Mount Allison geography, religious studies students explore sacred space in NYC
Community presentation in Sackville set for April 8
Twenty Mount Allison University students from four different classes in geography and environment and religious studies recently travelled to New York City to explore ‘sacred space.’
The inter-disciplinary field trip, overseen by religious studies professors Dr. Susie Andrews and Dr. Fiona Black, geography and environment professor Dr. Mike Fox, and Leadership Mount Allison co-ordinator Dr. Leslie Shumka, allowed students to experience the number of ways sacred space is defined or encouraged in a large urban centre.
“It was a truly exceptional opportunity for us to join our colleagues in religious studies to experience this place and to pose an extra layer of complexity by asking the important questions: what makes a place sacred and in what ways do we recognize these places in our daily lives - individually and collectively?” says Fox. “It will be fascinating to see what each student made of the experience and how they relate it to these same concepts back here in the small community of Sackville. ”
Students visited several sacred and secular sites in New York including the Cloisters, the Chan Meditation Center, the 9/11 Memorial, and the Jewish Museum. Participating classes included: Death and the Aftermath in Asian Religions; Religion, Revolution, and Violence; Christianity and the Roman Empire; and the Geography of Urbanization.
“Our trip to New York City to explore sacred spaces was such an eye-opening experience,” says international relations student Sarah Coleman. “I thought we would be leaving with a more concrete idea of what a sacred space was, but what I actually learned was that the idea of a sacred space varies so much from person to person that it is really up to the individual to decide what is sacred.”
The project included three primary goals: to give students the opportunity to see and experience sacred sites and artifacts connected to major religious traditions; to encourage reflection and help students define ‘sacred’ when connected to physical space; and to allow students to develop skills to facilitate conversations on these themes in the Mount Allison and Sackville communities.
“The trip provided a really rich opportunity to investigate how religious and non-religious peoples alike imbue the spaces around them with special significance,” says Black. “We spent time exploring what certain issues, such as trauma, tourism, and accessibility mean for spaces that have been designated as sacred.”
The students’ work will be presented in a photo essay and discussion on Friday, April 8 from 3-5 p.m. at Cranewood on Main (131 Main Street, Sackville). Open to everyone, this event will encourage discussion on how community members identify, value, and protect sacred space.
Andrews, Black, Fox, and Shumka will also facilitate a future discussion for Mount Allison’s Purdy Crawford Teaching Centre, around interdisciplinary teaching and experiential learning based on this project.
The trip was supported in part by the Crake Foundation, the Purdy Crawford Teaching Centre, Leadership Mount Allison and the Dean of Arts at Mount Allison University.
Photo captions: Mount Allison students Rodney Hatcher and Delany Losier during the Sacred Space field trip in New York City. Photo credit: Kat Chamandy
Kristin Booth and Helen Powell taking photos at the Cloisters. Photo credit: Kat Chamandy
The corner of Wall Street looking up at Trinity Church in New York City. Photo credit: Sarah Coleman