Fun with Christ and Krishna

25th February 2005 at 00:00
At 'Divinityland', children create their own mixed-up gods - then pray to one of them. Michael Shaw on an RE theme park that has left faith leaders 'speechless'

"And Krishna's been overtaken! A half-Buddha, half-Jesus is now race leader after shooting past the blue guy by the pit-stop!"

Welcome to Divinityland, the holy theme park where children create their own gods - then race them and pray to the winner.

Pupils at a Church of England primary school in Accrington have been the first to try out the religious education scheme, which encourages children to mix-and-match such religious figures as Jesus and Guru Nanak.

The children then race their creations on remote-controlled cars and pray to the winning deity. They celebrate afterwards with an "inter-religious" disco, where they dress as priests from different faiths and dance to remixed calls-to-prayer.

Visiting artist Anthony Padgett organised the themed day of activities for 10-year-olds at St John with St Augustine primary, which is recommending the scheme to other schools.

But faith groups have reacted with horror to the project which they say demeans religions (see box below).

Mr Padgett, 36, trained as a religious studies teacher in the early 1990s and has done supply work in London. He now works as a sculptor, computer animator and performance artist, whose pieces explores "postmodern religion".

Mr Padgett said that Divinityland was a cross-curricular project combining art and RE. The idea, he said, was to help children understand that faith need not be compartmentalised.

After hearing a series of stories written by the artist including "Guru Nanak and the Gnu" and "Mohammed and the Mouse", the pupils constructed their own deities on three-foot-high pieces of cardboard then composed stories about them.

The children later mixed up models of religious figures and raced them on remote-controlled cars. The winning deity was half-rabbi, half-Wiccan-witch. Mr Padgett and the children then prayed to it.

He said: "It's not about denigrating religions, it's about making a creative response to them. There are certain sensitivities, but the idea is about exploring the division between the sacred and profane, such as through the obvious allusion to Disneyland.

"I see myself as coming from the tradition of the Hopi Indian sacred clown, the idea of the heretic, who has a valued voice in the history of religion."

Mr Padgett said that he personally had a "pick-and-mix" faith and had undergone a "nirvana" experience during Christian meditation and decided that he was Jewish after working in Israel.

Other schemes Mr Padgett hopes to bring to schools include a interactive meditation programme. The users are linked via a "biofeedback" headset to a computer and do exercises developed by the guru Deepak Chopra.

Geoffrey Garlick, head of St John with St Augustine, said Divinityland had been "a bit unusual" but that he would recommend it to other schools.

"It was very worthwhile," he said. "The RE curriculum is quite narrow - about 80 per cent on Christianity and 20 per cent on Judaism and Islam.

This gave children a broader understanding of religion around the world and the common denominators and themes between faiths.

"Everyone was open-minded about it. Our vicar was there and he found it very interesting." St John with St Augustine primary was praised by inspectors in October for its "good use of religious discussion" and visiting artists.


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