According to Pew Research Center, about 5.8 billion people across the world are religiously affiliated. While Christianity appears to be the largest religion, it makes up just 31.5% of the world’s religious beliefs. That means that 69.5% of the world is something other than Christian. To me that’s pretty amazing, considering here in Indiana I would definitely say more than 31% of the people I know are Christian.
Because our area is predominantly Christian, it can be hard to expose our children to the teachings and culture of other major world religions. Of course, we are blessed to live in the age of technology, where we can Google or stream a documentary about whatever we want to learn, but really, that’s not the same as seeing it in real life.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is giving us the opportunity to experience the major religions of the world in a more hands-on way, without having to leave the country. The museum uses photography from National Geographic to set the tone for their newest exhibit, National Geographic Sacred Journeys, which focuses on the pilgrimages people all over the world make each year for their faith, and gives an introduction to many faiths all over the world. Throughout the exhibit you will find artifacts from various faiths, including a replica of the Shroud of Turin, a stone from the Western Wall, a statue of Ganesh, a piece of the Kiswah, and pieces from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
From an adult perspective, I loved every single thing about this. I loved seeing all of the artifacts and, as a lover of world religions, I loved getting a firsthand look at things I’ve read about in books for years. I could have spent a full day in there alone, just studying every single piece on display and reading all the descriptions. Being surrounded by objects that are so important to so many people is a spiritual experience, even for the more skeptical of us.
I was also excited about this as an educator. There were a few things the boys were able to school me on, such as the artwork of the Aboriginal Australians, which they learned about in a library class last year. There were many others I was able to tell them about, as we discussed the historical significance of things like Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and the Mormons migration to Utah. We spent a lot of time discussing Hajj with a staff member, who was so knowledgable and excited to share information with us. I came away from that realizing how very little I know about Islam!
From the kids’ perspective, the kids liked the video introduction, which introduces five young people from different parts of the world, heading off on their own pilgrimages. Not only do moving screens always distract my kids, but I think hearing young people explain their faith, journeys, and reasons for going made the whole thing more accessible for them. Even though the young people on the video are significantly older than my 8 and 10 year old, they’re still not ancient like mom and dad. Also, my Little Man immediately picked his “favorite” (An, the Buddhist who was going to Bodh Gaya) and decided to go find his picture and follow his journey first. My children are more familiar with Eastern philosophies and stories than Western, so I don’t know if this is why Little Man chose Bodh Gaya as the first place for us to explore or if that was coincidence. Either way, both boys were excited to see pieces of the stories from both Buddhism and Hinduism that they already know.
Like many exhibits at the Children’s Museum, this one offers special programs at specific times throughout the day. Today we were able to watch as a woman told us her story of going on her own sacred journey. This particular one was the story of a Buddhist woman who travelled to a Peace Pagoda in Japan with her mother. The woman was an actor, but the story, and many others that will be used for programs, was taken from true letters and research and put together by curators. The play is about fifteen minutes long and is pretty intense (emotionally, I mean). It is recommended for children ages 8 and older, though of course it depends on your kid. I wasn’t sure my Little Man could handle it, but when I just asked him his favorite part of the exhibit, this was the part he named!
Big Boy’s favorite part was the replica of the Shroud of Turin. He was fascinated by seeing the image in the shroud and trying to figure out how it could have shown up there (he’s my little science mind). My favorite (besides all of it) was being able to touch a piece of the Western Wall.
Overall, this is a great exhibit to visit on your own or with older children. I encourage you to take younger children just because it’s never too early to expose them to other cultures, but don’t expect them to be too entertained or be able to sit through too much. While it has a few hands-on features, most of the entertainment is in observing. As I said before, I could have stayed in that one exhibit all day, but after an hour and a half, my just-turned 8 year old was done. Really, I think he was just being nice to me that last half hour and was done after an hour.
But who can blame him? There IS a whole museum to explore!
Sacred Journeys is open now through February 21, 2016. It is included with general admission.
If you want to learn more at home, here’s a few things we recommend: