On Saturday, May 13, 2016 Dr. Ronald Brown took his UTS class, World Religions and Global Conflict, to the Ganesha Hindu Temple on Bowne Street in Flushing, Queens. While Dr. Brown has taken his class to Central Synagogue and the Islamic Culture Center in Manhattan this semester, the visit to Flushing was especially important.
John Bowne, after whom Bowne Street is named, gave refuge to a small band of Quakers and Baptists in his home in the mid-1600s and outraged the fierce Dutch Reformed governor of the colony of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant. The governor attempted to expel Bowne from the colony but the residents of Flushing petitioned Holland for his and their right to remain and practice their religions in freedom in the form of the famous Flushing Remonstrance of December 27, 1657. Unable to resist pressure from Holland, the governor permitted them to stay. This document is often hailed as the first American declaration of religious freedom.
The Hindus of the Ganesha Temple honor this document and John Bowne in their temple literature and consider themselves the latest beneficiaries of the freedom it gained alongside Flushing’s many Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Moslem, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and other religious groups that flourish there.
Dr. Brown’s students observed religious services, held a Q&A session with a temple representative, had lunch, and then wrote their usual two-page homework essay on their visit.
Dr. Brown is a firm believer that an indispensable part of the study of religions is a visit to a house of worship, a discussion with followers, and an open and honest Q&A session. So many students have never visited a house of worship other than their own and such visits are often a real eye and soul opening experience. As Dr. Brown always tells his students about houses of worship, “Don’t be afraid, if the door is open just walk in and visit. If they don’t want you they’ll throw you out. But usually they welcome you and make you feel at home.”
One of Dr. Brown’s most famous field trip stories was a visit to an African Pentecostal Church in Brooklyn. The pastor told him on the phone that he would be more than welcome. “Just come on in and blend right in.”