The Sanctity of Others
Photographs by Jeremy Kargon and Poems by Zackary Sholem Berger
From the Artist:
In the summer of 2012, I had the good fortune to visit Istanbul, a center of world politics for almost 1700 years. The city is also famous, of course, for its religious monuments. Since its founding as the capital of the first Christian empire, Istanbul (then Constantinople) has been the site of diverse religious enthusiasms, each vying for patronage or protection according to the fluctuating circumstances of power, wealth, and demographics. The city’s material record, including buildings and monuments, is outstandingly intact. In a related fashion, Istanbul’s spiritual record is acutely legible to residents and visitors alike.
Not surprisingly, the amazing diversity of Istanbul’s religious history challenges everyone’s own religious identity: to be Christian in the seat of Muslim power, to be Muslim among (until recently) a Christian majority, or to be Jewish in the residual spaces between those larger communities. Religious belief appears to exist in relation to others’ beliefs – to understanding of them, partial or full; to accommodation of them, genuine or tactical; or to rejection of them, in the traditionally exclusive spirit of all three Abrahamic faiths, not to mention secularism. Theologians of all stripes demand their audience’s full spiritual focus, but Istanbul (more than other cities) inspires spiritual diffraction.
Asked plainly, what does one “see” when one experiences the holy site of a faith not one’s own? How can one experience the “sanctity” of another? Can we perceive others’ religious faith in the materials, colors, and acoustics of their environments? Can we sense foreign spiritual aspiration in the weight of stone or loft of space? Do we measure others’ beliefs against our own, or do we exclude one or the other in our ecumenicalism? For a secular person, do these questions even matter?
These questions are different but related. They lie at the core of multicultural sensitivity and, more importantly, civic coexistence. This is as true abroad as in Maryland, where the British colonies’ second religious toleration act was passed in 1649 (and revoked in 1654). To live together we may need not shared beliefs but a common willingness to see ourselves and others with openness. But categorical observations about faith – about our own or about others’ – are rarely mutually satisfying. Accordingly, this modest exhibit explores such themes elliptically, through allusive words and fragmentary images. In complementary ways, Dr. Zackary Berger and I have hoped to illustrate (with healthy self-consciousness) the Sanctity of Others.
— Jeremy Kargon, April 2016