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.


Bebe Vio, an Italian wheelchair fencer and Paralympic champion



After going through the list of suggested resources, I pondered on the meaning of disability, beyond its terminology.  

It’s hard for me to talk about disability without thinking about myself, since a couple of years ago I reported a number of serious injuries in a car crash, and what was a “normal life”, suddenly switched into a quality of life that constantly needs to be “negotiated”. The world was still the same, and once recovered I felt as if I was the same too, but ultimately this was a lie, and when my “new body” begun to inform me about its limits, I was forced to take action using all of my strength, and creativity to adapt to the environment, while avoiding to isolate from the group of my friends, and peers. I never wanted to be seen as different, yet I needed people to acknowledge that I was. I guess, what I feared at that time, it was the loss of my identity.

The dichotomy that refers to disability both in terms of mental/biological impairment, and social constructionism, must be taken under consideration, whereas inclusivity in education, in my opinion, needs to restore the principle of a community, in which differences have to be seen as part of a range of talents and abilities, rather than limits. This is indeed what Christine Sun Kim’s video showed me, she questioned the social constructionism based on the simple assumption that hearing people “own” the sound. Her theory is groundbreaking in my view, and while I was trying to research more about Sun Kim’s work, I’ve come across an interview featured by The Quietus Magazine ( in which she states: Deaf people know sound very well. Often people think we don’t – and even the deaf community thinks we don’t know sound very well. It’s strange to be in our position where we almost impose the barrier on ourselves to some degree”.

At High School in Italy I was trained in teaching, back then I dealt with disable children, and there was one boy in particular, that was born blind. During our sessions, I familiarized with his ability of perceiving the light, understanding that a blind person, sometimes can still “see” to some extents. I have never known on the contrary, that a deaf person could actually discriminate between different sounds, and/or visualize them. In my practice as Art Director, Photographer and Editor, I have always been fascinated by Kandinsky’s phono-cromatic theories and Klee‘s writings, and during my Masters course in Applied Imagination at Central St. Martin’s, I design an artifact that merged art therapy, digital art and new technologies. A couple of years ago, while researching on a personal project for the development of a mobile application, I made contacts with the Italian artist and musician, Marco De Biase (, who was affected by dystonia, but had managed to successfully recover after completing a motor rehabilitation program at the “Institute of Physiology and Medicine of Art” in Barcelona. During his rehabilitation Marco investigated the strict relationship between color, movement and ultimately the sound. In 2012 he created a phono-chromatic system, that is currently used by the “National Deaf Institute” in therapy.

Sun Kim’s installation and words have therefore showed me, that the relationship between sounds and colours work both ways, and although this might seem obvious, conceptually speaking, I had no validate proof up to now. This discovery has a phenomenal potential in my view, if applied both to my artistic practice of photographer/art director, and in my present role of teacher. 

This last one in particular, must imply the analysis of the group of students, while considering their abilities/disabilities. Providing equal opportunities for all participants of accessing the educational environment, that has to be equipped under consideration of those people with special needs, so to contribute to the creation of the group’s welfare.

My role of educative facilitator has to be open minded, as well as acknowledged with all special facilities available, in order to engage students, and their attention. Harper and Quay’s state that strategizing ways to increase engagement of various students populations, especially those for whom engagement known to be problematic, is a worthwhile endeavour” (2009). In order to do so, I plan to provide my students a with multi-sensory experience, with the help of technologies, and with extra-scholastic activities such as visiting museums, and so on. I believe it might be interesting to “test” the outer environment to start the debate around disability, asking the students to observe how the urban design has facilitated disable people in their access to buildings, and/or other structures, or on the contrary how it lacks of those attentions, as well as any consideration to creating accessible and enjoyable experiences, when visiting an exhibition for instance. In so doing, I’d like to engage the disable person in the group activities, challenging any forms of creative contribution to the debate. Students might be inspired by the outcome, and feel encouraged to be actively responsible, while considering to include the observation in their assessment projects, and perhaps further develop it within their practice in industry once graduated. Bringing attention to the world of disability, it is important, and that’s what the activist Vilissa Thompson did with the hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite. Her provocative, but absolutely pinpointing idea, hit the core of the matter, and as a result of it, the feedback was a mixture of agreements, and (unfortunately) insulting disagreements. If we could eliminate the rather practical need for provocation, that seems at times the only solution for capturing people’s attention, giving voice to the person who carries a disability, we may as well succeed in breaking the chains of the social constructivism. If the whole group of students/people feel involved in the debate around disability, if the experience of observation becomes a group activity, rather than a marginalized task, perhaps every participant can feel united and equal, shifting the focus from the person to the problem, avoiding any ill consideration that may result racist, or discriminating. The person is still central to the debate, but the disability is seen as a universal problem, that all human being can experience.

On the other hand, in my practice as teacher, I would foster an academic based research, that might involve not only the study of artistic projects done by disable individuals, but an exploration of artworks, in which science is applied to technology too. This might help students to understand what has been already created, and what can be done in the future. But it could also inspire my personal artistic practice, and result in a photographic exhibition or an in-depth article as editor, for instance.

Starting with consideration in regards to the Paralympics, and leading to more experimental ideas, that are shaping the contemporary digital era. For example, the Cyborg Foundation founded by Moon Ribas, and Neil Harbisson (, that aims to help humans become cyborgs, defend cyborg rights and promote cyborg art. Although moral implications of this project may arise, I believe it’s worth showing how a disability can actually be perceived by the person who is affected by, to the point in which it can be seen as a powerful source of opportunities in shaping one’s own identity. 

Neil Harbisson is an artist affected by a disability named Achromatopsia, and concerns a form of colour blindness, that results in seeing in greyscale. By having an antenna implanted in his skull, he is now able to perceive colours through their audible vibration. Mr Harbisson has been officially recognised as a cyborg by a government, and on his website he describes himself as:

“Harbisson identifies himself both as a cyborg; he feels he is technology, and as a transpecies; he no longer feels 100% human. His artwork explores identity, human perception, the connection between sight and sound and the use of artistic expression via new sensory inputs”.

The words written by disability activist and blogger Vilissa Thompson on her final comments to the article about the #DisabilityTooWhite hashtag: “Being open-minded to the realities of others that live and look differently from you as a disabled person is the key takeaway”, come in help offering me the perfect comment to Harbisson’s description, as well as to Christine Sun Kim’s project, defining what inclusivity means to me, and what I feel I can take from the sources provided during this first blog activity, and how I intend to channel them through my teaching/practice in the Industry. The society tents to isolate groups of people, that ideally do not conform to common standards. The implications can be devastating for the person who feels isolated, neglected, set apart and unable to participate. I want to remember and  acknowledge that “normality” is almost impossible to define, and we, as humans, have all special needs, but none of us is compelled to adhere to a given standard, therefore by embracing disability, and include it in the journey through learning, one can begin a reconceptualization of education, maximizing the experience itself, and breaking the boundaries that measure disability only in material terms.

Elena Arzani




Shades of noir  Terms of reference from SoN around Mental Health

UAL Disability Service Webpages

Activist and blogger Vilissa Thompson’s article

Video by Christine Sun Kim:

(Additional Personal research) Interview to Christine Sun Kim:

My personal contribution:

Neil Harbisson

Marco De Biasi