Graduate student Victor Balaban combines his interests in psychology and photography to understand a cultural phenomenon
Field of Dreams
By Andrew W.M. Beierle
Psychology graduate student Victor Balaban didn't know what to expect the first time he visited the rolling fields of Nancy Fowler's Conyers farm, much-publicized site of apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Balaban, who is Jewish, was not seeking religious insight or inspiration but went out of curiosity about human nature and belief--and to take pictures, an avocation since adolescence. What he found satisfied both urges. He is writing his dissertation about the ways the faithful at Conyers communicate and create a social environment through language, and his photographs of the gatherings have been displayed at the Schatten Gallery of the Robert W. Woodruff Library and may eventually be published in a book.
Balaban has developed a respect for the faith of people who make the spiritual pilgrimage to the apparition site. At a lecture he gave prior to the opening of the Schatten exhibition, Balaban encountered a woman who had made the pilgrimage to Conyers.
"She asked if I've had any religious experiences of my own since I'd been there, and I said, 'Nothing that I'm really aware of.' And she said, 'You might say that, but on the other hand you've been going out to Conyers for two or three years now and you have taken a series of very beautiful, very respectful pictures. So who's to say that God wasn't using you as his instrument?' "
Balaban told her he wasn't aware of such an experience.
"But you can't know for sure," he suggests. "Maybe I was drawn out there, maybe I was God's instrument, maybe this was part of a larger purpose. You can't ever know. That's the crux of what faith is about, especially if you're dealing with a mystical experience, a divine experience."
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