POINTS TO LOOK FOR IN READING

NORA GALLAGER'S 

THINGS SEEN AND UNSEEN

 

This book is not about an exotic shrine or temple, but about a religious place that most Americans would consider "normal", ie a mainline Christian church. However, what aspects of it now strike us somewhat differently based on what we have looked at in the earlier books (on BANARAS and on PILGRIMAGE).

 

Is this church a sacred place like some of the others we have considered? Why or why not?

In what sense is it "thin space"? What does the term mean in this context?

Were there particular incidents or people that struck you forcefully? Which? Why?

Until thirty or so years back, women never played such a significant role in conventional western religion as is portrayed in this book. Based on the material here, how has the change in women's role changed the attitudes towards religion, and the practice of religion? Is she in effect describing a women's church?

Why does sexuality occupy such a central place in the debates surrounding the life of the church?

In many ways, the religious world that Gallagher describes is unconventional, what some Christians would consider heretical. Why? What does this tell us about the boundaries of belief in the contemporary churches?

The book is structured around the church's liturgical or ritual year - a common theme that we have witnessed in the practice of other religions. Why is sacred or ritual time so important in the practice of religions?

Gallagher describes a number of liturgical practices that would have amazed and perhaps appalled earlier Christian generations, eg labyrinths, liturgical dancers. What are they, why have been instituted in the church, what do these innovations tell us about the churches today?

She came to the church as a tourist and ended up as a pilgrim. Tell me about her pilgrimage. In what sense is she a pilgrim?

The religion practiced at Trinity church is fundamentally based on social action, and feeding the poor. Why is this so central? Why do other traditions place less emphasis on this aspect of their respective religions?

What tensions exist between clergy and lay people? How severe are they, how successfully are they resolved?

How does Trinity succeed in meeting the everyday needs of people in a technologically sophisticated postmodern society? How does its response differ from that offered by a religious institution serving a third world country, a poorer and less educated society?

What is meant by the term "seekers"? Why are people like this so significant in contemporary western religion?

What did you learn from the book about the practice of religion in contemporary America? What surprised you the most?

How different do you think the pressures and tensions in this church would be from those found in (a) other Christian denominations and (b) other religions in North America, eg Islam, Judaism? How do they cope with these pressures?

Overall - did you like the book? Did you find Gallagher a sympathetic character? Why?