Participants at a Buddhist Studies Conference at Haeinsa, home of the Tripitaka Koreana (December 2012).
Mazu Temple in Yau Ma Tei (Kowloon, HKSAR) (December 2013).
Bodaiji at Osorezan (Aomori prefecture, Japan) home to postmortem wedding ceremonies and other rituals concerning the deceased (October 2013).
Sudokusa in the northeast of South Korea (ROK) (July 2012).
Ven. Seongcheol preparing tea at the White Lotus Hermitage (Bekryenam) in South Korea (ROK) (December 2012).
Fox Spirit in a local store front shrine in Hung Hom (HKSAR) (December 2013).
Mandala at Yamadera (Yamagata prefecture, Japan) (October 2013).
Monastics of the Korean Chogye order perform a ceremony to commemorate the victims of 3/11 in Iwate prefecture (Japan) (January 2013).
Luther College offers courses in the study of Asian religions. These courses explore the religious traditions of South Asia (REL 261), the religious traditions of East Asia (REL 262), the expression of Japanese religions in Manga and Anime (REL 265), pilgrimages in China and Japan (REL 264), and the monastic life in China and/or Japan (REL 263). All courses that examine Asian religions at Luther College count towards the General Education requirement, the Religion program, and the Asian Studies Minor. The former three courses (REL 261, 262, & 265) focus on religious texts central to the religious traditions of South and East Asia, the latter two (REL 263 & 264) are study abroad courses that foster experiential learning.
Studying the religious traditions of South and East Asia can be very rewarding and challenging at the same time. For the most part, these courses examine histories, scriptures, ideas, and rituals rarely found and barely studied in the basic high school curricula in the Midwest. This means that courses examining the religious traditions of South and East Asia allows many Luther students to explore customs, beliefs, and practices they are not familiar with. In our classes, students read scriptures, think about beliefs, learn about practices, and enter cultures that have been influenced by these traditions by watching movies made in South and East Asia, participating in tea ceremony, appreciating the art and music of South and East Asia, and analyzing manga and anime.
This kind of study is very exciting, broadens one's knowledge and horizon, and enriches our lives. Knowledge of a variety of religious beliefs and practices is important to understand different cultures, potential business partners, and, increasingly, friends and family. At the same time, immersing oneself in traditions and thought systems previously unknown can pose significant challenges as we lack the respective frame of reference and as the material we study has the potential to challenge our way of looking at the world. In fact, our very understanding of what religion is is transformed by this kind of study. In some sense, studying new religious traditions is, in many ways like studying new languages: There is the thrill of learning new modes of expression as well as confusion, since this new mode is different from the one we know.
All Asian religion courses at Luther College apply what is a called a Religious Studies approach. This means concretely, that 1) we will listen to the voices of those who identify with or belong to the religious traditions of South and East Asia in order to find out what they do, what they believe, and how they identify themselves. In short, we look at the beliefs and practices in question on the terms of the traditions in which they have developed. 2) We then analyze the various beliefs from a philosophical perspective, the communities from a sociological perspective, and the rituals from an anthropological perspective. 3) Finally, we put the beliefs and practices of the traditions we study in dialogue with the beliefs and practices central to other religious systems. The goal of this approach is to widen our perspective and to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be religious.