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Sociology Students Get Context, Community at Holi Celebration

Students visited a Hindu temple in Holbrook, Massachusetts, to learn about the religion and the Holi celebration on April 6. Photo courtesy of Carol Ferrara

Anthropologist and affiliated faculty member Carol Ferrara joined students from SO310: Religion and Secularism in Contemporary Societies in a Holi celebration April 6 at the Braj Mandir Nimbarki Vaisnava Temple in Holbrook, Massachusetts.

Holi is a popular Hindu festival that celebrates the coming of spring, good winning out over evil, and unity in diversity.

Ferrara said she is particularly fond of this last aspect of Holi, which she feels is something many groups and countries strive toward, yet find difficult to emulate in a practical sense in contemporary societies.

“Seeing a tiny microcosmic example of one way this kind of pluralism and embrace of diversity can be inspired was what prompted me to bring the students to the festival,” said Ferrara, who recently was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study religious education and interfaith relations in France.

Hanna Brem ’19, a Media Arts Production major with minors in Sociology and Political Communication, was one of more than a dozen students who joined Ferrara for the excursion, and was able to witness firsthand the unity in diversity that Holi celebrates through artistic applications of powder.

“Quite practically, once everyone is covered in color, it’s impossible to tell who’s who,” Brem said. “Everyone is a mess of color!”

Brem said the temple community was very welcoming of the students and excited to share with them the meaning of the day, as well as their faith and culture more broadly.

When the color throwing began, Ferrara encouraged students to break away from their classmates and engage with the other attendees. Each time Brem approached someone to brush color on their face, she fondly remembers them saying “wait, wait, wait!” until they could enthusiastically return the gesture with their own color.

Brem said this moment was her favorite part of the day, sharing in Holi “with people I have never met, and will most likely never see again; however, for a short moment, we were a part of the same experience.”

standing before altar of flowers
Visiting the Braj Mandir Nimbarki Vaisnava Temple in Holbrook, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Carol Ferrara

The trip to Braj Mandir Nimbarki Vaisnava Temple was the second out-of-classroom learning experience for SO310 students this semester, after an earlier trip to the Christian Science Mother Church in Boston.

Ferrara said she strongly believes that these field trips are a critical component of student learning in her courses. Every term, there are at least a handful of students for whom the field trip is a more meaningful learning experience than the lessons taught in the traditional classroom; and for nearly all of the students, it brings the classroom learning to life.

Brem is grateful to have had these opportunities in her courses with Ferrara.

“Sometimes we get so academic and abstract in the classroom that we forget there’s an entire world out there demonstrating what we learn,” Brem said. “My other Emerson classes have been amazing, but Carol’s classes have had the biggest impact on me as a person.”

Brem said during her first semester at Emerson, she visited a mosque for Ferrara’s Islamic Ways of Life class, and this semester, she was able to see the Christian Science Mother Church and a Hindu temple.

“Going as a class to these places/events made the experiences less daunting and framed them better than if I had gone alone. In the case of the mosque, I actually went back and brought a friend because I was so interested in what I could learn there. There is a vast difference between learning about something in a classroom and seeing it firsthand,” Brem said. “My advice to other teachers would always be to incorporate out-of-class learning experiences. Always.”

This story was submitted to Emerson Today by Jessica Phillips, senior administrative associate with the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Emerson Prison Initiative, with video by Helena Crist ’20. Are you a student, faculty member, or staff member who wants to share something with the Emerson community? Send your news stories, short stories, poems, videos, or anything else to today@emerson.eduor



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