Spirituality and the Arts



The Office of Religious Life’s Spirituality and the Arts program explores and uncovers the spiritual and devotional dimensions of the arts. Through film screenings, plays, spoken word events, music concerts, dance performances, and art exhibitions, Spirituality and the Arts examines the ultimate questions of meaning, purpose, and identity as they manifest through the arts. Previous participants and performers include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Rainn Wilson, K.C. Porter, Salman Ahmad, Nishat Khan, D’Lo, Summer Watson, and Roger Steffens.

In the University Religious Center courtyard now:



“One knows that which one thinks one knows less than that which one knows one does not know.”
Nicolas of Cusa, 1444-45

Ever tried so hard to solve a problem that you thought your head would explode? You’re not alone. Sometimes our obsession to figure something out gets in our way of finding the answer.

George Polya, a celebrated mathematician who pioneered the field of multi-dimensional geometry, was concerned with the state of mathematics education. To contribute to better teaching methods, he wrote a classic book, “How to Solve It”, in 1944. In it, Polya repeated this admonition: “Look at the unknown.” Stop trying to solve it, at least for a while. Just look at it, sit with it. Give it your mindful attention. Let it sink in. Admire it! Then compare it to other unknowns, other problems. How were those problems solved? How might those solutions apply to this problem? Polya’s wisdom generalizes to all forms of problem-solving, within and beyond mathematics. Though Polya might not have described it this way, his method can be characterized as contemplative and meditative.

All members of the Trojan Family are invited to LOOK AT THE UNKNOWN – students, staff, and faculty. On the blackboard, write down an “unknown” that matters to you, in a color of chalk not yet used for other initial “unknowns”. If you see an “unknown” on the board that reminds you of another “unknown”, even from an entirely different academic discipline, write it down with the same color of chalk, with a line connecting them. If the connection between “unknowns” seems a bit tenuous, don’t worry — add yours to the board, with a line to the one that inspired it, and see where the conversation leads. See if others add “unknowns” that relate to your addition. Take a picture of your addition to the chalkboard and post it with comments – #lookattheunknown . Be part of the ongoing conversation!


Questions/comments: burklo@usc.edu .

In the URC Fishbowl now:


Every Spring Break, the Office of Religious Life leads a week-long trip to southern Arizona:  CONOCIMIENTO.  We walk the trails that undocumented migrants use to enter the US, placing water to prevent migrants from dying of thirst, and meet with interfaith border justice activists.  Contact burklo@usc.edu for more information on the trip.  This exhibit was assembled by artists Antonia Gallegos and Valarie James.  They collected these items on migrant trails in the Sonoran Desert near their homes near Arivaca, AZ, close to the US/Mexico border.  The water jugs are covered with cloth to insulate them from the heat but also to prevent the shimmer of the water from being seen by migra aircraft.  The landscape bristles with barbed mesquite trees and sharp, penetrating “jumping” cholla cactus spines.  If migrants succeed in reaching the Arivaca area, about ten miles north of the border, they are often exhausted.  If they are spotted by migra – the Border Patrol – and try to evade, they may become separated from the group traveling with their coyote, or smuggler.  Such isolated migrants are susceptible to the elements.  They begin shedding their belongings to lighten their loads and to get through the rough underbrush. When their water runs out, migrants become dehydrated and disoriented.  Over 100 migrants are found dead in desert in the Tucson Border Patrol sector each year.  Although the total number of undocumented migrants crossing the border has gone down dramatically in recent years, the relative number of deaths is higher, because the migrants are taking more remote and dangerous routes that lead deeper into the desert.  Many items from this same collection appear in the current virtual reality installation at LA County Museum of Art:  Carne y Arena, by the film director Alejandro Inarritu.