Monday, September 7, 2009

Study Questions #4: Religious & Social Attitudes

To accompany posts about Religion in Germany in the 1800s, Mendelssohn's Grandfather, Mendelssohn's Jewish Heritage and Mendelssohn's Sister's World.


How do the conflicts between religions affect a society's life? I'm thinking about the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Germany in the 17th and 18th Centuries as well as more recent fighting in Ireland. What about other similar conflicts in different times or countries?

How does this become more a political conflict rather than just one based on religion?

What were the impacts of anti-Semitism on German society in the 18th & 19th Century during Mendelssohn's family's lives and how did this develop in the 20th Century?

Even though Mendelssohn was born into the Jewish faith and was converted by his father when he was 7 years old to the Protestant faith, he was regarded by many people in his time as “Jewish.” He may not have experienced it as an overbearing or life-threatening form of discrimination but was present throughout his lifetime in often subtle ways.


Felix Mendelssohn's sister, Fanny, was not “allowed” to perform in public or have the music she composed published. It was considered “unacceptable.” Though some other women could and did do this, Fanny Mendelssohn could not because she was from a wealthy family. Yet the men of wealthy families – like Felix himself – could do this. In what ways does this amount to discrimination?

Though people in England argued for Women's Equality and the Right of Women to Vote & Hold Public Office in the 1770s, nothing was really accomplished in this area until more recently. How did discrimination against women continue into the 20th Century? How has it changed? What do you think caused these attitudes to change?

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In other world cultures, attitudes toward certain things in life do not always agree with the way they are viewed in the United States or Europe.

For instance, I saw on the news earlier this summer how Afghanistan has a TV program similar to “American Idol.” Keep in mind, singing or even listening to non-religious music was forbidden under the Taliban, but here were men going on TV and singing in front of the whole country. It was a very popular show.

Then a couple of women entered the competition. People in the communities were shocked. When one actually began to move around as she was singing, this was considered “dancing.” Immediately, she was condemned by people in the cities and villages because a woman dancing in public is considered immoral: she received death-threats as a result. People said she should be stoned to death for that.

What other examples can you think of that you may have seen on TV or read about that reflect attitudes different from how we may think about them? If they're fictional - in books and movies - what kind of message might they be sending? How do we interpret these and how do we separate fact from fiction?

Talk with women in your family of your parents' and grandparents' generations and ask them about what attitudes toward women were like when they were growing up. How have things changed?

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In addition to religious & gender discrimination we've discussed regarding Mendelssohn's times, what other forms of discrimination are there? What about race, age, social class, sexual preference or physical disabilities and differences between ways people look or think?

How does discrimination affect an individual person? What impact does it have on the community? on society in general?

Is bullying a form of discrimination?

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Some people say that Music is a Universal Language.

The Jewish conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim has formed an orchestra made up of young musicians from the Middle East - Arabs and Palestinians and Israelis. They work together to make music and perform around the world. The hope is that one day they will be able to work together in more ways than just making music.

During Mendelssohn's family's lives, aspects of tolerance had developed even if they weren't held universally. And things changed with later generations.

How do you think a culture develops tolerance and how do you think a culture can lose that tolerance?