Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries from September 2010

We Will Rock You… with Church Songs?

September 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

From the various services/presentations/synopses of religion we attended, it appeared that Christianity in London is dead. The two major Christian establishments we attended as a class, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey (and technically, the abbey out in Stratford-upon-Avon, but that was quite a quick visit), did not appear to have any sort of religious community. Well, that’s not exactly a surprise – these locations are such tourist destinations it would be almost impossible to have services, or a regular church membership. However, this does not mean that Christianity is dead in London.

Yes, its true that a large majority of those who consider themselves Christians, or more specifically Anglicans, subscribe to a small amount of Christian beliefs. In this way, the reported statistics of adamant Christians are quite inflated, as noted in the readings. Well, Andrew and I decided to attend a Christian service this past Sunday, and it was really something.

First off, the service was held by Hillsong, the church’s name, in the Dominion theatre (the We Will Rock You one) and it was PACKED. I do not know the exact number of attendees, but it must’ve been over 500. The worship songs were also played by an at least 10 person band. 5 singers/get-the-churchgoers-pumped-up-by-dancing-around-and-starting-claps, 3 guitarists, a bass, a drummer, 2 keyboards, it was crazy. There was a lightshow during the songs, and the whole place was full of an amazing energy. This was somewhat like other mega-churches I had attended back in the States, and because of this, I was a bit worried about the overall tone of the service – whether it would actually stay focused on Christian teachings/values, whether it would be extremist. But it was actually quite normal. The band didn’t get caught up in the light show and reiterated why they were playing the music they were

The normal preacher introduced an energetic Australian as the guest speaker, and his sermon was on the prosperity gospel. Andrew and I both agreed that he was very well spoken, very entertaining, and the message he was describing was great. However, he was much funnier than many preachers I’ve seen in the States, and overall much more animated. I was literally laughing quite hard for some of the service (a bit awkward to do in Church normally) and really enjoyed his sermon on the whole.

Overall, it was a great experience. It was a very involving and exciting, which made a lot of sense as we further discussed it. Churches in England are, like all Churches, trying to attract more people, especially young people. They emphasized this in their explanation of how important community is to them, and had a video on different groups you could get involved with. This Church’s communities are everywhere; it was really quite impressive and cool. Perhaps this extra flair is added to the service to try and rouse faith in a generally lacking Christian body in London.

I doubt this service is representative of all Christian services in London; however, I found it encouraging and informative to see that Christian services do exist here outside of St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. All the people seemed really quite friendly, and they even shook our hands (take that Kate Fox!). Though I am not sure whether Hillsong has an information session like the Mandir or Mosque, it would certainly be interesting to investigate. It might be a bit hard for them to hold something similar, as they have no permanent building.

Last bit: I was fascinated by two other features of the service. One, the ethnic diversity of the people. We have learned that London is an incredible myriad of cultures, and this cultural mélange was really reflected in the audience. In my row alone, there was a Latino family, several Afro-Caribbeans, and an Asian woman, plus two white kids (me and Andrew). I thought it was really neat to see London’s diversity reflected in the church audience.  I found this to be a bit different than the Mosque and Mandir, and I can’t say for the synagogue (saw very few people in there). Lastly, the Englishness of the service in some ways. There were a ton of cultural references that neither Andrew nor I understood, but everyone else found quite funny. It was like being on the outside of an inside joke, but we still laughed to not be awkward. Anyway, I don’t think this would happen as much in America. I think Americans are much less aware of their culture than to do this, but the Brits certainly aren’t.

Tags: 2010 ChristopherB · Churches and Cathedrals

Places of Worship

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

The different sites of worship that we visited as a class offered us a way to understand some of the major religions that make up London.  Within the city Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are embraced in different neighborhoods and different people. Here is what I learned from our visits to the different places of worship.

The Hindu Temple-

The first thing I noticed about the temple was its high walls and gated entrances. This place was not kidding around about safety. The guard in front was wearing a bullet-proof vest. I thought this was very unusual because I haven’t heard much at all about religious violence towards or against the Hindu people in London or anywhere else. After the visit, however, I realized what an amazing structure it is, and why protection of this sort might be necessary. It’s the largest Hindu temple outside of India and the building took a long time and lots of effort to build. Preserving it completely is extremely important. Inside the temple, I realized other aspects of the Hindu community here in London. First off, the temple was not only for worship, but it was a social gathering place. It seemed like a place where some members of the community go just to see other people and not for any religious reason. The little museum inside the temple was extremely informative. If you invite people to come and tour your temple who may or may not know what your religion really means, what’s better than a visual appealing and educational exhibit? I think it was a brilliant idea to include it in the temple, and it really shows how much the temple is trying to include outsiders in their religion. Being able to sit in on the religious ceremony was another informative experience I had at the temple.

Westminster Abby/Saint Paul’s Cathedral-

I didn’t get much insight into the Christian religion from my visit to Westminster Abby. Although it is still functioning as a religious institution, the majority of people there were there to see the dead people in the floors, walls, and stone tombs. It was exciting to walk over the names of Darwin and Dickens. It was a beautiful building and its history was also intriguing. The only time I realized I was in a place of worship is when John told us to listen to the loud-speaker and observe a moment of silence. Why is this? Why has Westminster Abby embraced tourism and dampened its religious value? I have an idea…money. The amount of people willing to shell out some cash to see kings and queens, composers and poets, who they had only read about or read must be ridiculous. And although it does not have the same amount of tourist attraction, St. Paul’s is similar. Maybe I am missing something, but these places seem to have diverged, to point, from religion and have almost joined the ranks of Big Ben and Tower Bridge.

The Mosque-

This was the worst, but probably most interesting visit. It was interesting, not because of the information that I received from the tour guide, but because of the way the whole group was treated during the visit. I think this gave me the most insight into Islam in London. I was honestly nervous about visiting the mosque, only because I didn’t know what to expect. All I know is that in the country I come from, many people have intense views about Islam. Anyway, the tour guide seemed extremely uncomfortable, like he didn’t know where to start. He asked us about what we know about Islam, but what I know is extremely skewed by the media inside the United States. I wanted to know what he had to tell me. He answered our questions, but I didn’t feel that that gave me a concrete idea about what Islam is, like the introduction to Hinduism I got at the Hindu Temple. The most informative part of the visit was when the women dressed from head to toe in black closed the window shades and locked the doors to the hall where the children were playing. I know that no one is hiding anything, but we came there to learn, not judge, and I feel that the whole time we were there it was like they felt Islam was on trial.

The Synagogue-

I have been to synagogues in the United States and this one wasn’t very different. The man leading our tour was very enthusiastic about our visit and went directly into explaining Judaism and its existence in the UK and London. I did not know the influence of Jews in the UK and so it was very informative. The history of the building was also cool. He pointed to where I was sitting and he told me that a bomb during the Blitz landed right there. I thought that the plaque dedicated to the Queen was very interesting. I didn’t expect to see that there.

I learned a lot from these visits. They were worth while and gave me a better understanding of religion’s role in historical and modern day London.

Tags: 2010 David

Human Existence: The Museum!!!

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

For my requisite museums blog, I ventured away from the canon of London museums such as the British Museum and the National and National Portrait Galleries and found an intriguingly fresh museum along Euston Road, The Wellcome Collection.  The museum bills itself as “a free destination for the incurably curious” and one can easily see why.  The museum is a mix of art, modern art and historical artefacts that focus on human well being; however, the negative, uglier sides of human health are equally represented, if not more than the positive.  The museum warns that perhaps this museum may not suit the squeamish very well.

The Wellcome Collection consisted of two main exhibits, one on the history of medicine, represented through the eyes of the arts, sciences and patients, while the other was simply titled, “Skin.”   The main goal of the Wellcome Collection is stated clearly:  “to consider human existence and what it means to be human.”  With this lens in place, the Wellcome Collection proved to be fascinating.  The history of medicine exhibit focused on illness, but more importantly the various ways in which humans make sense of disease within their respective societies.  The exhibit featured artwork, both classical and modern as well as various antiquated medical tools.  One of the most shocking elements in the museum was a line up of twelve to fifteen saws used in the eighteenth century for amputations.  The distance we have come as a human race in the field of medicine really does make what think about our existence and how we should define ourselves.

The “Skin” exhibit I felt really drove home the Wellcome Collection’s message as well.  The exhibit’s tagline:  “consider our existence within our constantly changing skin.”  Surely in our history as a species skin is an important aspect of what it means to be a human.  I quite like this exhibit because it was so basic in its line rhetoric and process of questioning, yet I felt it very relevant to the museum’s basic philosophy.  By walking through the exhibit I realized that there are countless ways to think critically about humanity, even if they are basic and somewhat obvious.  I feel that through analyzing the endless characteristics of human-ness present in our skin the museum emphasized this point.

The Wellcome Collection was small and understated, but posed to its viewing public a fascinating idea:  think about what it means to be a human.  In any religious or secular sense, I find this idea to be both mentally rigorous and rewarding.  Also, I generously give my remarks to the curator for constructing such a deeply philosophical idea in just two small understated exhibits.  I am very glad I found this museum, and subsequent visits to London may require a quick peek to see which exhibits they choose next that will further symbolize their discourse on humanity.

Tags: 2010 Luke · Uncategorized

On Pubs

September 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

If memory serves me correctly, most of my drinking escapades were never in formal settings. They took place under bridges, along the banks of a river, in empty parking lots, always with an intimate group of friends (this isn’t as sketchy as it sounds). So the bar/pub is fairly foreign to me. In any case, I’ve been pleased with the pubs I’ve visited so far. Most of them, like the Rising Sun and Marlborough Arms, were fairly crowded. I don’t mind a clustered environment, but it tends to grate on me after a while. Like Dave, I too prefer a more relaxed setting. One thing I’ve noticed is that pubs here aren’t the most ideal venue in which to meet new people. People either come alone or in groups, thus drawing the lines of social contact. I’ve never stayed long enough in an American bar to note, but from what I’ve seen, read, and heard, bars in America ARE ideal places for meeting people you don’t know; my friend the other day told me she met her boyfriend at a bar. The bar may not be the classiest place to meet your future wife, but the ease in which one can strike up a conversation with another person speaks to the relatively loose social barriers of Americans. I’ve hardly perceived this in Londoners.

As others have noted, its confusing where the queue for drinks begin. The bartender, however, always seems to know the order. So long as I have my drink, I’m fine.

Public drinking isn’t illegal in Korea, which may explain why I’ve been a bit uncomfortable in pubs. I much prefer sipping from a can of beer or trading shots of soju (korean staple alcohol) at a park rather than entering a pub. Yeah, I said I was pleased with the pubs here, but that doesn’t mean I like them. Perhaps the exception is the King’s Crown, a pub just off of Tottenham. Dave and I stumbled onto it and after a pint, found it to be quite exceptional. Quite and subdued, King’s Crown has none of the boisterousness of the more popular pubs. But that’s just me. Hopefully Norwich will have more pubs like King’s Crown.

George Orwell speaks of the pub of his dreams as having a garden, partitioned spaces, a warm fireside, and mellow atmosphere; a pub in which the oner knows his customers by name. In short, a personal pub. That is my type of pub, I think, as it seems to match my temperament. A place where you can retire into the night, warm and relaxed. Yes, such a pub may not exist, but if King’s Crown was any indication, there just may be one out there.

Tags: 2010 Sean · Pubs

Finding Common Ground in a City With Many Relgions

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

One of the most surprising and fascinating aspects of London for me was how international the city is.  In most parts of town, when walking around looking for lunch, we are easily able to find restaurants serving food from five or six different cultures.  In the East End, a single building was used as a church, then a synagogue, and now a mosque.  Walking down the street, I have heard a number of different languages spoken, some that I do not even recognize.  Perhaps the most fascinating opportunity we were given to explore the multi-cultural aspect of London was the chance to visit places of worship belonging to a number of different religious groups in London.  I found it especially interesting that to observe the ways in which the religious groups attempt to bridge the gaps that inevitably exist in such a multi-cultural, multi-faith city.

The fact that most of our guides mentioned involvement in interfaith projects demonstrates that London’s various religious communities are all dealing with living in a multicultural cities by engaging and trying to understand on another (at least partially).  I find it interesting that only the churches that we visited did not describe involvement in interfaith organizations.  I am fairly sure that Christians actually do participate.  However, all of the other religious groups are minorities in London, and it is likely that Christian groups (and specifically Anglicans) do not feel a need to advertise their involvement to visitors because they do not assume automatically that their visitors are from different religious backgrounds from their own.  For minority groups, I think that talking about this involvement to visitors is an important way to express common ground by expressing connections with other groups that the visitors probably associate with or belong to.  At the Hindu mandir, our guide also talked about a number of famous leaders from other religious groups who have visited the Mandir (again I think, to find common ground with us).

When we visited a mosque, as our guide told us about Islam he constantly pointed out similarities with Christianity and Judaism.  Although these similarities are accurate, he clearly stressed them, because assuming that we came from Jewish or Christian backgrounds, he wanted us to be able to appreciate Islam by relating it to our own traditions.  Although the effort probably could have been carried out better, and probably the specific tensions currently surrounding perceptions of Islam, the community at the Mosque clearly makes an effort daily to break down barriers.

Ultimately, I think that by welcoming us in to their worship space learn about their religions, all of the minority groups that we visited expressed a commitment to breaking down some of the barriers with other religious groups.

The Mandir that we visited (from the Mandir’s website)

Tags: 2010 Emily · Uncategorized

I’m with Orwell: Finding the Ideal Pub

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

As I read George Orwell’s article, I became increasingly interested in where this charming pub, The Moon Under Water, could be found. I will admit I was disheartened when I learned the pub did not actually exist. Nevertheless, I came to understand Orwell and his inability to find his “perfect” pub. I haven’t had extensive experience with pubs here in London, but after evaluating the ones I have visited, I can say I haven’t yet found my favourite pub either.

In regards to the location of the pubs, I have ventured into both the obvious pubs positioned glaringly on busy main streets and the more inconspicuous pubs situated off the beaten path in quieter areas. Like Orwell, my ideal pub is located on a side street where “drunks and rowdies [will] never seem to find their way” (The Moon Under Water, Orwell). The Marlborough Arms, which is just around the corner from the Arran House, is a local sort of pub that offers the intimate atmosphere where a mix of university students and middle-aged regulars can enjoy some privacy as they socialize over a few drinks. The bartenders are friendly (they offered a friend a free drink since her food arrived late) and the owner is also good-humored and amicable.

The Marlborough Arms Pub on Torrington Place, off of Gower Street

The clientele of a pub is also a significant factor in finding a great pub. There are pubs that seem to attract younger crowds, like The Court on Tottenham Court Road. It appeals to young adults mainly because of their young, attractive bartenders, booming beats, and prominent location. It’s a fun setting if you’re in the mood to deal with a jam-packed, noisy pub. Honestly, it reminds me more of a college party scene than anything else. I don’t want to find a number of other American students at the same pub! Another sort of clientele I’ve noticed some pubs gear toward is a tourist. The Rising Sun, also on Tottenham Court, does not seem to follow the normal English pub rules. Their staff seems to have adapted to serving foreigners since, for one, they have waiters who will cater to you as you sit at a table. I prefer the traditional English pub experience where one must go up to the bar to buy food, a round, or to discreetly tip the bartender—just as Kate Fox explains in Watching the English.

The Court Pub on Tottenham Court Road

Another topic Orwell brings up in regards to pubs is the selection of food and drinks. Unfortunately, I have not come across a pub that combines great food and drinks with my ideal pub environment. The ambience at the Marlborough Arms is great—decent music, some noise, a match playing on the telly, friendly patrons, some privacy and comfort—, but the food is mediocre, in my opinion. Moreover, I have had better drinks served elsewhere. Like, for example, the great menu at The Cock a few blocks off of Oxford Street. I agree with Orwell that the quality of food is important for a pub. Superior food and a good selection of drinks add to its comfort and distinctiveness.

Speaking of distinctiveness, I also think it’s important that a pub distinguishes itself from other pubs. As Orwell stated, he enjoys pubs with gardens and he only knows of three that possess them. Moreover, he covers in detail the architectural layout of his ideal pub, The Moon Under Water. Not that I have discovered my preferred “look” of a pub, I have recognized that I like pubs that express some sort of distinction from the rest. My ideal pub should definitely stand out. It could attain this through its architecture, its garden, or even just its quirky name, like The Moon Under Water.

The Old Bank of England Pub on Fleet Street

Sure, I hope to sometime pick a favourite pub, but I also don’t mind exploring all sorts of pubs and their disparate clientele, atmospheres, food and drink selections, patrons, and quirks. In the end, each pub is different; I just have yet to find that one “great” pub. It’s not The Old Bank of England Pub on Fleet Street—a high-class pub near the legal courts that had potential to be the favourite—so maybe I will stumble upon it in Norwich.

Tags: 2010 Mary · Pubs

Museums of London

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

The Brits pour money into their precious museums, further proof to my idea that the Brits hold their rich and storied history above all things in this fine country.  The Museum of London is probably the best example; a simply laid out but large museum with easy access to the public and several treasured pieces of London history contained within its walls.  Like the Museum of London, most museums are easily accessible and a majority of them are free to the public, however it seems like the museums they offer are catered to a good balance of Brits and tourists alike.  While walking through a museum like the British Museum or the National Portrait Gallery, it is common to hear a slew of accents from every corner of the room.  Italian, spanish, english, you name it, these people are in the museums.  Of course this kind of museum experience can only come from the British government pouring tons of money into these places, making them into a piece of history themselves.

The history on display in the museums isn’t only that of the Brits, however.  I am sure it took millions upon millions of dollars to acquire the historical objects contained in museums like the British museum.  Perhaps this is a testament to not only the Brits appreciation of their own history, but also of the history of the world.  London is without a doubt, one of the most international cities in the world.  Tourists come from all over to see the sights and people from all corners of the globes live tucked away in various corners of London.  All these points lead me to believe that Londoners also take great pride in acknowledging how they themselves are linked to international history and will pay big bucks for precious artifacts to be moved to their museums.

The museums themselves seem to operate like any other public establishment in the city of London.  The feeling of being pushed around from queue to queue is ever present, even in a place like a museum.  The result is that you kind of have to rush yourself from museums, or as a fellow classmate said in their blog recently you have to learn to “skim” museums.  It took me ten minutes just to get a good view of the Rosetta Stone because of all the people crowding around, and everyone seems to have you on a two minute timer to have your look and then move on.  Even in a place like the National Portrait Gallery, I got the feeling that if I spent too much time looking at a painting or sitting on a couch (the green leather was incredible) I was going to be the recipient of dirty looks from every direction.  Despite being invisibly queued up in most sections of museums, there is usually enough to experience for you to get lost for days.

Overall, the museums are definitely a great aspect of London and I believe that the fact that they are subsidized is a very good thing.  It keeps tourists coming and it keeps the English aware and proud of their history and their knowledge of others’.  The museums of London helped me to appreciate (like a good Londoner) the value of a trip down history lane.

Tags: 2010 Benjamin

Historical Logic and the Survival of Churches

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Seeing churches is an incredible way to see into the past. Why, I asked myself, are there so many hundreds of year old churches still standing in England? Sure there are old buildings standing all over the place, but a vast majority of them are churches. After a little bit of thinking I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why I think very old churches had a better chance of surviving then they did in other places.

Since its founding, England has been one form of Christian or another.  Already, this makes the survival rate of churches much higher then a place like Spain or Turkey, two regions since early times has switched hands from Christian to Muslim and perhaps back again. This great decreases the amount of churches destroyed or converted to mosques. This also means that while Edward I exiled the Jews from England in 1290 and their places of worship were probably destroyed and converted, there would be no reason in the history of England to tear down a church.

As we saw in Westminster, most churches had fortified sections in which to store the vast amounts of wealth that were being collected from the surrounding areas. This initiative to make sure churches could withstand attack could contribute to the stability of these structures. This may not be the same way in other parts of the world where vicious Vikings were not raiding the coasts.

These churches also serve as monuments to who, at any given point in history, were worthy of being commemorated in elaborate monuments within these churches. While well known now, we can see by his burial placement that Sir Christopher Wren did not quite have the status or celebrity that victorious military commanders held. The placement of these tombs and varying degrees of fanciness are a window into what was important to the empire in the past.

Tags: 2010 MatthewG · Churches and Cathedrals

Common threads: similarities and differences between places of worship in London

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

One commonality connecting our visits to diverse religious institutions was a certain level of decorum expected of visitors, which was of course implicitly observed by worshippers. In each of these places, visitors could not take any pictures, but there were many other customs which we were asked to observe in respect to each of these places of worship.

For example, in both the Mandir and the Mosque, visitors were expected to take off their shoes before passing beyond the entrance of each of the respective buildings. I feel like I should have asked about this custom while at the Mandir; I understand the justification for this observance of this custom at the Mosque exists because Islamic culture values emphasizing cleanliness. Is it the same justification at the Mandir? And of course, we were expected to not eat pork or smoke before going to the Mosque or Synagogue, due to the respective dietary laws of Islam and Judaism.

It was very interesting to hear about the application of Sharia law in the UK. Most of the Sharia, although observed by faithful Muslims, is not legally codified in the UK. The parts which are legally binding mostly involve marital contracts and business contracts between consenting parties. So, like Christians and Jews (whose religious marriages are recognised by the state), Muslims are allowed to enter these contracts at their behest. It is always interesting to hear the argument that Sharia law should not be allowed in the Western world, despite the fact that these obligations don’t impact anyone except the Muslims who are parties to them. Maybe, if they don’t like Islamic culture being practiced in the West, they should give up other customs which were imported from the Islamic world after the Crusades. Like bathing.

Back what was supposed to be the topic of this blogpost. One major difference between St. Paul’s cathedral and Westminster Abbey on one hand, and the Mandir, Mosque, and Synagogue on the other hand, was that there were burial tombs and cryps in each of the Anglican sites of worship, but none in the Hindu, Muslim, or Jewish sites. But, after thinking about it more, this has to do more with the age of the buildings; the Anglican sites were hundreds of years older than the Muslim, Jewish or Hindu sites.

Tags: 2010 Tyler · Churches and Cathedrals · Uncategorized

I’ve Never Seen a Messy Museum Before

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

                I’m not much of a history freak, but I think museums are amazing. They serve as a unique interactive learning experience allowing us to actually see and absorb things that we wouldn’t obtain through a textbook or classroom lecture. Seeing artifacts and paintings brings history to life, and this method of learning is preferable by some people and especially for young children for the hands- on experience. It is really cool to be able to walk into a museum, and in London’s case for free, and see something that existed millions of years ago. I’ve always admired to determination of historians to seek the unknown, and figure out when and why something happened, and to openly share this information with the public.
               One of my favorite museum trips was earlier on in the month when we visited the Museum of London. I always knew about the Romans, and read about the founding of London and Britain as an empire, but actually physically seeing everything connected all of the random pieces of information in my head. I enjoyed learning about early Roman life, and realizing that we learned cleanliness from them. The women made hair combs, nail clippers, and even tweezers that so closely resemble the beauty essentials women use today. I loved that each floor uncovered different eras of London’s history, which included industrialization, political and social movements, and even fashion.

                                                                                           (Roman beauty essentials)

               Another one of my favorite museums was the Victoria and Albert museum. Many students disliked this museum the most because it was too hard to navigate, but I actually appreciated the arbitrariness. I was so bored of visiting museums that solely displayed the rich white royalty of England, that is was nice to have a change with something that was completely informal and unplanned. Stumbling room by room through this organized chaos, I realized you could find just about anything in this museum. I was able to admire the fashion styles of Grace Kelly and to jealously look at centuries worth of jewelry worn by generations of rich people.

            There were artifacts and sculptures thrown everywhere, it was like a giant garage sale. In the section with mosaics and paintings, we found a mosaic of Rome by Antonio Testa that took him twenty years to complete. This museum was filled with thousands of artifacts, my only question is where did they get all of this stuff from? I was trying to think of a coherent way that they could have organized everything, but honestly it would be impossible. So whether the designer just gave up on figuring out a floor plan, or intended it to be this way, I really enjoyed it.

Tags: 2010 Melissa · Uncategorized