Example #74 Geography and Faith

What if geography looked at the spiritual dimension of people and places?

Debbie’s Secondary geography class were surprised to hear music as they approached the classroom. Debbie asked the students to go into the classroom and sit down quietly. The lesson was about people interacting with places, but started with a series of images accompanied by music.

"I teach a unit on why the landscape is the way it is and the interaction between people and landscape. I usually cover the social, economic, environmental and political aspects but I wanted to include some questions about the spiritual dimension as well. For example: Why did Holy Island (Lindisfarne) and Iona become religious sites? Why are monasteries and cathedrals sited in different places?

"I added the extra questions and appropriate images as part of a visual introduction with some meditative music. This not only set the atmosphere, it set the agenda and broadened our discussion."

What’s going on here?

Debbie saw people in a holistic way, so any study of the interaction of people and landscape needed to include the spiritual dimension as she believed people were spiritual beings as well as political and social beings. She did not think that issues concerning faith were limited to religious education.

She engaged students by using images and music to focus their attention on specific aspects of the lesson, and challenging them to reflect on faith-related questions and connect them to geography.

Debbie reshaped her practice by her choice of questions, her use of images and music to change her introduction and create a particular atmosphere, and by widening her examples so as to include a focus on people as spiritual beings on the landscape.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Debbie gave faith significance by including it alongside the social, political and economic dimensions of life showing that faith has relevance to the public sphere. This could help students to see life as a unity rather than divide it into compartments with one labelled ‘religious’. She showed the application of faith to geography, reducing the division between sacred and secular.

What difference does it make?

By including the spiritual dimension of life alongside the political and social, Debbie was making a statement about the place of God in life and the nature of human beings as spiritual beings. Expressions of faith have had a huge impact on the environment, as well as being influenced by it, and Debbie helped her students to become aware of the connection.

Where could we go from here?

There are other areas of geography where the including the spiritual would be appropriate and natural for the subject, for example local area studies.

Digging deeper

Debbie did not separate the sacred and the secular. The sacred-secular divide is the idea that there is a secular world and then there is a separate sacred/religious world, which is viewed as a private hobby that does not impact on public life or any parts of the curriculum except RE. This attitude has lead to fragmentation of knowledge into parts often seen as unrelated to each other and God. This division of knowledge is a comparatively modern idea.
Until about a century and a half ago, scientists and scholars commonly assumed that knowledge formed a coherent whole; more precisely, they assumed that all parts of knowledge ultimately could be connected because every area of knowledge focused on some aspect of one single divine creation. J. Turner
To accept no divide between sacred and secular means seeing faith as integral to all subjects and all areas of life. Exploring a subject from a Christian perspective might involve exploring big issues, asking ethical and religious questions and making connections across a range of areas. This holistic view of the world and of knowledge means that not only religious jobs are holy; engineering, parenting, computing can all be ‘holy’ jobs. In St Augustine’s terms, all truth is God’s truth for there is a deep interconnectedness in the world. The entire world can reveal God (Psalm 24:1) and all of life can be lived to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The musician and the engineer, the artist and the physicist are all engaged in the same work – exploring God’s world – even if they do not know it.

Explore similar examples:

What if PE helped students understand how they are made?
What if teaching history included people's spiritual legacy?
What if looking at the local area helped children to see people as wholes?
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1The earth and everything on it belong to the Lord . The world and its people belong to him. 2The Lord placed it all on the oceans and rivers. 3Who may climb the Lord 's hill or stand in his holy temple? 4Only those who do right for the right reasons, and don't worship idols or tell lies under oath. 5The Lord God, who saves them, will bless and reward them, 6because they worship and serve the God of Jacob. 7Open the ancient gates, so that the glorious king may come in. 8Who is this glorious king? He is our Lord , a strong and mighty warrior. 9Open the ancient gates, so that the glorious king may come in. 10Who is this glorious king? He is our Lord , the All-Powerful! (By David.) A prayer for guidance and help
1Friends, I want to remind you that all our ancestors walked under the cloud and went through the sea. 2This was like being baptized and becoming followers of Moses. 3All of them also ate the same spiritual food 4and drank the same spiritual drink, which flowed from the spiritual rock that followed them. That rock was Christ. 5But most of them did not please God. So they died, and their bodies were scattered all over the desert. 6What happened to them is a warning to keep us from wanting to do the same evil things. 7They worshipped idols, just as the Scriptures say, The people sat down to eat and drink. Then they got up to dance around. So don't worship idols. 8Some of those people did shameful things, and in a single day about twenty-three thousand of them died. Don't do shameful things as they did. 9And don't try to test Christ, as some of them did and were later bitten by poisonous snakes. 10Don't even grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel. 11These things happened to them as a warning to us. All this was written in the Scriptures to teach us who live in these last days. 12Even if you think you can stand up to temptation, be careful not to fall. 13You are tempted in the same way that everyone else is tempted. But God can be trusted not to let you be tempted too much, and he will show you how to escape from your temptations. 14My friends, you must keep away from idols. 15I am speaking to you as people who have enough sense to know what I am talking about. 16When we drink from the cup that we ask God to bless, isn't that sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread that we break, isn't that sharing in the body of Christ? 17By sharing in the same loaf of bread, we become one body, even though there are many of us. 18Aren't the people of Israel sharing in the worship when they gather around the altar and eat the sacrifices offered there? 19Am I saying that either the idols or the food sacrificed to them is anything at all? 20No, I am not! That food is really sacrificed to demons and not to God. I don't want you to have anything to do with demons. 21You cannot drink from the cup of demons and still drink from the Lord's cup. You cannot eat at the table of demons and still eat at the Lord's table. 22We would make the Lord jealous if we did that. And we are not stronger than the Lord. Always honour God 23Some of you say, We can do whatever we want to! But I tell you that not everything may be good or helpful. 24We should think about others and not about ourselves. 25However, when you buy meat in the market, go ahead and eat it. Keep your conscience clear by not asking where the meat came from. 26The Scriptures say, The earth and everything in it belong to the Lord. 27If an unbeliever invites you to dinner, and you want to go, then go. Eat whatever you are served. Don't cause a problem for someone's conscience by asking where the food came from. 28But if you are told that it has been sacrificed to idols, don't cause a problem by eating it. I don't mean a problem for yourself, but for the one who told you. Why should my freedom be limited by someone else's conscience? 30If I give thanks for what I eat, why should anyone accuse me of doing wrong? 31When you eat or drink or do anything else, always do it to honour God. 32Don't cause problems for Jews or Greeks or anyone else who belongs to God's church. 33I always try to please others instead of myself, in the hope that many of them will be saved.