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Inside a light-bathed chapel in Paris, Abbie Cottle ’20 discovered a fascination for cultural artifacts and for the belief systems and spiritual phenomena that inspire them. As a double major in archaeology and religion, she explores this topic from different angles, and she brings this cross-disciplinary insight to bear in an art exhibition she’s curated at The Trout Gallery, on display from February to April.
Clubs and organizations:
It’s a three-way tie between The Iliad/The Odyssey by Homer, Cosmos by Carl Sagan and Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne.
On choosing Dickinson:
On my second visit to Dickinson, I asked to visit archaeology and/or religion classes. The admissions office had me sit in on an archaeological methods class taught by Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology Christofilis Maggidis. The methods class is often taught in the Keck Archaeology Lab, where students have the unique opportunity to practice archaeological excavation techniques in a dig simulator. This kind of hands-on learning experience wasn’t available at any other college I visited, and it was a huge draw for me.
The religion class I was supposed to sit in on was cancelled unexpectedly, so the admissions office called over to the religion department to see if any of the professors would have time to briefly meet with me. One of the student admissions employees brought me over to East College and up to [Thomas Bowman Professor of Religion and Philosophy] Ted Pulcini’s office. He immediately told me about the classes I could take the following fall semester and wrote down my name so that he could make sure I got in one of his intro classes. I felt so genuinely and warmly welcomed that by the end of the visit I knew Dickinson was the right choice for me.
Professor Pulcini eventually became my advisor when I declared my religion major at the end of my first semester freshman year, and he has also been one of the best parts of my Dickinson experience.
Favorite place on campus:
Keck Archaeology Lab.
Favorite Dining Hall food:
Flourless chocolate cake.
On choosing a major:
Archaeology was an easy choice, as I’ve always been interested in ancient civilizations and people of the past. My first inkling of interest in archaeology was probably in elementary school, when I visited the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to see the King Tut exhibition. I got a pop-up book from the gift shop that talked about the ancient Egyptians and the scholars today who research their civilization. Like a lot of people who decided to major in archaeology, I also loved the Indiana Jones movies as a kid and wanted to have cool adventures like him. However, all of us who were inspired to be archaeologists in part for this reason soon understand that Indy’s cool adventures also constituted truly terrible archaeological practices.
I have also always been interested in religion, but I firmly decided to be a religion major my senior year of high school. I went to high school in England, and while taking AP Art History I was lucky enough to get to go on a class trip to Paris. My favorite place that we visited was Sainte Chapelle, the royal chapel within the Palais de la Cité. It is a 13th-century structure and an incredible feat of architectural engineering. To enter the main area of the chapel you have to travel up a spiral staircase; at the top you’re abruptly thrust into a room that is almost entirely stained-glass windows. The feeling of being in the space is difficult to describe, but imagine you have stepped into a giant kaleidoscope and you might come close to understanding the overwhelming feeling of being bathed in color and light. The stained-glass windows depict the story of the Bible from beginning to end and contain over 1,000 individual scenes. I was completely overcome not only by the sheer beauty of the space but also by the obviously laborious process of creating such a structure. I figured the people who were compelled to build this would have had to have a spirituality so intense, a devotion to some higher power or religious authority so absolute, that they were inspired to erect a physical edifice that might be somewhat comparable in fervor to their ultimately intangible beliefs. It was this phenomenon that I knew I wanted to study.
As I kid, I wanted to be …
… Jane Goodall.
I’ve loved all of my classes at Dickinson, but Professor Pulcini’s Islam class has probably been my favorite. This religion course was cross listed with history and Middle Eastern studies and was a perfect example of why religion is such an engaging topic. It was truly cross-disciplinary, and in addition to learning about the theology and history of the faith, we explored the artistic, literary and scientific contributions and achievements of Islam. Dickinson prides itself on providing students with a “global education,” and the importance of increasing religious literacy has never been more important than in today’s globalized world.
If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …
… Mr. Rogers.
About my research:
Since sophomore year, I’ve worked at the Trout Gallery, which is Dickinson’s very own on-campus art museum. The gallery has thousands of objects in its permanent collection and puts on seven or eight exhibitions each academic year. This year I will have the opportunity to curate one of these exhibitions, which will be on religious mythology and art. The process has been a great learning opportunity and a chance to do one of my favorite things—research! I also had a lot of fun exploring the museum’s vaults where all the objects are stored so that I could pick pieces to include in the show.
The exhibition will include objects from many different times, places and faith traditions. The word “myth” is often used pejoratively, to denote something fictitious. But myths are in fact of profound importance in human society. They are the stories that help us explain and understand the world around us and our place within it. Some mythologies are secular, and others are sacred and are the foundational narratives of a religion. These stories may include tales of supernatural beings, explanations of natural phenomenon, deities that intervene on a human’s behalf or heroic feats undertaken by figures meant to serve as role models for the religions’ adherents. Religious mythology also can serve as reasoning behind the actions people take in their daily lives, the rituals they perform or even the structures of governments. All of these concepts that are represented in mythology and made manifest in religious art, will be investigated in this exhibition.
The exhibition, Imagining the Divine: Religious Mythology and Art, opened Feb. 7 and will remain up until early April. Learn more about this exhibition, and other upcoming exhibitions at The Trout Gallery.
Our world is vast and ever-changing, and we have no idea what challenges we’ll face in the future and what jobs might need doing. After Dickinson I plan to use my liberal-arts education the way Dickinson intends it to be used—for the common good.
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Published February 3, 2020