chapter  1
22 Pages

Of god and goats

I have sometimes set my students the task of presenting ideas about where they would take visiting space aliens who ask to be shown religion. I ask them to imagine such unlikely beings saying, “We have been observing Earth and have seen sports, politics, catering, tourism and botany, but we want to observe the thing you call religion. What can you show us?” Once they get the idea, students are usually good at this. ey just need to get past the idea that religion cannot be seen because it is dened as “belief in god”. Since most of my British students suppose that belief is something private, interior or personal, and that god is transcendent, neither are actually observable. My students and I nd that we can do better than this. We start thinking about what people do and boldly determine to focus on religion as an everyday activity. en we get creative. We wonder if the visiting aliens might use their senses dierently and need to hear or smell religion. e competitive sonic environment of Jerusalem or the olfactory overload of temples where animals are sacriced and incenses are waed serve as prompts to this thought-experiment.