Project Origins

Contemplative/ Sacred Space and Appreciative Community Inquiry at Bennington College

Below is an introduction to the Bennington Sacred Space project, a student led community project that will be taking place on campus during the Spring 2012 Term.  The project will be led by Sam Watts, a Bennington senior studying community development, and also a small group tutorial advised by Eva Chatterjee-Sutton and Sean Lanigan.

This blog will serve both as an idea sharing platform for the tutorial group as well as a regularly updated public record for the project. We encourage and request readers to ask questions, make comments, and submit ideas.

Project Overview

The project we are proposing contains two working parts:

  • Part one is to develop some form of “sacred space” or installation piece within the grounds of the Bennington campus and to do so in a way that both encourages and links interested community elements in executing the project.  The experience would be documented throughout and would be summarized in a final report that would evaluate both the process and the outcome.
  • Part two would occur simultaneously and relates to the emerging community dialogue on religious and spiritual life on campus, as well as the programming and resources offered for these pursuits. We would like to engage in an appreciative inquiry on this theme through conversations and interviews with the students and faculty of Bennington. Our tutorial group will host a speaker series with 3-4 different faith representatives to speak on contemplative practice within their tradition during the Spring 2012 Term.

Sam Watts: The genesis for my interest in this project is my experience as a student living on campus for the past three years studying community systems. Increasingly, my focus has been on the role of contemplative, spiritual, and religious practice within communities such as Bennington and in the context of social action work.

I am curious about the potential impact on this community of a space or structure designed for the purpose of offering students a place for refuge, contemplative practice, and reverence. How might an intentionally dedicated space created by students for the community differ from other preexisting spaces that are offered? How would students engage with such a space and what kind of a dialogue might result from their engagement?

An important aspect of the project for our tutorial group is to involve other interested Bennington students in the work of creating and engaging with the project. We are also interested in helping to develop our student relationship with the Bennington town community through the project by connecting more with local faith groups and finding opportunities for greater student involvement in those communities.

Over the past four years at Bennington I have been involved in a variety of different meditation and interfaith groups on campus. In these groups, the idea of having a defined space available for group gatherings and personal practice has been a reoccurring theme and is one that greatly affects the potential for students to engage in such activities. I have spoken with other students outside of these groups who are interested in finding places for reflection and refuge on campus as well, and who have appreciated the option of past designated quiet/ interfaith spaces.

The idea that is emerging for our tutorial group is to create, through a collaborative process, a structure or an art installation that could serve as a touchstone for an emerging conversation on this theme of sacred space as well as other related forms of engagement on campus. Whether what is created is relatively ephemeral (a temporary “installation”) or more lasting (some type of structure), a critical outcome of this project would be to serve the community by exploring the potential for a student created space and to foment a larger dialogue concerning the role of religious/ spiritual/ contemplative life programming and resources offered on campus. I am interested to see what questions, conversations, objects, and inspirations arise from this work.

Project Timeline

Phase One: Develop Momentum

  • Identify important questions related to the topic starting with the interfaith group and then engaging the community.
  • Do desk research on practices at other schools. Have conversations with other schools’ spiritual leaders, (faculty and students).
  • Approach possible contributors, students who would like to be involved in working on the project and begin interview process.
  • Begin conversations with the larger community about the project as well as the administration. Begin researching building options and spaces on campus that could be used.
  • Initiate fundraising plan.

(Last 7 weeks of the Fall 2011 Term)

Phase Two: Formation

  • Attend 2 week Natural Design and Build program at Yestermorrow in Warren Vermont.
  • Work out the design and the logistical plan for the physical structure, create schedule for construction.
  • Formalize a budget plan.
  • Plan for the programming of the building as well as other related community conversations. Contact and invite possible guest speakers.
  • Continue interviews and research of chapel spaces and spiritual/ religious life programming at other similar schools.

(FWT 2011/ 2012)

Phase Three: Flying the Project

  • Complete the building/installation.
  • Hold 3-4 speaker series events throughout the term with different faith representatives coming to speak about contemplative practice within their tradition.
  • Bring the interested Bennington Community members together to celebrate the launch and invite participation in the building process.
  • Hold community conversations.
  • Consider what from the project can be passed down on to the community and also younger students.
(Spring Term 2012)

Contact Us

If you have any questions, thoughts or would like to get more involved in the project, please email Sam Watts at swatts@bennington.edu, or you can speak with one of the tutorial group members: Emma Schmelzer, Glennis Henderson, David Black, or Rachel Kelleher.

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