When most of us began college, we never expected to have to attend any kind of prayer service or religious exercise. Such activities have always been a choice for our generation. Millennials may have gotten off easy though. We’ve grown up in a time when religion has had little influence on our public education. But this wasn’t the case for the IU students of the early 19th century!
Until after the 1887-1888 school year, students were required to attend religious services at the chapel at IU. Throughout its existence in different locations as a State Seminary, as the Indiana College, and finally as Indiana University, the campus has had a long relationship with chapel services. Student attendance and excused or unexcused absences were meticulously documented in the Chapel Roll.
A large brown leather bound book, the Chapel Roll is a record of student names, their rank as seniors, juniors, sophomores, or freshman, and their attendance at the mandatory chapel services from 1883 until 1891. It is interesting to look through the pages and see the numbers of students in each year and to try to decipher the chapel’s attendance system. Though the ornate writing in the book is attractive at times, it was likely a record that many students would have disliked. Most of us now probably can’t imagine having to sit in a religious service every day as a part of the college experience. And as student attendance was mandatory, any unexcused absences may have had consequences for early Hoosiers!
Though the location of the chapel and the content of the services eventually changed, and even though attendance was no longer required after the school year of 1887-1888, the Chapel Roll still kept a record of attendance for the difference activities held at the chapel. It can be found at the IU Archives.
You never know what you will find when you dive into a box of Folklore papers. Much like a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Renaissance and Victorian periods (see left) these boxes are stuffed full of papers and items that will spark one’s curiosity, wet one’s intellectual appetite, and engage the mind in cultural history.
The University Archives recently processed a collection of papers written by students taking material culture courses in the Folklore Institute between 1960 and the early 1980s. These papers are written on a wide variety of subjects within material culture including architecture, crafts, tombstones & epitaphs, quilting, furniture, instrument making, family traditions and recipes, fashion, and food ways.
Many of these papers consist of interviews with artisans and craftsmen, family members, or owners of the locations being researched. One such paper includes an account by the owner of a house near Elizabethtown, Indiana which was part of the Underground Railroad used by runaway slaves fleeing north to Canada during the Civil War. A number of the locations and craftsmen discussed in these papers are local or in close proximity to Bloomington, including a paper on the Rose Well House which is a popular fixture of legend in IU campus lore.
For those more interested in religious studies there are also papers centered around religion. One such paper describes the folkways surrounding food, feasting, and religious practices of the Russian Orthodox Church during the week of Easter and recounts how the low number of parishioners at Bloomington’s Russian Orthodox Church affected the Bloomington orthodox community in the 60s and 70s. The paper even includes a set of colorful feast-themed Eastern Orthodox postcards for the reader to examine (see here). I would be curious to see if the church survived or not but I couldn’t find it through any direct means…perhaps that is an answer in it of itself.
Sometimes going through papers from various years allows the researcher to see trends. Apple doll making and water witching seem to have been popular subjects in the 60s and 70s. There are also a fair number of papers written on local tombstones and instrument makers in this collection.
Most of these papers will include samples, photographs, or other items related to the paper’s subject. One such paper written on the Kennedy family, who built covered bridges in Indiana, has a beautiful set of covered bridge illustrations and diagrams as well as old advertisements for tools used to construct these bridges.
Other papers involving quilt making either have quilting pattern diagrams, magazine pictures, samples, or hand drawn patterns to help explain the types of patterns being discussed (see here).
Slightly more odd items are included with these papers too. One paper on soap-making had a bag of lye stapled to one of the pages (you definitely don’t want to touch that with your bare hands. It’s highly caustic and can burn your skin!). Another had a seemingly random top of a wood spool of sowing thread with no explanation as to its significance within the greater context of the paper other than the fact that the paper was on quilt-making. As I continued to go through the collection I briefly wondered if I would encounter a paper on Thanksgiving that included a wishbone taped to the backside of one of the papers…but alas the wishbone did not reveal itself…
The archive of a long-term ethnographic study of Hungarian ethnic identity is now available for perusal at University Archives and Records Management. The study, facilitated by Indiana University’s Folklore Institute in the early 1980s, examined the ways that Hungarians in both Hungary and the American Midwest maintained senses of community through everyday customs. This project led to an academic conference, a special issue of the Journal of Folklore Research, and a rich collection of photographs and fieldwork reports. And that’s where the official story starts to get personal, at least for me.
Sorting through the papers of the Hungarian-American project over the past couple of weeks was an exercise in self-reflection. As the research team documented ethnic foodways and days of religious observance among Hungarian culture groups, I recalled my own encounters with similar sorts of traditions during my childhood. My mother’s side of the family has always held on to certain pieces of its Slovak heritage, from the practice of Roman Catholicism to the hearty peasant food that characterizes our communal meals. Sauerkraut, sausage, and the sign of the cross are comfortable bedfellows in my mind.
In fairness to the academic persona that I’ve spent the past five years cultivating, this kind of musing makes me recoil a bit. Though they are neighbors, Hungary and Slovakia are distinct nations with distinct cultures. From a scholarly standpoint, it does not do to lump them together so indiscriminately. On the other hand, the human in me gravitates toward what I recognize as a resounding articulation of home. The people I grew up with behaved like the people whose lives are documented in the Hungarian-American project archive. It was impossible for me, while browsing these papers, not to be reminded of grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
Here’s a case in point: My great-grandmother, Mary Slota, left Slovakia for northeast Ohio in the early twentieth century. One of my favorite family photos shows her in her kitchen, proudly displaying a ring of homemade hurka, or blood sausage, probably harvested from a hog that was raised on the small farm where she lived with my great-grandfather. One of the hundreds of photos in the Hungarian-American project archive shows a widow in the Hungarian village of Cserépfalu. Babushka tied around her head, she leans over a bowl while plucking a chicken, presumably in preparation for a meal. Captured in the photographic frame, both women illustrate the cultural moment they inhabit. They wear floral patterned aprons and work with ingredients that exemplify a farm-to-table attitude long before that phrase became trendy among the culinary elite. And while Mary Slota and the villager from Cserépfalu spoke different languages and lived in different places, their everyday lives were more like than unlike.
That the archival material of the Hungarian-American project speaks so insistently to my own experience is, in my opinion, an indication of its success. Project researchers mindfully collected images and words to produce a body of data that is greater than the sum of its parts. While the project’s focus was Hungarian ethnic identity, the amassed data recalls the larger experience of eastern and central Europeans in the twentieth century. One can come to this conclusion on a personal level, as I did with my photo comparison, but it is also possible to approach the issue conceptually. Apart from the photos, the Hungarian-American project archive contains many documents that attempt to analyze the immigrant experience. Here are some of the questions they pose: What does it mean to be “ethnic,” anyway? Are Hungarians only ethnic once they have left Hungary? Is culture something people inherit or something they create? What about tradition? Does it have to stay the same, or are we allowed to change it?
There isn’t enough space to describe the researchers’ conclusions here, but the good news is that six boxes of documents await anyone who wants to know more. To gain access, or to view the finding aid that indexes the Hungarian-American project archive, visit our website at http://libraries.iub.edu/archives, or call (812) 855-1127.
Born July 18, 1872 on a farm near Germantown (Wayne County, Indiana), Frank Orman Beck came to Indiana University as a student in 1890, receiving his A.B. in 1894 and A.M. in 1895, both in comparative literature. While teaching part-time his senior year at Bloomington High School, he met then-student Daisy Woodward and the two were married on July 23, 1899, shortly after she received her A.B. degree from the University. Over the next decade, the two traveled extensively to continue their studies – she at the New England Conservatory of Music and he Boston and Harvard Universities, the University of Chicago, and Edinburgh University in Scotland. Upon their return to the United States in 1912, the Becks settled in Chicago where Frank spent over 25 years serving as a teacher, minister, and social worker in places such as the Wabash Avenue Methodist Church in the infamous First Ward on the fringe of The Loop, the Chicago Welfare department the Chicago Inter-Church World Movement and with Jane Addams in Hull House and in the missions along “Skid Row.”
Retiring from his first career in 1934, Frank and Daisy returned to their alma mater to serve as unofficial counselors to the student body and the administration – building a religious program on the university campus which sought to ease prejudice with tolerance and understanding. As the programs grew, the Becks began a nearly twenty year campaign to build a place of worship on the Indiana University campus for those of all faiths, and in 1957 thanks in large part to their own vision and financial support, Beck Chapel was dedicated. Today the chapel stands as a symbol of religious unity, but not according to Beck “a chapel of a universal religion but a chapel that recognizes the claims of all religions – a chapel that avows that ‘light is good in whatever lamp it burns.’”
The University Committee on Religion and the Student Religious Cabinet
On December 3, 1937, as one of his first official acts as University President, Herman B
Wells established a University Committee on Religion. Composed of members of faculty, local clergymen, group religious sponsors, lay members, and students, the group was tasked “to correlate the independent religious activities on the campus, and to study trends and agencies here and elsewhere for the expansion and unification of religious service to faculty and students.” With Frank O. Beck serving as the Executive Secretary, with the outbreak of the Second World War the group acknowledged that:
The pressing need of national unity today makes it imperative that religion become a unifying force rather than a divisive one. The common ground of various faiths must be cultivated. All faiths must go harmoniously together as far as they can. Between all the religious units of the campus efforts must be made to create the mutual understanding and unity resulting from a common belief in democracy and in the ideals of liberty and a common God.
Within a few months, the Student Religious Cabinet – under the leadership of the Committee on Religion – was established consisting of representatives from various religious faiths on campus in an effort to ease prejudice with tolerance and understanding. As outlined in their constitution, they sought to “form a pan-faith fellowship which will correlate all religious activities of the campus, promote fellowship and understanding among all religious groups and faiths on the campus and to do collectively many things which they may not be able to accomplish as separate entities.”
Soon after its organization the Cabinet set up five special interest groups, officially known as commissions on Inter-Racial Fellowship, Social Creed and Action, Peace Education and Action, Personal Religion and Worship, and Inter-faith Fellowship and Work. Through conferences and seminars, campus publications such as The Voice of Religion, morning group breakfasts, and chapel colloquies, they sought to address the larger social, political, and religious issues of the day such as racial segregation, religious intolerance, European refugee students, and building morale and involvement in wartime activities.
The Gift of a Chapel
On January 29, 1941, during a special banquet in Alumni Hall sponsored by the University Committee on Religion and the Student Religious Cabinet, 1937 Nobel laureate Dr. Arthur Compton spoke on “A Scientist’s Conception of God.” Following the lecture, university President Herman B Wells stood before over 400 members of the faculty, student body and the public to announce a generous gift from Frank and Daisy Beck to construct a chapel for those of all faiths on the campus. The Board of Trustees accepted the gift shortly thereafter, and the university architects presented a conceptual drawing for the proposed structure.
Unfortunately, due to the war-time scarcity of building materials the construction of the Chapel was delayed by several years. Finally, as part of commencement activities on June 12, 1954, the ground was dedicated, two years later the cornerstone laid, and the official dedication ceremony followed during Commencement activities on June 9, 1957.
Frank Beck, the Curator of the Chapel concluded the ceremony in prayer:
Almighty God from whom every good prayer cometh, and who poureth out on all who desire the spirit of grace and supplication, deliver us when we draw nigh to thee, from coldness of heart and wandering of mind.
Our Eternal God under whose guidance our fathers walked and by whom they were strengthened and sustained:
We pray that the spirit which kindled their faith may descend upon us;
That the students who are upon our campus today may aspire nobly, adventure daringly, and come to the realization of one world under God in the common meeting ground of faith which is the common essence of Brotherhood;
And when they go out keep them amidst the perils of their uncertain way.
We pray that by faith we may see the needs of those who will come after us, to bequeath to them a rich heritage, and to share with them the widening vision.
The Grove of All Faiths
On February 10, 1942, representatives from 100 student organizations, three devoted religious leaders – Rabbi Cronbach, Professor at the Hebrew Institute of Cincinnati, Dr. James Gillis, editor of The Catholic World, Dr. Charles C. Morrison, editor of the Christian Century – President Wells and Dr. Frank Beck (below shown left to right) gathered on the proposed site of the new chapel to plant three trees representative of each of their faiths. Those present for the dedication joined in unison:
Planted in a Triangle, may these trees ever symbolize to us the harmony and unity that should dwell among us, and, above all the divisions, of our imperfect society, assert the Brotherhood of man.
Over the course of the following years, trees symbolizing the other religions of the world joined the initial three, including Christian Science and the “Religions of the Orient.”
A Symbol of Religious Unity
Within the Chapel sacristy are housed the holy symbols and scriptures of all the world’s religions including a rare copy of the Koran hand-painted in gold; the book of Genesis written in Hebrew and printed from wood-cuts in Rome in 1578; The Dahamapada, the Canonical Scriptures of Buddhism; a Torah; and a Bible.
In the words of Frank Beck, the chapel
…does not aim to resolve religious differences, or to seek religious compromise, or to reduce faiths to the lowest common denominator. On the other hand it holds a sensitive regard to the rights of varying religious opinions and seeks to encourage respect for the ethical and religious values of each of the historic faiths represented in the student body and faculty.
The Chapel would, however, represent a sense of unity in this rich diversity. It will not become a chapel of a universal religion but a chapel that recognizes the claims of all religions – a chapel that avows that ‘light is good in whatever lamp it burns.’
It strives to unify by contending that all differences of religion are subordinated to a higher and more comprehensive agreement: that truths high enough are sure to meet. It strives to establish that all true religions seek sufficient depth and universal outlook to rise above all differences; and that with the oneness of mankind as the central problem of the age, we come nearer to God as we come nearer together.
Thus, the Chapel will not become the chapel of a common creed, but the chapel of a common quest, granting free and full expression to each faith represented on the campus, with each faith enriching others by the differences of faith and function.
Today, the Chapel continues to serve as the home for those of all faiths, with services held representing the Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Jewish, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, Muslim, Shinto, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Taoist, Coptic and Baha’i faiths. In addition to symbolizing a higher search for religious tolerance and unity on campus, annually the Chapel witnesses the exchange of numerous engagement and wedding vows, christenings, memorial services, devotional services, organ recitals and simply as a quiet place of self-meditation amidst the bustle of campus life.