Conversation, collaboration and connections
16 November, 2021, Josh Cass
Hello! My name is Josh Cass and I am delighted to have recently joined the team at Culham St Gabriel’s where I will be supporting with advocacy and outreach work specifically relating to the Religion and Worldviews curriculum. As someone who has spent many, many years working in interfaith spaces, I am passionate about enabling conversations and encounters which allow more nuanced understandings of lived faith and belief to emerge. For me, that is what is so exciting about the Religion and Worldviews curriculum, and why I am delighted to be taking up this role. If you will excuse me, I will share with you something which happened recently which to me, highlights why this curriculum is so exciting.
One morning I was enjoying coffee and donuts (not necessarily a traditional Sukkot food but a treat nonetheless) in my sukkah at home with some friends (one Jewish, one Muslim, one Christian); it was a beautiful morning and sitting there I couldn’t help but feel that building a sukkah is one of Judaism’s loveliest mitzvahs full of meaning and metaphor. For those unfamiliar with the custom, a sukkah is a temporary structure which some Jews will build in their gardens, or on their balconies, or on their roofs, as part of the festival of Sukkot.
Being together in the sukkah, our conversation turned easily to its symbolism and other Sukkot customs. We talked about the origins of the festival, how it commemorates one of the three pilgrimages undertaken by the ancient Israelites, and the journey they would make up to Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest. From there, the conversation moved to harvest festivals, traditional prayers for rain in all our traditions, and the way in which our various faiths and beliefs enable us to reflect on and engage with the natural world and the changing seasons.
For me, this experience was exciting and insightful for a number of reasons. Firstly, and perhaps more superficially, I learned something new about the faith and belief traditions of my friends. Secondly, and for me, more importantly, I gained a greater understanding of how that element of their identity contributed to how they see the world and how it might play into choices which they make. I imagine that it was a similar experience for them in terms of how they understand how my Jewish identity shapes my choices and actions.
In my experience, while having a grounding in the teaching and traditions of different religions and worldviews is really important, even more critical is an understanding of how those teachings and traditions shape the way that an individual or a community engage with the wider world and with the key issues of the day. It is this contextualisation which is so central to the Religion and Worldviews curriculum, a contextualisation which I believe is critical for us all (not just students!). That is what makes the Religion and Worldviews curriculum so exciting to me and why I am delighted to be working with Culham St Gabriel’s in this role.
I would love to hear what you make of this piece and am always happy to receive feedback – I can be reached at email@example.com I hope to hear from you soon!