always said that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…

September 8th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Do beliefs make a difference in how two faiths adjust to life in the UK? Of course. Hinduism and Sikhism are incredibly different religions. One is polytheistic, the other monotheistic. One needs pages to define its practices and customs, the other a couple sentences. One supports offerings in shrines at the home, the other preaches the importance of meditation. One has a gift shop in a temple, the other a type of soup kitchen. The beliefs of Hinduism are so foreign to the English culture that it seems to attract people by its mystery. It’s something that could go either way; that is, its very noticeable differences could have inspired intense fear or interest in the English people.

Based on the observations of a person who has limited knowledge on the subject, the English seem to have responded to Hinduism in the latter manner. And who wouldn’t be impressed with the absolutely gorgeous images that are associated with the religion? The figures of their gods, the hand-carved wood that adorns their walls, the bright colors of their dress- Hinduism is without a doubt a very eye-pleasing religion. Sikhism, on the other hand dresses, itself in a quite dull manner in comparison. That’s not to say that both places of worship on the outside are anything less than impressive. But the first thing that greets you at the Hindu temple is a gift shop filled with beautiful figurines that you can’t help but want to have. Conversely, the first thing you see at the Sikh temple is a small closet in which you are to place your shoes. It’s more than a little different. This discrepancy in design is more than a difference in taste. A religion that sees gods in many different forms has more to show off than a religion that recognizes only one. That’s quite understandable.

What is a little less understandable is how differently the two religions were accepted into Britain. Both found a presence here in the 1950s with the Indian immigrants came over to find safety after the 1947 Partition of India. Members from both the Sikh and Hindu faiths came to England in hopes to get away from the tension and fighting that was occurring in India. This, of course, is not the sole reason for the influx of Sikhs and Hindus to England but it was definitely a major cause of it. Both the Sikhs and Hindus differ from the traditional English appearance immensely. The Sikhs wear turbans, cannot cut their hair, and tote swords. The Hindus wear bright colors and have bright red dots on their foreheads. The English wear grey and black and, while many carry knives, none too many have a sword at the hip. Though both are clearly different from the traditional British appearance, what is important to note is how the two were affected by prejudice towards that different appearance and how they remember that experience. On the BBC website, the Sikhs mention that they changed their appearance in efforts to be employed in London. The Hindus, on a website from the same news source, make no mention of racial prejudice against them whatsoever. No matter how peaceful a new group of people might be, London has never failed to have a prejudice against a group of newcomers. It’s something that would be nice to not be true but alas in my understanding it’s not. So, why this discrepancy? Both Hindus and Sikhs came from the same land around the same time for similar reasons and yet only one actually mentions the ‘dirty’ details: that there was religious turmoil that needed to be fled, and that once a safe place was found, life was less than instantly easy. I don’t really have an answer for this.

I would argue that there might be certain tendencies that help point to an answer. The Hindu temple tended to be more of a bragging ground to flaunt how grand the religion was. In fact, in the museum, a sign proclaimed that there was absolutely no hypocrisy in the Hindu religion. I applaud them if that’s the case but my observations found this not to be true. Again, I have limited exposure to the religion but one that ignores the huge discrepancy in male and female rights present in the religion might be said to have some hypocrisy lurking around. The Sikh temple by comparison was what it was. It was a huge temple that also made sure to note how much it cost to build; still, it lacked a museum. In place of that and a gift shop, the Sikh gurdwara has a place to feed community members who need a meal. One recognizes the faults with the world while the other seems to cover them up with beautiful decorations. Is that what it takes to fit into British society? Maybe. But even if the Hindu section of the BBC website refuses to recognize that London may have been less than welcoming to them at times, the people who first greeted us when we came to the temple were armed guards. They were quite kind but their smiles couldn’t hide the bulletproof vests they had on. Clearly, both communities have found difficulties in coming to London. How they deal with this prejudice is quite different.

Tags: Audrey