Sangaku: The democracy of math, meditation and art


As I lead students through learning experiences in the Shen gallery, I am often asked about Paul Salomon’s sangaku pieces. Students say “Um, I just don’t get it. How is THAT math?” I allow for some theories to be bounced around from person to person, and then I share what I have learned from researching sangaku. Invariably eyes widen, mouths fall open and at least one person will exclaim “That’s soooo coool!!!” 

Until recently I had been content with the abridged explanation I had been working with courtesy of Paul Solomon and a cursory search on the web. Curiosity struck, and I began to dig deeper. What I discovered was a riveting tale of cultural identity post conflict, x-warriors being trained as traveling teachers, male AND female villagers offering up their brain power to their ancestors in Shinto temples and one heck of story about the democracy of education. The history of sangaku is nothing short of juicy storytelling just waiting for the screenplay to be written.  

Some may see sangaku as math and only math. I see opportunities to investigate:

  1. Cultural identity through the evolution of academic disciplines
  2. Democratic education in theory and practice
  3. Education as a radical act with the potential to change the infrastructure of a region
  4. The economics of education including availability to printed materials
  5. Cultural traditions (like sangaku) that transcend gender and age
  6. Math games from around the globe
  7. Alternate forms of meditation that are active and engage the brain
  8. Community practices that support intellectual growth and enrichment
  9. Aesthetics by geographic region
  10. And of course, every conceivable aspect of storytelling – writing, performing, illustrating, etc.

Ready to sign up your class for a gallery visit? Click here to access the Google calendar or simply email Liz Titone to book you a time.

Above image: 17th Century sangaku tablet from Princeton Weekly Bulletin