Religion as a Window on Culture


(15 minutes)(Read or paraphrase)

Religious practices express a people’s deepest beliefs, traditions, and values.  In this way, they serve as a “window” on culture.

Religion as a Window on Culture is a six-part video series that was filmed in Indianapolis with the cooperation of over sixty congregations and organizations.  Seemingly homogenous, Indianapolis is actually home to a rich diversity of religious faiths, and is representative of cities across the United States.

While there is certainly considerable diversity among (and within) religious faiths, there are also striking similarities.  This series will focus on concepts that are important to most religions, and about which many religions have similar ideas.  These concepts are sacred space, sacred ritual, sacred time, sacred memory, sacred texts, and sacred journey.

As you examine these concepts, you can compare and contrast your faith tradition with others.  Not only will this help you to develop a greater understanding of different religions, but it will also help you to identify your own place in the religious landscape.   By learning more about the religions of those around you, you may better understand your own traditions through comparison, and appreciate how the culture of a city is composed of related, yet distinct elements.

Dr. Martin E. Marty, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and one of the most sought after spokespersons on religious life in America, provides commentary that serves as the framework for each session and the series as a whole.  Other on-camera interviews include Rabbi Sandy E. Sasso, Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general, Islamic Society of North America (Plainfield, Indiana), Dr. James J. Divita, professor of history, Marian College, and Rev. E. Anne Henning Byfield, Robinson Community AME Church.

While the video has attempted to be as inclusive as possible in the representation of diverse faith traditions in each episode, some practices lend themselves to a greater or lesser degree to each concept in the series.  At times, cultural or religious beliefs restricted access to certain events.  Also, the need to edit videotape to six episodes of approximately twenty minutes each limited the selection of materials to be shown.

Keep in mind that spirituality and belief cannot be captured on videotape.  This series and leader’s guide is intended as a tool to promote thoughtful group discussion of topics as well as to generate inward personal reflection.  Use the discussion questions and exercises provided, but also allow time for the process of considering the information presented in both the video and print format.

Explain to the group the way in which the series will be used.  It might be helpful to prepare a calendar of activities for the group.