Reflections on Religion, Faith and Belief

“As above so below” – Ph Elena Arzani © 2002

Course unit: Inclusive Teaching & Learning in Higher Education 

Task No. 2: Religion // Part 1

After visiting the Religion, Belief and Faith identities UAL website, I reflected on how I could apply the resources to my own teaching practice. 

Religion, Faith, Belief are all words that refer to the crucial nature of identity, its transformation, communication and movement between levels of consciousness.

The human existence, and its experience, is characterized by universal themes, that are crucial in shaping the identity of a person. Those elements are, among others, religion, faith, spiritual belief, and sexuality (especially when considered in relation to the previous one). Treating the mentioned subjects in multicultural Universities, means to encourage a dialogue based on respect for difference, listening to the students, supporting their needs actively, creating a common ground of inclusion of marginalized identities, equality of race, gender and ethnic minorities. I would therefore apply the resources found on the Religion, Belief and Faith identities UAL website, to foster a multiculturalist approach, that eliminates discriminations on grounds, suggesting the students an abandonment of “difference-blindness”, beyond toleration and state neutrality, particularly at a time in History, ours, in which the concern with Islamic terrorism, and political choices, such as Brexit, affects immigration, and post-immigration integration, as well as the sense of belonging, and religion based identities.

Answering the question of how I could integrate the research/work my students do on this subject into my teaching/professional practice, I’d say that as a photographer, my work often reflects my vision on spirituality. As a Lecturer, there are a number of scenarios in which I could implement the resources. For example, keeping in view the interesting opinions of Dr Erika Doss, whose interview was listed among the UAL resources, I could deliver a seminar, which focuses on the comparative analysis of international artists, whose production is based on Religion. This would facilitate a debate on the related aspects of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity. Writing task activity would provide students an opportunity to address religious literacy in their learning journey, and curriculum.  Artists that I would include in my seminar, concerning art and religion, could be: The painter Ibrahim El-Salahi (b.1930, Sudan) a major figure of African and Arab Modernism, renowned for his pioneering integration of Islamic, African, Arab and Western artistic traditions. The artist Frida Kahlo (1907, Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico) whose work was often inspired by Indigenity, Aztec symbols/spirituality, her own faith in the Virgin de Guadalupe, and Political Commitment. Bill Viola (1951 Queens, New York City, New York, United States) that often explores in his work the universal themes of human existence and experience. Shirin Neshat (1957, Qazvin, Iran), an Iranian artist best known for films such as Rapture (1999), which explore the relationship between women and the religious and cultural value systems of Islam. Hiroshi Mori (1977, Tokyo, Japan), whose work combines Japanese anime and pop art with some of the most iconic religious portraits of the Renaissance era to create a fresh new take on classical Western and Japanese “rimpa”.

Citing another example, I might discuss the contemporary issues related to the work of Marilyn Manson, or Marina Abramovic, that have caused a panic over a misplaced belief that the performance artists worships the devil, and therefore Catholics are not happy about them. In so doing, I could listen with the student the Interview with Mohammed Ali on BBC, reflecting on how modern artists explore religion in their work.

A third, and final example, could be a workshop on Fashion, and Fashion Advertising Images, that communicate the brand identity, with respect for different religions, genders, and ethnicity. A critical debate, based on the constructive analysis of a comparative number of campaigns, from Nike to Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Galliano, and others, may give the students the opportunity to reflect on the social role of Fashion Industry. For example, the brand’s aesthetic of the Italian fashion duo, Stefano Gabbana (1962, Milan, Italy), and Domenico Dolce (1958, Polizzi Generosa, Italy), mostly known as D&G, is plenty with references to Religion, particularly with Madonna.  In 2016, Stefano Gabbana published on his private social networks the procession of the Holy Virgin, taking place by tradition in Gela, Italy. He was then inspired to produce a fashion line, that featured the Madonna painted on cloths. The criticism could be supported by the UAL resources on Faith, and Fashion by Professor Reina Lewis. 

The pictures display some of my photographic projects, that were based on Faith, Spirituality and Religion: “Loss” hosted by Google Culture; “The Beauty of humanity” presented at Scope Art Fair, Miami; “Forgotten Monuments#2” hosted by Archinti Museum, Italy.

Ph Elena Arzani © 

Task No. 2: Religion // Part 2

  • ‘Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education.’ Stimulus paper (Modood & Calhoun, 2015) 

The stimulus Paper was very interesting, and I found myself intrigued by the reading on the essay in whole, however I chose to focus my reflections on: Western European moderate secularism; Multiculturalism; Minority Identities and Religion and dissent in Universities. Even though I had a sense of it, I learnt how today the fears for the attacks of terrorism have led to disproportional targeting of Muslims, with major consequences for students, and more in general for people, of that religion. Moreover, by going through the reading, and touching upon the Gender segregation in Muslim practice (which is unfortunately a shared by other religions too), I was introduced to the matter of sexuality, and more specifically the “non-binary” sexual and gender identities, and the growing discussions around them in University Campuses. I can see how “intersectionality”, it’s an issue that applies to the case of many people. Tackling the debate around those areas, one must be extremely sensitive, and respectful, while considering a number of elements, that may affect the scenario.  In the Foreword by Professor Sir Robert Burgess, it is stated that: “in terms of academic disciplines, there is an opportunity to address religious illiteracy among students and staff as opportunities arise where insight from different faiths can inform academic debate and understanding.” The dualism between religion as contributor to social wellbeing, cultural heritage, ethical voice, and national identity, finds at its opposite a social division that can lead to war.  Are we, as Lecturers, enough equipped to face the changing realities of our present time?! I wonder.

Task No. 2: Religion // Part 3

Reflections on Kwame Anthony Appiah Reith lecture on Creed

“Most people in the world believes, the most people in the world have incorrect religion believes”  –  Dr Kwane A. Appiah
I particularly appreciated listening to Dr Kwane A. Appiah lecture on “Mistaken Identities”. I felt he succeeded in showing the audience how little we know about religions, and how much we don’t. By deconstructing common stereotypes addressed to the majority of monotheist religions, Dr Appiah has managed to draw a fine line, that like a circle creates more unity, than distance. Interpretation is a key issue in order to understand a religion. And this applied also to gender equality, when he mentioned the Buddhist belief that all phenomena are neither female, nor male. The condemnation of Homosexuality, he suggested, reflects the power of everyday traditions of sentiment. This is indeed a great lecture, that has tackled at least 3 main areas, that I can include in my practice: Religion and the sense of self, that is shaped by your family, and by affiliations that spread out from there, such as nationality, gender, class, race, faith and religion; but also the two aspects that inform religion: the practice, and the action; and last but not least the temporariness, and the need of interpretation, rather than determinism.

Task No. 2: Religion // Part 4

Extension activity: Read the terms of reference from SoN around Faith 

I read the publication “Higher Power: Higher Power: Religion, Faith, Spirituality & Belief “, the content and imagery were both really strong and thought provoking. The words that I, in certain ways, take with me from this research on Terminology on Religion, are: Atheism, and Ally. By practicing tolerance, respect, common sense and understanding, all valuable elements, people can found a common ground that is the base of unbreakable legacies.