Religion and Senses of Place
This volume examines senses of place in which people not only perform religious acts in particular places but also understand emplacement and belonging to be key features of their religious practices and identities. It's an invitation to any religious community to look again at the environment in which it works
Religion and Senses of Place
Edited by Graham Harvey & Opinderjit Kaur Takhar
Reviewer: Alec Gilmore
Starting with the title, what is the link between a Place and Religion? A devout 18 year-old Indian girl, reared in a strict ascetic tradition becomes a nun and studies a variety of ascetic traditions. After 12 years she looks back on her early life as a nun compared to a community where children were begging and many people had no work, and comes to the conclusion that ‘there are multiple paths to spirituality . . . (and) service to the poor and needy is an equally valid path to liberation’. Two places, two paths. and the link is sensitivity to ‘Place’. Revelation and Renewal.
Next, how does Place transform Message? Under threat from ‘hate violence’ in Wisconsin immigrant Sikhs built a Gurdwara as ‘a place of safety’ only to find that constant visits to honour the dead simply made it a target for for yet more violence. Despite ‘living as settlers . . .in a colonial militarist, white supremacist state‘ the Gurdwara Sikhs continued to visit the ‘Place’, turning the Gurdwara (Target of hate and aggression) into a Place of Refuge and so created a focus for their mission as building community. Reconciliation and Redemption.
Third, the Indigenous people of South America offer a bigger challenge with a fundamentally different understanding of ‘Place’. For them, ‘Place’ is not a geographical location but ‘a life-world’, the atmosphere (aura) that surrounds a person. This is the ‘place’ where emotions come to the surface and things happen. Religion for them is less ‘common belief’ and more ‘shared experiences; less ‘faith’ (abstract), more interaction (life). In this ‘Place’ ‘Permeable Boundaries' are essential. Impermeable Borders are not.’ The link here is Relationships.
In all three cases (and many others) the key is sensitivity to our ‘place’ and ‘the ‘place’ of others, suggesting this too be yet another path to spirituality. If so, with Relationships everywhere, this is a path open to all regardless of age, race or gender and every aspect of life, social, domestic, economic or political, along with flora, fauna and (nowadays) climate.
All this (and much more) is the product of ten scholars from a worldwide variety of religious experiences (Islamic, Ascetic and Fakir). Reading it is like visiting an art gallery. Not everything interests you. You may not grasp everything the curator tells you. Much of it may leave you cold, but patience and careful listening may still open a window to a new world and leave you feeling a richer human being.
At a practical level it is an invitation to any religious community to look again at the environment in which it works. A long-established church may come to see it is living in yester-year. A relatively new church may have lost its original vision. In rediscovering its ‘Place’ a church may rediscover itself. The process will not be a walk in the park but many churches may well find at least one story here which rings bells to give them a start.
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister