Learning in Sacred Spaces

Professors Isaac Calvert and Buddy Richards took students to visit the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh

Isaac Calvert and LeGrand (Buddy) Richards, two professors in Educational Leadership and Foundations, traveled with four students from Foundations of Education 201 to the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning to observe how countries all over the world value learning and how students receive their education in sacred spaces. This opportunity was possible because of an enhanced learning grant offered through the McKay School of Education.

Indian Nationality Room
Indian Nationality Room at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.
Photo Courtesy of Nationalityrooms.pitt.edu

At the Cathedral of Learning, the group had the opportunity to visit the nationality rooms, a collection of 30 classrooms each representing a different country. The rooms are decorated and modeled to show what each country considers to be a sacred space for learning. The woodwork in the entrance of the Turkish room is based on the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. The Indian room is modeled after a courtyard classroom at Nalanda University, an ancient school in India. Materials from each country were used to construct the different rooms. The rooms, however, are not just for display; they also function as classrooms for the university.

Calvert described the rooms as breathtaking. “It was amazing to . . . enter each room and feel a strong sense of the Spirit,” he said. “My favorite rooms were the Turkish and Indian rooms because of the detailed layout and design of the rooms.”

Savannah Higgins, an elementary education major who attended the trip, also said the rooms were very inspiring. “Upon entering most of these places, I just felt this sense of awe. It was incredible to see the time, effort, money, and dedication put into creating these learning spaces.”

Heinz Chapel
Inside the Heinz Memorial Chapel. Left to Right: Hanna Haviland, Preston Adams, Liberty Johnson, Isaac Calvert, Savannah Higgins, Buddy Richards
Photo Courtesy of Savannah Higgins

Calvert’s group also came across the Heinz Memorial Chapel, an unplanned stop on the campus, but one of the highlights of the trip. Calvert said the windows of Heinz Chapel were the best part of the trip for him, “It was astonishing to look up at these 70-foot stained glass windows and see the various individuals throughout history who have been influential in learning.”

Following their visit to Pittsburgh, the team traveled 140 miles north to visit Church history sites in Kirtland, Ohio. Calvert shared the story of what led to the construction of the Kirtland temple. “At the time, Joseph Smith was receiving revelation in a room above the general store, but the Lord felt he needed a space which was more sacred, so Heavenly Father commanded Joseph to build a temple.”

Higgins said that experience gave her insight into the importance of learning in a sacred setting. “He required a space that reflected the sanctity of the learning to be done. If it matters to our Father in Heaven, it should matter to us.”

Both Calvert and Higgins agreed one of the main takeaways from the trip was that God’s truth can be found in more places than we think. “A lot of the time we believe the only place we can feel the Spirit is when we are somewhere that is associated with the Church. There are so many other places where we can feel the Spirit and learn truth from God,” said Calvert.

“It just goes to show that there is truth to be found in so many different places, peoples, and cultures,” said Higgins. “We just need to position ourselves as learners and earnestly seek for it, guided by the Spirit.”

Kirtland Temple
The group outside the Kirtland Temple. Left to Right: Preston Adams, Liberty Johnson, Savannah Higgins, Hanna Haviland, Isaac Calvert, Buddy Richards
Photo Courtesy of Savannah Higgins

Calvert plans to do two more trips to the Cathedral of Learning next school year, hoping to have more students attend and enjoy an experience of learning in sacred spaces. But he also recommends that BYU follow the example of the University of Pittsburgh by offering a special area dedicated to knowledge. “The Cathedral of Learning is a place on campus where visitors can come and appreciate academic learning,” said Calvert. “It would be awesome for BYU to have a similar area on campus for guests to tour while also providing students with an opportunity to have a sacred learning experience.”

Higgins attributed the majority of her learning experiences from the trip to her professors. “Both of these men are incredibly intelligent and very passionate about teaching and learning. They guided us to develop our own understandings and have new experiences,” said Higgins. “They helped us understand symbolism, make connections, and see things across different times and people. The experience definitely would not have been as impactful without them.”

Writer: Cameron Hussein

Contact: Cindy Glad (801) 422-1922