2001 Student-Faculty Fellows: Millikin University

Occidentalism: Indian Images of the Other

Mentor: Sushil Mittal, Religion
Students: Kristina Compton-Parker ’02; Casey J. Guimond ’02; Jace Quinlin Hoppes ’02; Gloria Shaw ’02; Nicole M. Surprenant ’04

Abstracts of Reflections and/or Research

Sushil Mittal

In terms of sharing a common scholarly interest, we had a remarkably successful and enjoyable trip. The students developed a deeper awareness of the region and cultivated their interests and intellectual commitments to the region, and our learning took place on multiple dimensions. Beyond the research findings, the students learnt the fundamental methods in cultural anthropological research. Equally important, they were forced to learn to approach any particular situation with an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude, to be sensitive about intruding into situations where they were not wanted or welcome, to overcome the intimidations and anxiousness about what they were supposed to do on many occasions (and these are probably the times in which they were learning the most about the people and places they were studying), to be open to being surprised and to learning the unexpected,…to value their culture and society and what they have to offer….In all my past visits to India, I always traveled alone or with my wife. This is the first time I traveled with students. I learnt important skills for preparing and aiding students to cope with very stressful experiences (we often call this “culture shock”). In turn, I began to feel much more comfortable and confident in directing students. The trip was not, however, without any problems. I was often confronted with confusing situations and conflicting pressures. Some errors were therefore almost inevitable. Most of these were overcome with time and patience. We all got out of the ASIANetwork grant more than we could have ever imagined.

Kristina Compton-Parker

It is difficult to record my feelings without creating the perception that my experience was totally unfavorable and void of any positive outcome. Therefore, I will begin this by stating that I am sure my views are from the standpoint of a very narrow-minded Westerner. There was nothing that I liked about India. The abject poverty was shocking. Prior to this, I thought I had witnessed poverty with frequent trips throughout many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. Nothing prepared me for what I experienced. In other places, even amongst the poorest of poor there seemed to be some happiness and joy in life. I felt that I witnessed nothing but hopelessness and despair among the poor.

Casey Guimond

I knew by going on this trip that it was going to be an experience of a lifetime….It is hard to prepare for a trip like this because accepting the different ways of living is very important by not judging them. We were able to visit some of the major cities in order to learn more about the country itself and the people within it. It was difficult for me to adjust to their lifestyles, cultures, and choices of living….I was able to acquire knowledge about the Indian culture and their views on the Other and self through several of the interviews that I conducted. I found the interviewing process was pretty easy because most of the people that I interviewed were very willing to talk about the project. Traveling to India makes you appreciate what you have at home and around us. In all, I have learned many things about the Indian culture, their views on the Other and self, and about myself through this interesting trip to India. I think everyone should have a chance to experience a trip like this!

Jace Hoppes

The trip was a wonderful experience that I would suggest to anyone to attempt. There were some rough spots, but that is to be expected as there will always be some problems on any trip. The good things on the trip far out-weighed the bad. The traditional architecture and the temples were just incredible….The research aspect of the trip was also very interesting. There was much more diversity in the responses than I had expected there to be….Overall, it was invaluable educational experience.

Gloria Shaw

My journey to India has been one of the very few yet profound moments in my life. This was a journey that enlightened me to the vast differences and similarities between the culture and people in both the East and the West. During our visit to various cities as we conducted our interviews, we were exposed to various temples, palaces, and monuments. The vision of these great temples, palaces, and monuments were designed with very unique characterisitcs… representing the true essense of their religion and culture. During my stay in India I have truly been allowed an opportunity to get a better understanding of the people through my personal interaction with individuals within their culture from all walks of life. Each day was filled with interviewing various diverse backgrounds of people….My pilgrimage to India has served as a wonderful opportunity to expand my knowledge and understanding about the culture and its people beyond the bases of the textbook.

Nicole Surprenant

There are three things that stick out in my mind from my trip to India, the culture shock that I experienced, the learning experience from the interviews I conducted, and the amazing architecture that I saw on my travels throughout India. It took me a long time to realize that while my culture is vastly different from India’s, I could still respect and appreciate their culture and begin to enjoy the differences. Through the interviews that I conducted I learnt a lot, not only about Indian and Hindu ideas about the Other and Self but also about my own preconceived ideas and how they began to change during the trip. At first the interviews were rather difficult, perhaps because of my inexperience, but after the first few interviews the questions became easier to ask. Although there was more to the interviews then just asking questions, I got to know many different kinds of people and I learned through each more about the Indian way of viewing life and the world around them, and in turn about myself. I can truly say that without this experience my life would be different….The last thing that is very poignant in my memory is the wonderful architecture that is prevalent throughout India. The buildings were so interesting and varied throughout each city that one never knew what to expect. The temples were also very beautiful. In all, this entire trip was for me a learning and humbling experience.

Venues for Sharing

  • In Fall 2001, each student will share his/her experiences in three of my seminars.
  • Organize a workshop at Millikin University and at the local public library on the subject of our research.
  • Each student has been asked to give a presentation at their church.
  • Each student will also write an article based on his/her experiences for the university newspaper, and a co-authored article for the local city newspaper.
  • Presentation at the annual “Gandhi Festival” (the entire month of October).
  • In Spring 2002, each student will write a major paper on their research focus, for presentation and publication.
  • Presentation at the Midwest regional meetings of the American Academy of Religion.