Sacred sites of Islam are focus of Jan. 23 slide show at Maryville College

January 18, 2002

Explorer-anthropologist Martin Gray will present "Places of Peace and Power: Sacred Sites of Islam," in a high-tech slide show scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 23, on the Maryville College campus.

Spending 18 years as a wandering pilgrim, Gray has visited, studied and photographed more than 1,000 sacred sites in 80 countries around the world. His work has been featured in documentaries, on the Arts & Entertainment channel and in dozens of newspapers and magazines around the world. In the last 10 years, more than 75,000 people in the United States and Latin America have seen his slide shows at conferences and symposiums or attended special presentations, which continue to draw respect and attention for their social and environmental relevance, spiritual inspiration and artistic beauty.

Gray's two-hour slide presentation is expected to include hundreds of stunningly beautiful photographs from sites in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and focus on the sacred architecture of Islam, the Sunni, Shiite and Sufi sects. A discussion of Islam in today's world will be woven throughout the presentation.

In his presentation, Gray blends discussions of art, history and travel adventure, shamanism, inspiration and social ecology with the projected images. One eight-foot screen will be used, along with stereo sound.

"Traveling mostly by bicycle and living as a monk at hundreds of temples, monasteries and sacred mountains, I conducted exhaustive mythological and anthropological study and extensive photographic documentation of the sites," Gray said of his pilgrimages. "There have been three primary motivations for my research and travels to the world's sacred sites.

"One motivation has been to gather evidence showing that pre-industrial cultures throughout the world recognized the Earth to be a sacred being worthy of deep respect and gentle treatment," he explained. "Studying the development of sanctity at sacred sites, it is clear that many ancient peoples had a reverential relationship with the living earth. If such a relationship can be reawakened and encouraged in our culture, we will be better able to address the crisis of worldwide ecological degradation."

In addition to the evening presentation on Jan. 23, he will be speaking to freshmen students at 9 a.m. in the College's Wilson Chapel. Gray's morning presentation, which is open to the public at no cost, will focus on his individual environmental ethic. Gray's visit is being coordinated by Dr. Mark O'Gorman, assistant professor of political science and coordinator of the Freshman Seminar January Term. (As part of the College's general education curriculum, freshmen are required to enroll in Freshman Seminar 130: Perspectives on the Environment during the January Term.) Gray's initial connection with the College, however, is through Dr. Danny Pierce, a faculty member at the College, and Pierce's wife, Jennifer, who is a staff member.

"Martin's ability to record these sites provides people with an ability to link the natural world with spiritual issues and the diverse religious paths that exist on the planet," said Dr. O'Gorman. "In addition, Martin's record of the physical structures constructed to honor such places allows one to better understand how the 'built environment' intersects with the natural world."

"Places of Peace and Power: Sacred Sites of Islam," which will be held in the Fine Arts Center Music Hall, begins at 7 p.m. and costs $15 per person to attend. Money will be taken at the door, but reservations are required and may be made by calling Dr. Mark O'Gorman at 865/981-8048 or e-mailing him at

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.