Humanities Visits Several Cultural Sites

Three times during the course of VAMPY, the 2010 Humanities class had the opportunity to trade in the confines of the classroom for the wide open educational expanses of the real world. The first stop the class made was to Nashville’s stunning reproduction of the legendary Parthenon. While there, they learned about the history of the Parthenon (both the one they were in and the one it so exquisitely replicates) and the significance it has held throughout history to the ancient Greeks, as well as those that followed in their footsteps. Later that day, following a delightful picnic lunch in Centennial Park, the class made their second stop along the way at the Sherith Israel Orthodox Synagogue to learn a bit about Jewish culture and history. Rabbi Saul Strosberg led a fascinating discussion about many key concepts of Jewish life, particularly, that of the afterlife. As the class’s primary focus is how different cultures have pondered the mystery of what follows death, this discussion served as a fantastic resource that granted the class to an interesting perspective that, while in many ways familiar, was unique and new to most to them.

The following week the class journeyed north to southern Indiana to visit St. Meinrad’s Benedictine Monastery. The verdant countryside surrounding St. Meinrad’s stood in stark contrast to the urbanity of Nashville, and served as a stunning backdrop to the Romanesque architecture of the Monastery itself. Stepping inside was like stepping into another world. The overwhelming scale of the structure itself, as well as the ornate paintings and gothic stained glass windows worked to create an atmosphere that was dramatic and powerful, yet serene. It was an ideal setting for fascinating conversation about Catholicism, its history, its core beliefs, and of course the Catholic concept of afterlife.

On the final Wednesday of VAMPY, the class made their way back to Nashville for one last trip. The first stop along the way was the Salahadeen Center of Nashville, an Islamic cultural center and place of worship, and a great way to round out the class’ exploration of the Abrahamic religions. Though the center was smaller and less ornate that the other locations visited (largely due to the recent flooding in the Nashville area), the warmth and hospitality they extended made it seem twice its size. The vice president and secretary of the center’s Executive Board who spoke to the class managed to convey an incredible amount of information in a fairly short amount of time. During the discussion (in addition to talking about the afterlife), they made a very concerted effort to dispel the negative rumors that have circulated so broadly within American culture regarding Islam and its followers, and to impress upon the class in detail the true nature of their faith.

After lunch, the class came to its fifth and final field trip destination, the Sri Ganesh Hindu Temple. While most of the class had at least some concept of the basic tenants of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, very few knew anything substantial about Hinduism. Consequently the visit seemed to generate the most questions from the class, all of which were answered wonderfully by the tour guide. The temple’s designers made special effort to create a space that seamlessly incorporated design elements from the many different cultural regions of India, and as such, the temple was unlike anything most of the class had ever seen. It was certainly something they won’t forget for a long time.

All over this region there are fascinating places. Places of worship, cultural centers, places meant to evoke different times and places, to preserve the past and to carry it into the future. Often these places get overlooked by those who pass through, and even by those whose lives are firmly rooted here. Each of them is a place full of knowledge and filled with people who’d love nothing more than to share that knowledge with the curious who seek it out. If the VAMPY Humanities class of 2010 learned anything, it’s that sometimes the best way to get knowledge is to go out and find it. Because, while a book can tell you plenty of things, it’s often the case that a real person can tell you so much more.

The pictures in this slide show were taken on the last field trip.

Andrew Crawford, Humanities TA

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