Cultural Literacy: Hagia Sophia

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on the Hagia Sophia, an august building which has actually been in the news recently.

Hagia Sophia rose in late antiquity, the year 537 to be exact, as the patriarchal cathedral of the city of Constantinople and one of the centers of the Eastern Orthodox Church. After Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, Hagia Sophia became, for nearly 500 years, a mosque in the rechristened city of Istanbul. In 1935, the secular Turkish Republic converted it to a museum. In 1985, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), added Hagia Sophia to its list of World Heritage Sites.

Just last year, Turkish authorities decided to convert Hagia Sophia back to a working mosque. As you might imagine, this was controversial: UNESCO announced that it “deeply regretted” this move; The Orthodox Church petitioned the United Nations to intervene and prevent Turkey from attempting to “erase the cultural heritage of Orthodox Christians.” Christians in Turkey fear marginalization–not exactly a new source of anxiety in this part of the world, but clearly not desirable if one wishes to avoid, say, religious strife.

So, this full-page worksheet (five questions) introduces a torn-from-the-headlines story that makes the history of this fraught building relevant to students, and a source of thought and discussion about a wide range of concepts and topics, including monotheism, paganism, Christianity and Islam, religious strife, conflicts rooted in philosophy, religion, and ideology, winners and losers in conflict, and nationalism, to name a few.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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