Religion as a Window on Culture

This video series presents concepts common to most faith traditions, affording the viewer a glimpse into many different religious practices.  The concepts are sacred space, sacred ritual, sacred time, sacred memory, sacred texts, and sacred journey.  Each concept or theme is addressed in an episode of the series.  In this way, viewers gain a greater understanding and appreciation for other faith traditions.  Furthermore, seeing what is done in other religions may help the viewer better understand their own traditions.

Indianapolis, the setting of the video, is a city of considerable religious and ethnic diversity.  It provides a representative slice of the nation. Although the producers made every effort to include representation from the major faith groups in all episodes, not all traditions lend themselves equally to each of the video’s themes.  In addition, not all practices were open for videotaping.  Every attempt was also made to include ethnic, gender and congregational mix in the videotaping.  Notable exceptions to this policy include the depiction of women’s participation in Islamic observations and taping of Sabbath practices in synagogues.  Muslim women are not shown at prayer in this video, and only the reformed Jewish congregation would allow videotaping in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  These exceptions provide excellent opportunities for discussion of cultural and belief traditions.  In all, each episode provides a sampling of diversity, and the series is quite representative when considered as a whole.

On-camera interviews with scholars and clergy are used to clarify the major themes of the video, or to expand on the beliefs of specific faith traditions.  Those interviewed include Rabbi Sandy E. Sasso, Congregation Beth-El Zedeck; Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America; James J. Divita, professor of history at Marian College; and Rev. E. Anne Henning Byfield, Robinson Community AME Church.  Commentary by Martin E. Marty, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, provides the framework for each episode.

While the video presents the overall themes, some things cannot be presented or accomplished visually.  Spirituality and faith, while manifest in many forms, are essentially intangible.  A specific ritual or event marking one’s inward spiritual growth or journey can be captured on videotape, but the growth itself is an ongoing, internal process.

Each concept or episode of the series could easily be the subject of its own series.  This series is a point of embarkation, a vehicle to begin the process of understanding.  Its content has been organized and developed so that each user or group can fit it to individual needs and situations.   We hope Religion as a Window on Culture sparks both personal introspection and dynamic group discussion.

Religion as a Window on Culture was prepared by The Polis Center for The Project on Religion and Urban Culture, funded by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.