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Grant number like: AQ-229081-15

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Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT 06459-3208)
Peter Gottschalk (Project Director: September 2014 to June 2019)

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants
Education Programs

[Grant products]

$20,698 (approved)
$17,473 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2015 – 5/31/2018

NEH Enduring Questions Course on Conceptions of the Sacred

The development and teaching of a new undergraduate course on different understandings of the sacred.

Sacred, sacrifice, sacrament, saint, consecrate, sacrilege, desecrate. Its many iterations demonstrate how the notion of sacredness has pervaded the English language over the centuries. After the Latin sacer entered English 700 years ago, the word and its meanings morphed, reflecting social changes. As British imperialism quickened contacts with cultures previously unknown to them, Anglophones used sacred to describe the texts, places, and architecture associated with non-Christian religions, another supposedly universal term. Today, sacred serves as a common qualifier that implicitly suggests a similarity in the structure of religious practices and worldviews. What makes the sacred sacred? The proposed humanities course will explore questions regarding the word sacred, its applicability and translatability for non-Christian and non-Western views of social and cosmic order and how differences with analogous non-English terms offer insights into divergent cultural perspectives.