John Schroeder and five St. Mary’s students (Chris Kalman, Sarah Posey, Allison Mull, Claudia Peknik, and Erica Scheutz) have received a fully funded research grant from the 2005 ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellowship to study Engaged Buddhism in Thailand this summer. The project begins in Bangkok where we will receive Thai language training and an introduction to Thai culture, visiting The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. We will then travel to Webster University in Hua Hin, where we will receive three days of intensive workshops on Buddhist philosophy and religion, the different traditions of Buddhism in SE Asia, and the history of Engaged Buddhism in Thailand.
After this introductory period, the students will pursue independent research focusing on different aspects of Engaged Buddhism in Thailand; Allison Mull will research issues of women in Thai Buddhism, and will live for two weeks with Buddhist nuns at the Songdhammakalyani Temple in Bangkok; Sarah Posey and Chris Kalman will research various forms of alternative education at Moo Baan Dek (“Children’s Village”), and Claudia Peknik and Erica Schuetz will investigate Buddhist environmentalism and sustainable living communities at the South East Asia Learning Centre and the Buddhist organic farming community of Hin Pha Fan Nam. John Schroeder will then gather the students together for a two-day retreat/workshop at Wongsanit Ashram to finish writing projects, give presentations to each about their research projects, and to brainstorm about future events and presentations for the upcoming academic year at St. Mary’s College.
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Creating a Space of Their Own: Thai Bhikkhunis and Engaged Buddhism
Allison Mull is a senior majoring in Religious Studies with a concentration in Asian Studies and Women Studies. In Spring 04, she traveled to Dharmasala, India, where she did a study-abroad through Emory University on Tibetan Buddhist Culture and Philosophy. While there, she did her final project on the role of women in Tibetan Buddhism, where she interviewed a number of Tibetan nuns and Buddhist practitioners, and compiled her findings in a final project that combined an analysis of the role of women in Buddhism with the living voices of the women she interviewed.
She has continued this line of research in her St. Mary’s Project (a year long senior thesis), which focuses on the philosophy and religious practices surrounding the Tibetan Buddhist goddess Tara. Allison also plans to pursue graduate studies in Buddhism with a focus on gender and women’s studies, and is thus perfectly suited for this trip to Thailand.
Her project entails investigating the role of Buddhist women practitioners at the Songdhammakalyani Temple, which is associated with challenging the male dominated roles of Buddhist monks as well creating Engaged Buddhist organizations to help underprivileged Thai women. Allison plans to participate in their daily meditation and chanting sessions, and to interview a number of the practitioners about their lives as Buddhists nuns and how they view Engaged Buddhism. She is particular interested in learning how the nuns put Buddhist ethics into the service of social justice and gender equality.
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Alternative Education and Alternative Living Communities
Sarah Posey is a junior majoring in philosophy with a concentration in Asian Studies. Her primary interests in philosophy focus on issues of education, and she plans to write her St. Mary’s Project on Buddhism and alternative education. Thus, her Thailand project not only suits her present academic and intellectual interests, but augments her senior year by giving her a hands-on experience in a alternative educational environment at Moo Baan Dek (“Children’s Village”). As you will see below, Chris Kalman will be with Sarah at Moo Baan Dek, though his project will focus less on the teaching practices and methods at Moo Baan Dek and more on exploring it as an instance of an alternative living community. Sarah’s project focuses on the pedagogical practices and principles of the school, exploring how Engaged Buddhism manifests itself in the classroom environment. She is particularly interested in the relationship between the teachers and students at Moo Baan Dek, and how learning takes place in a supposedly Buddhist atmosphere, that is, in a space without power or force. Sarah intends to participate in the daily schedule at the kindergarten level, which includes meditation, community study, storytelling, and yoga, and intends to keep an extensive journal about her reflections on the style of teaching at Moo Baan Dek.
Chris Kalman is a sophomore at St. Mary’s, with a double major in philosophy and math, and a concentration in Asian Studies. He will be at Moo Baan Dek with Sarah, but the focus of his project is quite different. Sarah will be focusing primarily on the pedagogical context of the village, while Chris intends to investigate Moo Baan Dek as an instance of an Engaged Buddhist alternative community. As Chris describes in his proposal, Moo Baan Dek is more than a mere school, but also a living community where teachers, administrators, and students all live together. It includes an organic farm, communal farming techniques, shared rice cultivation, and common labor practices. Moo Baan Dek tries to live according to Buddhist ecological principles, and hence tries to be an environmentally sustainable community. Chris intends to “get his hands dirty,” as he describes it, by working in the organic farm, helping to cook and clean, and so on. He is also interested in learning about the style of conflict resolution and debate that occurs in their council meetings, and how they deal with governance issues. Chris also envisions doing his year long St. Mary’s project on Buddhist philosophy and communitarian ethics, and so this research and experience will certainly prove invaluable to him and the college community.
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Gaining and Sharing an Engaged Buddhist Perspective on Agriculture and Environmental Sustainability
Claudia Peknik is a junior majoring in Sociology with a concentration in Asian Studies. Her project focuses on issues of globalization and its affect on rural Thai farmers, and investigates the teachings of a Buddhist community devoted to strong ecological principles. Along with Erica Schuetz, Claudia will spend time at the Buddhist run organic farm, Hin Pha Fan Nam, which is a striking example of Engaged Buddhist environmental community. Hin Pha Fan Nam is part of the "Asok" movement in Engaged Buddhism, a movement that criticizes the impact of globalization and consumerism in Thailand, and criticizes the orthodox Buddhists for their laxity. The "Asok" Buddhists have created 18 sustainable communities throughout Thailand, and the Hin Pha Fan Nam that Claudia and Erica will visit has become a model farm, holding weekly classes, discussions, and lectures on issues related to organic farming, fertilization, pesticides, consumerism, and globalization, and accommodates numerous visitors from around the world. Claudia and Erica will therefore be welcomed at Hin Pha Fan Nam, and can explore the farm in depth.
Claudia's proposal (as distinct from Erica's proposal) intends to research the types of teachings given by the monks about sustainable living, questioning how these teachings might translate into a larger, socially activist framework. Claudia is also interested in examining the Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation, which educates ethnic minorities and other impoverished farmers in Thailand. Her primary focus for this project is to examine the specific environmental policies of Hin Pha Fan Nam, how they relate to Engaged Buddhism, how they impact other non-Buddhist Thai organizations, and how they might translate into a Western context. The strength of her project lies in her desire to apply the teachings of Hin Pha Fan Nam to rural American farming communities. Her future interests, as she writes in her proposal, are related to agricultural reform in the U.S., and she hopes to learn something from the Engaged Buddhist during this time to influence the way she thinks about agricultural reform at home.
Erica Shuetz is a sophomore at St. Mary’s, majoring in English with a double concentration (or minor) in Environmental Studies and Women
Gender and Sexuality. She will be traveling and studying with Claudia at Hin Pha Fan Nam farm, although her focus in the collaborative project will be quite different from Claudia’s research. Both Claudia and Erica are interested in investigating Hin Pha Fan Nam as an example of Engaged Buddhism, but their methodologies set them apart. Claudia intends to research the practical implications of the farm, investigating how it impacts other educational programs in Thailand, and how those teachings might be utilized in an American context. Erica’s interest and project is uniquely different. She plans to immerse herself in the daily activities of Hin Pha Fan Nam, which includes early morning meditations, reflections and discussions on the Buddhist principles of non-violence, and the daily communal work in the farming of papayas, bananas, rice, soybeans, and other organic vegetables. She sees her Thailand experience as preparation for her year long St. Mary’s Project, which will be a combination of creative reflections on environmentalism and photography. Both Erica and Claudia also have previous experience in Thailand, where they participated in a St. Mary’s study-tour to Thailand last summer focusing on the impact of Globalization in Asia. They view this proposal as a continuation of their previous studies about Thailand and SE Asia.
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