The Winter Solstice is on December 21 and marks the shortest day of the year, which was once a very important day to many cultures across the world. In fact, there are thousands of structures, including the impressive Stonehenge, built by our early ancestors to predict the equinoxes and solstices. So why did they make all this effort? Michael Friedlander, a professor emeritus of physics, and John Kelly, a senior lecturer in archaeology, both at Washington University in St. Louis, introduce us to the field of archaeoastronomy, which they use to examine one of the greatest pre-Columbian civilizations in the United States: Cahokia.
Hayrettin Yücesoy, professor of Islamic and Arabic studies, takes us back to the political and theological debates of 9th-century Baghdad. Scholars later claimed that in the medieval Islamic world, religion and politics fit neatly together. However, as Yücesoy explains, the historical reality was much more complicated. Religious scholars, political leaders, and even elite anarchists all had competing ideas about the relationship between Muslim faith and politics.
Should fringe groups, even offensive groups like the Ku Klux Klan, be allowed to have a voice in American politics? Since the 1950s, social scientists have recognized that very religious people are more likely to answer "no" to this type of question. In other words, religion and political intolerance often go hand-in-hand. But why is this the case? Political scientist James Gibson discusses the intersections between faith and intolerance and explains why, though these ideas can often connect, having faith does not make a person less tolerant.
Following the recent grand jury decision to not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown, protests and vandalism erupted in Ferguson and nearby St. Louis, Missouri. Rafia Zafar, professor of English, African and African-American Studies, and American Culture Studies, has written about protests in the civil rights movement and how, surprisingly, food and the sharing of meals played a symbolic role in that struggle. For activists such as Anne Moody, the simple act of ordering a grilled cheese sandwich was a dangerous act of protest. This Thanksgiving week, we reflect on this earlier era of protestors and the many roles of food in American culture.
Guided by a passionate belief that the arts are for everyone, music professor André de Quadros has conducted research in over 40 countries and, closer to his home base in Boston, for the past two years has been teaching classes in two Massachusetts prisons. De Quadros, who will conduct a special performance of the Washington University Choirs as part of the Distinguished Visiting Scholar Program, walks us through his experiences in prison education and shares his conviction that all humans are music-makers.