Students brought the Program in Religious Studies to the far corners of the globe in 2009-2010 while U of M faculty developed a course that explores lived religion in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area.
Last fall, I studied abroad through the Minnesota Studies in International Development program in Jaipur, India. I took classes on international development, country analysis, and Hindi. The highlight of my stay in Jaipur was living with a host family. I enjoyed how different each day was--from the food to holidays to different visitors, and learning how to communicate with my host family.
The other part of my stay was spent in Udaipur, India. I interned and lived at an NGO named Astha, which did advocacy work for women, widows, tribal rights, self-governance education, and literacy training. I observed trainings, taught English, and went on field visits. During these visits, I stayed at two tribal girls' education camps that Astha had created for young girls and teachers. The girls live at the camp for seven months--it was hard for me to imagine how the girls must have felt to be away from their families for so long. Still, it was incredible to see how they adapted and how willing they were to learn. I had never been so happy than while spending time at these camps. There was so much joy and life.
Yet there were also overwhelming moments of questioning, "Is this my life?" (accidently ending up at a rat temple, literally filled with rats), or moments of not really knowing what was going on ("pack your bags, you are staying in a village where nobody speaks English"). What I took away from the experience was that, in a place so completely foreign to me, becoming familiar with different places and people gave me a confidence and incredible feeling of comfort as I had never known before.
Religion is significant in many aspects of Indian culture and society. The purpose of my religious studies major--to better understand the human experience--was profoundly illuminated by my stay in India.
Last fall, I travelled to Amman, Jordan, for a semester abroad. During my time there, I greatly enjoyed the Jordanian standard of hospitality, and I was also able to enjoy some great travel experiences both within and outside of Jordan.
When my plane touched down in Amman, I turned to the person sitting behind me and asked him to hand me my bag from the overhead rack. After talking with him, I learned that he was a student at the university where I studied, and he became a good friend--he welcomed a group of my friends to his house for a traditional meal and eagerly showed us around his city. Such an example didn't seem to be unusual--Jordanians love to welcome foreigners and were truly great hosts and neighbors.
The people in Jordan were wonderful, and they had some great sites to showcase as well. My trip to Wadi Rum was breathtaking--it was a desert valley that was desolate, enormous, and beautiful. I also was able to visit Ajloun, a rare green park, and Karak, where a major Crusader castle still stands. These experiences, in addition to trips to Egypt and Jerusalem, left me with many fantastic memories.
I am still in contact with friends that I made abroad. More importantly, I have the experience of going somewhere completely new, meeting wonderful people, settling in to a different lifestyle, and seeing dazzling locations.
Daniel explored how the category of "religion" is understood in contemporary Chinese society. The question is one of significant concern, given recent
critiques of "religion" as a normative category created by Christians and scholars in the Western world. From these perspectives, the term was used either to designate difference (from what was understood as "real" religion, i.e., Judaism and Christianity) or understood as a "universal" human behavior. Neither of these perspectives is legitimate in a global context, yet the term remains popular.
Daniel's study uses ethnographic means--personal interviews and an e-mail survey--to gather information on how Chinese people of a number of religious perspectives understand the term "religion."
Discover Local Religions
The Twin Cities encompasses significant religious diversity. Joining the early established Native American, Christian, and Jewish groups, Muslims arrived in the the mid-twentieth century, and changes in immigration laws in 1965 brough Hindus and Sikhs. Recent immigration has brought Hmong indigenous practices; Laotian, Cambodian, and Thai Buddhists; Russian (Orthodox) Jews; East African Muslims and Orthodox Ethiopians, among others.
Religious studies faculty members are developing a course that looks at the varieties of religious practice in the Twin Cities as a way of exploring world religions. It will look at Native American practice as well as the religious practices of immigrants, from Scandinavian Lutherans to Somali Muslims. The course will stress the ways in which global religions have become neighborhood practices in the Twin Cities. It will investigate not only the religions in and of themselves but the ways in which they interact (both positively and in tension) to form the Twin Cities religious landscape.