Monthly Archives: September 2017

Sacred Musical Compositions

September 26, 2017

cburchThe beliefs and history of different faiths are often symbolized by their sacred music, for instance a Mass by Palestrina reflects the glory and majesty of Renaissance Catholicism, and a Bach cantata expresses the bold confidence of early Protestantism. Professor Vicki Gresik’s upcoming class, “Sacred Music: The Association of Music and Religion.” takes us through the basic tenets of the world’s major religions and explores the liturgical and devotional music, and classical art music inspired by these faiths. We wanted to find out much more!

WIH Reporter: What makes your class a “must take” seminar?

Gresik: I think religions are fascinating and sacred music can be some of the most beautiful music ever written. I hope to introduce my students to a variety of religious compositions. Some religious compositions will be familiar, and others might be new discoveries. Most of us are familiar with music from our own faith, but we may not have heard how others praise God.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about sacred music?

Gresik: I think that many people assume that sacred music is pretty old, even ancient, but composers are writing contemporary hymns today, some using a traditional format, others using an interfaith background. Young performers are creating a sacred sound that is meaningful to their generation.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about sacred music?

Gresik: Besides the fact that contemporary composers are writing sacred music today, if we listen to the lyrics of a number of popular songs we might be surprised to hear a religious theme. Also many well- known classical composers have contributed to the sacred genre.

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Gresik: The handout will contain a brief review of the religion(s) for the class, followed by a list of the pieces to be heard during the class & the composer, often with remarks about the composition itself. I hope to have you listening to the music more than hearing me talk.

WIH Reporter: We often like to ask what books are on your night table right now?

Gresik: Because my house flooded with Harvey, I have no night stand at present, but I am presently finishing reading The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, and because I’m in a graduate program at Rice & taking a course on Russian history & music, I’m researching the Russian Orthodox Church using The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. On my Kindle the two most recent selections are: A Distant View of Everything by Alexander McCall Smith & Glass Houses by Louise Penny.

WIH Reporter: Is there anything else about your class that you would like to add?

Gresik:  Because I want to introduce a number of pieces each week, the listening will be limited to 1-2 minutes each. You may want more, but if you don’t like the piece you won’t suffer long!

Professor Gresik’s class begins on October 18th at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.



Houston: Economic & Environmental Issues for the Future

September 26, 2017

houstonnightJim Blackburn, Professor in the Practice of Environmental Law in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rice University, is offering a unique course about the future of our city in the wake of recent events and issues. Blackburn’s course, “Full World: Houston’s Economic And Ecologic Future” explores where where we are heading as a local and global community, from the perspective of economics, ecology, eco-play, eco-spirituality; and, the implications that these changes will have on business, on city and regional form, and on each of us. We visited with him to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your upcoming class?

Blackburn: This class is about understanding and addressing the challenges of a world that is now full of humans and human impacts, a world that is changed from the world we grew up in, a world that is moving from “empty world” thinking  to “full world” thinking.  This class is about “full world” thinking and action.

It is about the future of Houston, the United States, and the world, and the challenges and adaptations necessary to succeed in the future.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about Houston?

Blackburn: Perhaps the biggest mistaken impression about Houston and the Texas coast is that contrary to popular belief, it is an ecological wonderland – a place with biological diversity and tremendous outdoor recreation potential for kayaking and birding specifically.

WIH Reporter: What else might surprise us to know about Houston and Houstonians?

Blackburn: Another mistaken impression is that good Houstonians do not talk about climate change when in fact, good Houstonians are necessary to help the oil and gas industry into understanding, discussing and addressing the challenges of the 21st century.

WIH Reporter: Speaking of climate issues, how will Hurricane Harvey, in your estimation, affect the future of this city?

Blackburn: The economic future of the city of Houston is dependent upon our response to these floods.  We are at a crossroads and inaction or business as usual will be the beginning of the end of Houston as an economic powerhouse.

WIH Reporter: Can you elaborate on what we can do to keep Houston viable as an economic and environmental leader in the future?

Blackburn: The “full world” that I refer to is a world where the climate is changing, and Harvey was a climate-change storm.  We as a society do not know how to address these changing storms.  We also do not know how to address the cause of climate change.  The course will have specific lectures about the transition to the full world, hurricanes and flooding in Houston, climate change and addressing climate change.  I will likely devote a portion of at least one class to the 15 points concerning Hurricane Harvey and Houston that were first published by the  Baker Institute at Rice.

Professor Jim Blackburn’s class begins on October 17th at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.



How Much Do You Know About Houston’s History?

September 26, 2017

Sam Houston, circa 1850, Wikipedia

In anticipation of Professor Jim Blackburn’s class about the economic and ecological future of Houston we put together a quiz on little-known facts about our great city!




1. The first air-conditioned room in Houston was installed in 1922. It was located in:

A. The Rice Hotel.
B. The Second National Bank.
C. Rice University.

2. The Rice Military area near Memorial Park is named for an army training camp during:

A. World War II.
B. World War I.
C. Civil War.

3. Houston is larger than which of the following?

A. Maryland.
B. New Jersey.
C. New York City+Boston+San Francisco combined.

4. In Houston, you cannot sell the following on Sunday?

A. Limburger cheese.
B. Alcohol.
C. Caviar.

5. Houston was founded by:

A. Sam Houston.
B. John Kirby.
C. Augustus & John Allen.

6. Which of these is true about Sam Houston?

A. Beat a US congressman with a cane.
B. Opposed secession.
C. Honorary member of the Cherokee nation.


1. A. It used to be that large blocks of ice were placed in front of fans to try and keep cool air moving throughout a room. With the advent of air-conditioning, Houston installed a system first in the cafeteria of the Rice Hotel in 1922. The next year, the Second National Bank took it one step further by becoming the first completely air-conditioned building in Houston.

2. B. Rice Military area near Memorial Park was named for Camp Logan, an Army training camp from World War I. In fact, many streets are named for hometown heroes who lost their lives fighting in the war.  Dunlavy in the Montrose area is named for Herbert Dunlavy, a Marine and the first Houstonian killed in the war after an artillery shell landed in a trench near him.

3. A, B, and C. Houston is larger as a city than the entire state of Maryland and New Jersey. The total area of Houston is so large, it could contain the cities of New York, Boston, and San Francisco at the same time.

4. A. An old existing Houston law forbids the sale of Limburger cheese on Sunday.

5. C. Houston was founded by  Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen, who honored Sam Houston by naming the city after him. Near the center of Houston where Interstates 45 and 10 intersect is almost the exact spot that Houston’s founders, the Allen brothers, settled.

6. A, B, and C. Houston is named after Sam Houston, the military commander who led the battle for the independence of Texas from Mexico. He was the first president of the Texas republic, and as he became more of a politician, he became more and more colorful as a personality. For instance he opposed secession, was an honorary member of the Cherokee nation, and once caned a U.S. congressman after being insulted.  

Japan’s Unique & Traditional Culture

September 26, 2017

18th century woodblock print by Utamaro

WWII tends to dominate the vision that we in the West have of Japan since many of our fathers or grandfathers fought in WWII. But there is much more to be said about Japan and its art, culture, and historical significance in the wider world. Melanie Urban’s newest class is an intriguing exploration into Japan’s history, culture, and national psyche. We visited with her to find out more.



WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Urban: In all periods of Japan’s culture, art has played a significant role. As in most cultures, from West to East, art served first as glorification of one or many belief systems. When Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century, art enhanced the religious experience. During the imperial period, patrons prized various forms of art for its own sake – not just painting, but also sculpture, ceramics, lacquer ware, textiles, architecture, and even garden design.

WIH Reporter: What do we need to know about Japanese culture?

Urban: The native belief system survives and holds an equal place with the imported religion of Buddhism in the minds and hearts of Japanese people. Another example is that Japan honors its craftsmen as living treasures, a practice that preserves ancient skills in many art forms.

WIH Reporter: What are more examples and results of this inclusive philosophy?

Urban: An example from the 7th century: the regent promulgated a constitution with 17 articles, among them rules for governing the country as a harmonious whole.  He borrowed directly from both the Buddhist canon and Confucian principles.  Following on that, a subsequent ruler commissioned the largest bronze Buddha in the world during the 8th century.  It stands over 50 feet tall (or should I say “sits”).  And in the 11th century, a lady of the Heian court penned one of the first novels ever written, The Tale of Genji, a wonderful portrait of imperial court culture.

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Urban: I lecture using pictures taken mostly from travels, either trips to locations pertinent to the subject or to museums.  My “technical assistant” takes the photographs and organizes my presentations to his own high standard.  I prefer discussion during the presentation when anyone in the audience has questions pertinent to the topic at hand.

WIH Reporter: What do you consider one of the most interesting facts we should know about Japan?

Urban: One of the most interesting facets of Japanese culture is how it fascinated people in the West from at least the 16th century.  As the Europeans discovered and exploited commercial opportunities in Asia, they imported Japanese, Chinese, and South East Asian art objects in increasing quantities.  The evidence of this trade can be seen in many European paintings, which often feature Japanese and Chinese ceramics and lacquer wares.  This fascination extended over centuries, and when Chinese goods were hard to come by, Japanese and South East Asian exports filled the gap.  This notion of imported Japanese art generated a whole new reaction during the late 19th century in France, the era of the Impressionists.  Many of the French painters of the 1880s and 1890s collected Japanese woodblock prints and used the new perspectives and compositional styles reflected in them.

Professor Urban’s class begins on October 19th at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.


Painters of Fashion & Their Famous Subjects

September 26, 2017

Wikipedia_ Portrait of Marie Antloinette by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778

Helga Aurisch’s class, “Painters of Fashion: Fashionable Painters” seeks to take us on a fascinating journey exploring the interaction between artists, painters, and fashion. Starting with the reign of Marie Antoinette, arguably the most fashion-obsessed queen to occupy the French throne, the class will examine how she and her favorite portraitist Elizabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, set the fashion world on its head in the years just before the French Revolution. We interviewed Aurisch to find out more.



WIH Reporter: Can you tell us a little about your upcoming class?

Aurisch: I hope it will be as entertaining and enlightening for the participants as it has been for me to assemble it. It will be a fascinating look at various moments in history, a snapshot look at collaborations between painters and fashion makers that speak volumes not only about art and fashion, but also about politics and the social developments that defined their historical periods.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the painters of fashion?

Aurisch: I think most people classify them unjustly as shallow. But these artists, who were superbly gifted painters, had the great ability to paint their subjects as they liked to be seen, a difficult feat. Many specialized in portraiture, but not all. They also produced works in other genres such as still lifes, landscapes, and history paintings as well.

WIH Reporter: There must be interesting stories about the fashion painters and their interactions with subjects!

Aurisch: Yes! They also often had to be sensitive listeners, entertainers and oh, so much more than just dexterous with a brush.

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Aurisch: The class will be a richly illustrated lecture, with breaks for questions and answers. I would like to encourage the active participation of the class. Hopefully, the class will be enticed to look into the various topics more deeply on their own. I will be happy to supply reading lists for each class.

WIH Reporter: We like to ask what books are on your night table right now?

Aurisch: Right now, I’m reading Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion, What Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution, Eleanor P. Delorme’s  Josephine, Napoleon’s Incomparable Empress, and Kimberly Chirsman-Campbell’s Fashion Victims, Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. All of them are great sources, and very readable. Meanwhile, I’m off to Paris tomorrow, hoping to garner a few more delicious details for the course.

Professor Aurisch’s class begins on October 23rd at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.


A Historical Introduction to the New Testament

September 26, 2017

Wikipedia-Papyrus 46, one of the oldest New Testament papyri, showing 2 Cor 11:33-12:9

In Charles Schmidt’s upcoming class, “A Historical Introduction to the New Testament” students will explore the texts of the New Testament from the perspective of modern academic scholarship, with an emphasis on their historical and social context. We checked in with Professor Schmidt to find out more.




WIH Reporter:  What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Schmidt: This class will provide a historical and cultural background to the world of the early Jews and Christians who wrote the texts that would eventually become codified as the New Testament. We will take a look at the historical figures of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul within the broader history of ancient messianic expectations and discussions of the Torah (the Jewish Law). My goal is to share some of the insights biblical scholars have had about these texts and traditions.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about the historical basis of the New Testament?

Schmidt: There are myriad examples, all of which I will discuss in more detail during the first week of this class. But for right now I would have to say that the arrangement of the texts in the New Testament gives us a false impression as to their relative dating. The New Testament opens with four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), before moving on to Acts and the letters of Paul. For over two centuries, however, biblical scholars have known that these gospel accounts about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth actually post-date the letters of Paul.

In other words, if we wanted to read the New Testament chronologically, we would have to begin with Paul rather than the gospel writers. The arrangement of these texts in Christian Bibles gives us the impression that the gospel accounts are the real beginning of the story of Christianity. In many ways, this makes perfect sense; why not begin the story of Christianity with Jesus, after all. But for someone who wants to learn about the history of earliest Christianity and the development of its Scripture, it may not be the most historically accurate approach.

WIH Reporter: What don’t we realize about the New Testament?

Schmidt: For starters, I would say the most surprising thing would be that our earliest complete copies of Christian Bibles date to around the fourth century—about three hundred years after the life of Jesus. Additionally, these Christian Bibles contain some books in their New Testament that are not found in those used by modern Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox Christians. For example, they include texts such as 1 Clement and The Epistle of Barnabas, or substitute the Apocalypse of Peter for the Apocalypse of John. I’d also like to point out that the earliest canon list identical to the 27 New Testament writings in today’s Christian Bibles dates to the year 379. The point I’m trying to make is that the New Testament we’re familiar with today came into being through a complex historical process and did not appear one day, fully formed.

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Schmidt: This class will primarily take the format of a discussion-based seminar. In other words, I like to run my classes as open forums for sharing and discussing ideas. Each class meeting will be organized around a particular topic or text about which our learners will read short texts or select passages before we convene. I begin class with a brief lecture designed to provide some historical context for that week’s material and topic. After that, the remainder of the class will be spent doing close readings of select passages, leading discussion, and answering questions that arise in the moment.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table  right now?

Schmidt: At present I am re-reading George Orwell’s 1984 and attempting to get through a collection of Greco-Egyptian esoteric texts called the Corpus Hermeticum, which are magical-philosophical writings about the ultimate reality of the cosmos.

Professor Schmidt’s class begins October 19th at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.