• Spirit Week Brings Together UChicago Community

    Events include Hindu and Muslim concert, premiere of composition by Augusta Read Thomas

By Andrew Bauld

This article originally appeared on UChicago News.

The UChicago community will have a chance to interact and reflect on a variety of religious and spiritual traditions through music, food and more during this year’s Spirit Week, which runs from April 20-30.

The week will feature events ranging from Muslim Friday prayers to a family celebration of Shabbat, and culminating with a public concert of music by University Professor Augusta Read Thomas at Rockefeller Chapel.

Spirit Week began in 2012, organized by Jigna Shah, director of Spiritual Life and assistant dean of Rockefeller Chapel, and Elizabeth Davenport, dean of Rockefeller Chapel. The goal of the week of events is to invite people to experience the spiritual practices of others and to expand their understanding of traditions different from their own.

“Spirit Week celebrates the coming together and the working together of different traditions,” Shah said. “It’s an opportunity to work on religious literacy, for students to get a taste of learning about different faiths.”

This year’s events, under the theme of “breathe,” include a concert celebrating the Hindu and Muslim contributions to shaping the arts of South Asia on Saturday, April 22; a lunch hosted by religious advisers Imam Tahir Abdullah and Rabbi David Wietchner on Tuesday, April 25; and the concert featuring Thomas’ works on Saturday, April 29.

For Shah, the intentionality of members of different traditions working together to hold events for the entire UChicago community is the highlight of the week.

Nikhil Mandalaparthy of the Hindu Student Sangam and Nur Banu Simsek of the Muslim Students Association brought their two groups together to organize a free concert and dinner entitled A Meeting of Two Seas: Hindus and Muslims Shape the Arts of South Asia.

The event will feature both undergraduate and graduate students and performers from around Chicago to present dances, poetry and music from South Asia. This is the first major collaboration in a decade between the two student groups, and Mandalaparthy and Simsek are hoping the concert will reveal how artistic traditions in the region have been jointly shaped by the two religions.

“Today, the artistic landscape is being shaped by nationalism in South Asia,” Mandalaparthy said. “Hindu nationalists in India are trying to present music and dance as solely Hindu. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, on the other hand, many traditional art forms have been marginalized because they're seen as having too many connections to ‘Hindu culture’. In reality, though, the history of the arts in South Asia is largely one of Hindu-Muslim collaboration.”

“We’ve made an effort to make sure both groups are involved and represented equally,” Simsek said. “Even the dinner has significance. The cuisine we picked and the specific dishes aren’t specific to a region. We’re trying to renew this image of collaboration between Hindus and Muslims.”

Capping off Spirit Week will be Earth, Moon, Peace, a concert featuring three of Thomas’ spiritual compositions, performed by Grammy Award-winning Third Coast Percussion and UChicago ensemble-in-residence Spektral Quartet at Rockefeller Chapel.

The concert will feature the world premiere performance of “Chi,” as well as performances of “Selene / Moon Chariot Rituals” and “Resounding Earth,” the latter of which features 300 bells, including Tibetan temple bells. After the performance, there will be a reception with Thomas and all the musicians, during which audience members will have the chance to examine the bells up close.

While the works all have a spiritual theme, one in particular holds special meaning for Thomas.

“‘Chi’ is dedicated to Elizabeth Davenport,” Thomas said. “Her arts programming over all the years has been radiant and vibrant to the University campus, and her work with the musical arts has been transformative for the music department and the University.”

A full listing of events can be found on the Spiritual Life website.