General education heads abroad

Students in RLS 338 pose for a picture outside the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

March 15, 2013

By Margaret Cipriano ’15

In Religious Studies 338, Chinese Religions and Culture, students are exposed to China’s vast civilization and diverse religions from the moment they step into the classroom to the moment they step off the plane.

The general education course is structured with an embedded trip to China where students go from learning about Chinese religion and philosophy on campus to seeing Buddhist temples and popular culture on the streets of Beijing.

For the first six weeks of the course, RLS 338 students are combined with those in International Business 204, Business in Chinese Culture, for an in-depth study of Chinese history and language. From there, the two groups diverge and RLS 338 focuses on Chinese religious traditions before heading to China during Bradley’s spring break.

Dr. Daniel Getz, associate professor and chair of the religious studies department, developed the course to study Chinese culture in history, language and religion as well as fulfill a general education requirement of non-western civilization.

“The course is designed to look at all of the things associated with civilization so that students can understand it from various perspectives,” Dr. Getz said. “This allows students to come back to themselves and try to understand themselves in relationship to other cultures.”

In terms of general education, the trip to China gives students a chance to enrich their understanding about cultures that are different from their own.

“If you bring our expectations to China then you are going to miss the point” Dr. Getz said. “It’s not just a trip, there are lectures and the outings. These are life-giving and life-altering; the trip changes the way you look at the world.”

Being a 300-level course, RLS 338 also allows for more thorough exploration from students who have already been exposed to higher-level courses in their own majors and different methodologies. And, since RLS 338 is a general education course, students can bring their assorted academic backgrounds to examine ancient and contemporary China.

“Rather than a business student simply going to China to survey international business, a communications or biology major has the opportunity to travel to China to survey religion and Chinese culture. There is a wonderful broadening of knowledge within contexts otherwise unexplored,” said Douglas Valentine ’10, who took the course and later graduated with a degree in religious studies and psychology.

Valentine, who currently teaches at Central Methodist University, was so enamored with the trip that he added his religious studies major and even got a tattoo of the Hanshan Buddhist temple in Suzhou, China.

Former student Michelle Eaton ’13, working toward her master’s in liberal studies at Bradley, recalled how she was able to bring her anthropology background to the class, an interdisciplinary understanding that students in 100-level general education courses “haven’t yet experienced.”