Faith

I am beginning the blog post on the evening of Good Friday. I received messages from some of my colleagues in the Teaching Within community wishing my family and I a Happy Easter. At first the message made me feel uncomfortable. Should we be sending religious greetings in a professional chat?

The hesitant to engage with faith is something I am trying to overcome. Seeing people celebrate their religion publically is something that I am use to. My dad side of the family is Muslim and I live in a densely populated Muslim area. My Mum is a Christian, in fact a deaconess in her church.   I went to a Catholic secondary school. My 8 year daughter has decided she is Catholic and has independently decided to do her holy communion.  Many of my friends have decided to start practicing African Spirituality. Although I believe I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a multi-faith community I have seen first hand the break down of relationships when people get into debates around religion. This is one area, that I very nervous of approaching in a classroom environment.

46% of UAL students are religious and their observance of faith may feed into their creative practice(s).  Additionally, reading Rahul Patel interview in SoN zine ‘Higher Power: Religion, Faith, Spirituality & Belief ‘ I was reminded that faith plays an instrumental part of many people’s lives, especially people of colour who live in the UK. Communities  are formed that provide spiritual solace but  these spaces  of worship at time can be free from racism and allow worshipers to find self actualization. The below recollection from Black Ballad Writer, Samara Linton, describes the positive impact of going to a black church.

When my family packed our bags and moved to the UK, attending church gave us the continuity and community we so desperately needed. Church affirmed our value and worth in an environment that threatened it almost daily. In church, I gained a respite from the onslaught of questions my peers at school had about who I was and where I was from. In church, I could read scriptures at bible study without my accent struggling to be understood. In church, I saw my father addressed with respect, and my mother preach from the pulpit with authority. In church, people who looked like me, spoke like me and thought like me were pastors and leaders. They were secretaries and accountants, musicians and stewards. Growing up in church, a black church, gave me, a young black girl in a foreign world, a sense of security, community and hope.” – (Linton, 2018)

However, through the article, Linton questions if  religion (hers being christianity) can reinforce the same societal  structures of sexism, racism and anti-blackness. During their brief encounter with buddhism,  Mellody Holiday also comes to a conclusion that religious environments may at times be “unethical.”  These accounts of religion are intimate and private but what happens when discussions of faith begin to occur in the public realm?
The Stimulus paper ‘Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education’  opening paragraph began to answer some of my questions. Religious life in Britain is blurred. The state partly funds a number of religious organisations and activities directly or through tax breaks. The paper was an informative read, it gave a quick but detail analysis into the history of religion in Britain and its relationship with the government, school and the wider public.  Modood and Calhoon make very valid arguments about religious life in Britain, including how conversations on sexual and gender identities  in universities may be “liberating” or “unsettling” for different groups of students.  In my previous post about gender, I discussed safe spaces and the importance of creating them in classroom environments. Again, I ask myself how does one apply the philosophy of a safe space but encourage debate without the risk of causing some students to feel alienated or others to feel put on the spot.
The resources on UAL’s religion, belief and faith identities website is extremely useful as it contextualises faith in creative practice. As I will be teaching on the MA Fine Art in Chelsea I will be using these resources whether it is a standalone lecture on faith or weave them into other topics. As Modood states ” It is understood that organised religion can play a significant role in relation to ethical voice, social wellbeing, cultural heritage, national ceremonies and national identity.” It will be a challenge to control a conversation on religion in the classroom as it is a passionate and emotive subject but if it can be steered in the direction of examining the creative industries it may be an enlightening academic moment for students.
I would hope to get students to think how stories in the Abrahamic religions and other spiritual practices are deployed in many creative outputs.
For example, when I was doing my BA in Public Relations at LCC our tutor was discussing news worthiness of stories, he used the story of David and Goliath to illustrate how small businesses can get media attention if they position themselves of being in defenceless against their competition – large corporate businesses  – therefore getting public sympathy. Recently, artists and activist Liv Wynter quit her Tate residence because of sexist comments made by  director, Maria Balshaw.

Wynter in this scenario is David taking on Tate, the Goliath and although she may not have bought the institution down to is knees she was able  to garner public support in criticizing the institution without harming her career but instead positioning herself as radical with possibility of getting more work and commissions.

A second example; Oloni, sex and relationship blogger was the cover girl for Nu-people magazine and it features her eating an apple. A visual reference to Eve in the Bible and Hawa in the Quran. I would ask students to interrogate the semiotics of such image and what it means for women’s liberation.