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Local News Web posted Sunday, March 30, 2003

Objects of faith

Laughing Buddha is a bringer of good news, happiness, and wealth. A patron of businessmen, this is not the Buddha but a Maharani figure. -Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News
Objects of Faith Exhibit

Where: Georgia Southern Museum, Rosenwald Building, on Southern Drive in Statesboro.

Time: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday; and 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed on holidays.

Closes: June 29

Cost: Free

Grand Opening/Open House: 3-5 p.m. April 7, in conjunction with International Week at the university.

Information: 912-681-5444

* The collection contains items from university employees and Statesboro-area residents. It is on display in conjunction with the Center for International Studies.

* Some of the faiths showcased include: Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Baha'i Faith.

From prayer rugs to prayer beads, worshipers use an array of objects to lift them to higher levels.

By Ann Stifter

Buddha shines.

His gilded features emit the joy of enlightenment as he faces the Georgia Southern Museum foyer.

Mark Tubbeh, coordinator of International Student Programs, lent the statue for display.

"I want people to learn more about different religions," said Tubbeh, who once practiced Buddhism as a philosophy.

"We may worship different gods and deities, but we all call for peace and humanity and kindness. We all have the basic goodness in us."

Buddha sits near a human skull, also part of an upcoming three-month exhibit at the museum.

Jared Fogel found the bone in a Massachusetts flea market years ago and added it to his personal collection of Buddhist and Hindu objects, items he stashes around the house.

"I don't think it's morbid at all," said Fogel, director of Candler Child and Adolescent Center in Metter.

"It depends on how you look at it, the value you place on it."

Buddhists considered the skull the center of enlightenment.

They believed the skull of an enlightened man contained his holiness even after death, and often turned the crown of his skull into a ritual begging bowl.

They also used it to remind all that life is short; thus the time to get enlightened is now.

Curators displayed the skull crown with other spiritual items to show how believers focus on the divine.

Some are symbols. A few are toys or utensils. Many are used in worship. Others are sermons interpreted in stone and bronze, intended for people unable to read.

Although sometimes used as decorations, the objects were created to inspire religious meditation, said John Parcels, assistant professor of philosophy and director of the religious studies minor.

"All can help us if we remain open in a spirit of understanding," Parcels said.

Parcels coordinated the exhibit with museum director Brent Tharp and assistant director Deborah Harvey.

They asked university employees and Statesboro-area residents to loan any prayer beads, icons, statues and paintings from their homes and offices.

They received a Muslim prayer rug and hung it on the same wall with a mezuzah, a small prayer box fixed to the doorpost of some Jewish homes.

Hindu prayer beads, made of natural seed pods, are near Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of wisdom and good fortune.

A Quran, the Muslim holy book, was opened to a passage about misguided arrogance. It's not far from a row of cross charms.

Sue Smith, a retired professor of historic interior design, said her crosses each have a name: Russian, Franciscan, Crusaders and Maltese. She included an Egyptian ankh, a symbol of eternal life.

Smith began collecting the charms nearly 12 years ago when she started traveling overseas. When not on display, she hangs them around her neck.

"I hope visitors say, 'Hmmm, I didn't know there were that many crosses,' " she said. "I hope it's a surprise."

Collectors most likely don't gather religious objects just for their comfort or only to amass things, Fogel said.

He believes they collect for a loftier reason:

"For a spiritual purpose."

©Copyright 2003, Svannah Morning News (GA, USA)

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