Religions of the East will be an introduction to the philosophies, belief systems, symbolism, and ritual practices of Eastern religions. Our focus will be on the basics of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as on two systems of Chinese thought, Confucianism and Daoism. We will read a variety of primary texts in translation, and study the cultural, historical, political, and material contexts in which these bodies of thought were conceived and expressed. The basic purpose of the course is to make you literate in the religions of the East, and to stimulate thought about the philosophical issues raised by their various claims. More specifically, for students on Semester at Sea, the course will prepare you to travel with intention, and with an informed curiosity about different ways to view the human condition. Since a large portion of our voyage takes place in Asia, the course will reveal the underlying belief systems that animate the various cultures you will be encountering. Furthermore, in the future, knowing about the religions of the East will allow you to engage more meaningfully with more people on the planet. The course will also allow you to examine and challenge your own system of beliefs, whether those beliefs are considered “religions” or “spiritual” in any western sense—or not.
Field WorkCountry: Vietnam
Date: February 13, 2019
Students will first have breakfast and then meet on the ship for a brief orientation. We will then take a bus to the Quan Am Pagoda in District 5. This Pagoda dates back to the early 19th century and was founded by a Fujian congregation. (The Fujian Province is a maritime province in southeast China.) This very ornate pagoda is very popular with both Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists, and has influences from pure land Buddhism, a devotion to the female Boddhisatva of compassion (Quan Am, or Guan Yin in Chinese), and a veneration of Thien Hau, the Lady of the Sea, a goddess typical of sea-faring Chinese communities. After a tour of the Quan Am Pagoda, the students will go by bus to the oldest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, the Giac Lam Pagoda, dating from 1744. This is an atmospheric pagoda, full of gilded statues, colorful murals, and one of the country’s most impressive stupas. The Giac Lam Pagoda, while a Buddhist temple, has influences from both Daoism and Confucianism. The students will have lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near one of the temples. After lunch, students will then go by bus to the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, the largest Mahayana Buddhist temple in Ho Chi Minh City, built in 1971. While its design was heavily influence by Japanese Buddhism, this pagoda was the first Vietnamese temple to be built with traditional Vietnamese influence, although it was built from concrete. We will also visit the Xa Lao Pagoda, the headquarters of Buddhism in South Vietnam, and if possible, visit the monument to the Buddhist monk who emulated himself during the Vietnam War. A tour guide knowledgeable about the pagodas will accompany us throughout the Field Lab. We will be doing all of this during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, so the experience will be extra rich. Learning Objectives:
- To expose students to important Vietnamese Buddhist temples and pagodas;
- To teach students some of the key iconography of Chinese-influenced Buddhism;
- To demonstrate to students the many different influences in Vietnamese Buddhism---Chinese Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, and even Japanese Buddhism