Letter to the editor: Bridging cultural boundaries through religion

By Philip Parkes ’17

Tags editorial letter to the editor

Dear Editorial Board,

With the clashing of cultures in our increasingly globalized world, the need for understanding is as relevant as ever. Historically, religion has been one of the most important and sometimes controversial areas of culture. It is one thing to understand where a person is from, but what about understanding his or her most fundamental religious beliefs?

I am one of 13 students in Professor Abhishek Amar’s religious studies seminar on notions of death, dying and the afterlife across the Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist religious traditions. As students, we hail from various religious or nonreligious backgrounds including Islam, Hinduism, Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as Agnosticism and Atheism. But through this class we have all been united in the goal of understanding something different from ourselves; faced with three different religious traditions, no student is completely safe from confronting ideas which may conflict with his or her own.

For our latest project, we had to delve into Shraddha, a Hindu ritual performed for one’s ancestors. Some students wrote well-researched blog posts on various aspects of the ritual performance, while another illustrated and composed “The Story of Gaya,” a full-length Shraddha children’s book. One student, Zach Oscar ’18, built a life-size replica of Vishnupada, a footprint of the Hindu god Vishnu used for funerary rituals. We used the structure to organize a live, choreographed performance of the ritual.

Everyone pitched in for the performance, taking on different roles and learning about different aspects of the Hindu faith that make up the ritual. In participating in the ritual, I was proud to have had the opportunity to gain exposure to something that was previously unfamiliar to me. And as a senior about to head into the real world, I am realizing just how special that kind of opportunity is.

I encourage students to seek out similar opportunities through their coursework here, especially through the Religious Studies Department.

The Digital Humanities Initiatives, which inspired and supported the Vishnupada Project, is also deeply engaged in the study of the world’s religions alongside its many other groundbreaking projects. I encourage you all to check out their open hours, which feature a virtual reality (VR) rendition of various aspects of the Shraddha ritual.

Whatever your background, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to be exposed to aspects of culture which fall outside the ordinary realm of our lives. As Hamilton students, I hope we can all take advantage of this opportunity that the Hill provides to us.

Best Regards,
Philip Parkes ’17

All Editorial