2002 Student-Faculty Fellows: Eckerd College
Religious Practice and Chinese Local Culture
Mentor: Andrew Chittick, East Asian Studies
Students: John Robert Diedrich ’02; Bradley D. Fountain ’03; Mary Katherine Morrison ’03; Amanda Grace Uscicki ’02
Abstracts of Reflections
My trip to China on this program was a new and unique experience for me, since it was the first time I had ever tried doing anthropological fieldwork through live interviews, and the first time I had ever traveled with enough funds to make this really possible. It also opened up for me the world of contemporary Chinese religious practice. Not only has this given me tremendous experiences and information to invigorate my classroom teaching, it also has prepared me well for leading students abroad in the future. It has also added an exciting new dimension to my own research interests in local identity and sense of place in early China.
John Robert Diedrich
Overall the trip and study was extremely positive and enlightening, though there were moments when travel was rough and discouraging it was overcome and looked back at as very educational and helpful. Having personally spoken and interacted with the people in cities and temples as well as smaller towns, I have developed a greater understanding of the culture and method of dealing with citizens. Experiences such as these are priceless and will definitely assist me in my extended learning and interaction with people in foreign countries and in regards to religious studies.
Bradley D. Fountain
The trip to China was wonderful and amazing. It will be great for my future carreer but more importantly gave me insights into the Chinese as a people. I had the opportunity to train at the most famous martial arts facilities in the world. I got to talk about the deepest philosophical questions with monks and lamas. It was a great experience I will never forget.
Mary Katherine Morrison
I went to China grateful, ecstatic, impatient to experience a culture I’d always been so fascinated by – and one I thought I knew so much about. What I got was a thrilling, endlessly complicated wake-up call to what it really means to travel, research, and understand. My time in China ignited personal passion and renewed my commitment to the study of religion and culture. It also forced me to step up to an inclusive, humble, and always open experience of that study.
Amanda Grace Uscicki
This trip to China was unlike any other travel experience that I have had; and it was very definitely different from my previous experience in China. The depth with which I feel that we reached into the culture moved our group beyond the average tourist and I feel like we are able to say that we saw the “real China”.
The standard list of interview questions included such opening questions as: name, age, how long they have been studying at the monastery, their family, etc. Questioning then stemmed into daily life at the temple, their own practices for their day and religion and how much time they spent in meditation. Subjects were asked where they were from and how they had chosen to become a devotee of that religion. In one case, a young man got sidetracked on his way to a school to learn to work with machines. When he diverted, he wrote letters home but told his family nothing about his career path change. He did at some later point tell them, but he felt that his life was his decision and he wanted to be set in a new path lest his parents try to change his mind.
While each question was of particular interest to a student or two, it was not necessary for that student to ask the question. Each student knew of his or her colleague’s goals and therefore worked with one another to attain these goals. All information was shared and the others helped each student along. These collaborative efforts succeeded in teaching each student not only about what they were interested in personally, but also what each of the others was interested in. This provided a much larger learning experience. Those who had a larger background in Chinese history were able to provide such background information and those who were better versed in the religions helped those who weren’t. Each of us learned a great deal on the trip, more than we expected, and are continuing this learning with a newly sparked interest.
Venues for Sharing
Our group has the following list of activities planned for the results of this project:
- Our main activity will be a public lecture held at Eckerd College later this year. We are planning this to be a large event; hopefully even a College Program Series event.
- Bradley Fountain and Dr. Chittick will be presenting to the Elder Hostel program at Eckerd College. Bradley will be lecturing on Chinese martial arts and Dr. Chittick will be lecturing on Chinese history. While they have both lectured there before the new information that comes from this trip will make the experience much better for the audience.
- Several of the students are planning to make a trip to the ASIANetwork Conference. This will allow them to network as well as to present some of their findings.
- With all of the great information we acquired on our trip Katie Morrison and Bradley Fountain are each planning to write an article to submit for publication.