CIRCLE Fellowship: Art as Inquiry into Interfaith Leadership

Art is a powerful tool for investigation, introspection, and communication. This CIRCLE group provided experiences for ANTS and Hebrew College students to delve deeper into the texts, rituals and theologies of one another’s traditions as well as to explore our relationship to each other as leaders of different faiths. We experimented with diverse tools of creative exploration – including painting, drawing, and creative writing – to probe our sacred texts and rituals. Each session involved using a different art form to explore a different ritual and included text study, reflective writing, and group sharing. Over the course of the year we looked at the rituals/prayers of Communion, Niddah (Jewish female ritual purity), Baptism, and the Aleinu. By encouraging one another to step outside our comfort zones and try out new techniques we created a safe, open, and dynamic group in which vulnerabilities, questions of faith and leadership, and the joys and tensions of interfaith work were explored and shared.

Project:

Using hevrutah text study and various means of artistic exploration to explore live issues and questions found in the texts of our traditions.

Sessions:

Session 1: Communion

Session 2: Aleinu

Session 3: Baptism

Session 4: Niddah

Art As Inquiry Gallery Show

Viewer Testimonials:

This is brilliant! Thanks for doing and sharing this amazing interfaith art journey!
– Tricia Thelen, ANTS student

Amazing! Inspiring! What beautiful souls, creative expression, and open sharing. Glad to go to school on the hill. Thanks for sharing your exploration.
– Nate DeGroot, Hebrew College student

Thank you for being brave enough to share your thoughts and your hearts.
– Dawn Adams, ANTS students

Thank you for sharing. As I looked and read and tried to understand–to receive some of what is expressed here–I imagined myself creating along with you. How would I wrestle with these things? How do I? Thanks for stirring things up!
– Julie Newman, Hebrew College student

The products are a mirror of your incredible process.
– Bracha Laster

Fabulous! Food for thought and soul!
– Paula Rendino

Project Analysis:

We accomplished all of our stated goals. By focusing on a different ritual/prayer each session we were able to explore larger issues of theology and tradition. During the group-sharing portion of our sessions we were able to witness one another’s artwork, hear their writing, and be transformed through one another’s insights. Each session we used a different means of creative exploration, including watercolor, oil pastels, clay, and collage. The members of our group formed a close bond with one another that grew stronger from session to session. In our sessions members often revealed deeply personal stories, challenged old and uncomfortable beliefs about their own—and the other’s—religion, and were moved to tears through their creative process. At the end of our sessions we had a three week art show at the Wilson Chapel gallery on ANTS’s campus to which to students, faculty, and visitors to campus came.

Our group met once a month for three hours each session. We also planned and curated an exhibit of our art and writing for the community. Audra and I shared in all of the responsibilities of the group and took turns ordering food, checking in on members, and facilitating discussion. This CIRCLE group was particularly good at fostering deeper connections between members through providing a safe space for questioning and struggling with tradition. Our group could have been better at following up on and deepening our relationships with one another outside of the group.

Impact on My Theology:

Before facilitating this group I was pretty jaded about the importance or effectiveness of interfaith work. I felt like we so often come together to share the best parts of our tradition, or the aspects we are most proud of, and never get to a deeper level. For instance, there are many significant differences between our faiths, and often many aspects of one another’s tradition that we find confusing, or even offensive or harmful. I saw that by creating a safe, welcoming group, explicitly stating our goals to break down this common way of doing interfaith, and by employing the ability of the Creative Process to hold all, it is possible to share our deepest struggles, dissonances, and fears with our own—and with one another’s—tradition. Upon reflection, I learned that by doing this work, we open up a space for deeper, more authentic connection to one another as well as to our faith. This has encouraged me to want to continue using the Creative Process in interfaith, as well as intrafaith, contexts.

Goals:

  • To delve deeper into the texts and theologies of our own tradition as well as those of one another’s traditions
  • To gain new insight into these texts from one another’s artwork, reflective writing, and group sharing
  • To explore diverse means of creative exploration including painting, photography, 3D art, movement, drawing, writing, and spoken word
  • To deepen our relationships to one another as leaders of different faiths
  • To go beyond a solely intellectual way of relating to one another and to our religious traditions
  • To step outside our comfort zones through different means of creative exploration
  • To create a safe, open, and dynamic group in which vulnerabilities, questions of faith and leadership, and the joys and tensions of interfaith work can be explored and shared
  • To present our group’s journey to the broader community via interactive art exhibit

Methods:

  • Meeting monthly as a peer group for Art as Inquiry sessions
  • In each session we will use a different means of creative exploration in conversation with a different text from one of our traditions
  • Participants will decide which texts to bring to the group. These texts will be ones that participants have significant questions about or struggles with so to be most fruitful for exploration

Sample session:

  • Opening spiritual moment led by one group member
  • One participant is the presenter and briefly shares text he has chosen with the group
  • Participants form interfaith chevrutot and explore the text, noting insights, questions, struggles, resonances, dissonances, intersection with own faith
  • Presenter shares his questions and struggles with this text and leads brief discussion with group
  • From this discussion, each group member articulates question s/he will explore through the Creative Process
  • Creative methodology for session introduced by group leaders
  • Members of group engage in Creative Process
  • Share back with the group
  • Discussion of process
  • Invitation for ongoing engagement with this text through group email list serve
  • Closing

Outcomes:

  • Deepened relationships between ANTS and HC students
  • Exposure to multiple methods of artistic exploration
  • Learning about how art is a useful method of textual inquiry
  • Familiarity with texts of one another’s traditions
  • Insight into the questions and texts we each struggle with
  • Art exhibit as opportunity to share our work with broader community