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The Human Spirituality Project: A Photo Exhibition

Theology is a tricky topic, one that has prevailed despite the growing authoritative popularity of science, the scepticism of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, and the increasing individualization of spiritual thought. U2 Economics and Psychology student Paula Tsvayg will be presenting a photojournalism exhibition here in Montreal, her interest sparked by the diversity of the spiritual student body at McGill.

Named The Human Spirituality Project, the exhibition will take place on Wednesday, April 2nd, at Montreal’s Hillel venue, and will feature twenty-five selected portraits of students who have voiced their opinions, thoughts, and convictions on the matter of religion. To put it in Paula’s own words, the exhibition hopes to “capture the diversity, strength, and beauty of students’ opinions on faith and spirituality in a world polarized by not only religious division, but differentiation on the basis of language, ethnicity, physical appearance, and culture.”

Paula first thought of the project when, travelling back to her hometown of New York from Montreal on an Orthodox Jewish bus, she noticed that the passengers around her seemed surprised. “I have an Israeli last name and it seems to mismatch my appearance,” Paula explains.

While Paula shares the same cultural values as the people in her religious community, she often feels like an “outsider” amongst those who identify with more traditional beliefs. “I’m not orthodox in practice, and it got me to thinking,” Paula asks, “what made me different from those Jews? What makes these people think of me on fundamentally separate terms, when we come from the same historical background and experiences? And what makes their experiences with faith so fundamentally different than that of people from other religions?”

Though she had always had informal conversations with her friends on the topic, Paula wanted to find out more about religion and spirituality to better understand her community and herself. Wondering just what it was that made her feel immediately close with members of the Jewish community, Paula dove into deeper, more formal conversations with her friends starting September, asking them questions about their identities and their faiths. “I started to see similarities,” Paula explains, “and I talked about this project more than I actually did it for a while. But eventually those conversations I had became the project itself.”

“When I meet someone Jewish,” Paula comments, “I feel like we have something in common. There’s a certain sense of humour, a certain understanding of irony. I’m not particularly ‘religious’, as I don’t really practice, but I understand the connections shared between members of religious communities.”

What was particularly rewarding for Paula, then, was exploring her Jewish background in conversation with people of various faiths. “It’s so nice to hear religious opinions, to see this beautiful side of my friends, to understand that spirituality does not necessarily come from practice,” says Paula. And indeed, in having conversations with members of all religious denominations, Paula contends, “This project made me realize that I’m more spiritual than I had thought.”

Upon asking her what she hopes her audience will take away from her exhibit, Paula said she certainly does not want to enforce a singular viewpoint on her project. “Whether people are more confident in their own views, or feel that they’ve been forced to think in a different way,” she says, “I hope my audience is changed a bit. I hope I have a positive impact on them in some way. I try to photograph people who have different opinions, who have different appearances. This was a passion project for me, and I wanted to see where I stood. What’s powerful about photography is that you can connect a face to a quote that you would never have expected.”

The event, which costs $5 and includes catering, will showcase these passions. “I’m excited to use my interest in photography to pursue a topic that I think has a lot of depth,” Paula explains. “I hope my experiment will force people to see the beauty in diversity.”

To purchase tickets and find out more, visit The Human Spirituality Project registration page and the Facebook page.

Photographs by Paula Tsvayg.

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