Blog 1: What’s This Class All About Anyway?
So, hello, and welcome to my blogs! This is going to a series of five blogs that attempts to take you through a similar process of all that I’ve learned this semester in regards to Japanese Religions.
To start of, one might ask how, or why, I even enrolled in this class. Well, I am a Religious Studies Minor and I have always been slightly fascinated with religions. I was, actually, supposed to be a nun. That didn’t work out, though. I enjoy drinking and cussing too much for that lifestyle. But, I carried that fascination with religions with me to college and ended up in the Religious Studies department.
When I heard there was going to an immersive learning Japanese Religions class, I jumped on the chance to participate. I always tend to learn much better when I get the chance to be active in the class. Oh, and, of course, because Dr. Roemer is my favorite professorJ.
To be honest, though, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into with this class. I figured we would spend the first 8 weeks on Shinto, take a test, do a presentation, and then spend the last 8 weeks on Buddhism, take a test, do a presentation. On the first day of class, though, it became pretty apparent that that was not going to be the format of this class.
Dr. Roemer had us all do a really interesting metacognition exercise in class the first day. He challenged us to think about all the things we knew about Japanese Religions. Then we all went into small groups, and eventually all back together as a large group, and discussed what we had come up with. I do not think anyone in the class was particularly impressed with the list of things we came up with. Most of the students all had very similar items and most of the characteristics were Westernized ideas.
So, while our collective list of Japanese Religions characteristics was not all that impressive, something else was. We all started coming up with these questions. It was through reviewing what we knew, and adding new information, that we started coming up with intellectual questions that, at the beginning of class, no one (or at least not me) would have thought to asked.
This exercise really shaped the way I approached the class. I was not particularly worried about what information I was going to know off the top of my head by the end of the semester. Instead, I was more interested in what information I was going to learn that would help me ask better questions.
Blog 2: Back to High School.
After the first day of class, and my revolution in what I was going to learn in this class, the immersive learning aspect came into play. You might be wondering…what is immersive learning? Well, it is Ball State’s effort to stay true to their motto “Education Redefined”. Instead of sitting in a classroom and writing papers, the students are challenged to go out and utilize the information they are learning.
So, to pass this class we all had to participate in an immersive learning project. There were three options. We could help recognize and beef up the website, or we could help build shrines and temples in second life, or we would do high school presentation. After about 2 minutes of consideration, in which I realized I’m awful at technology, I decided to participate in the high school presentations.
There were about 5 of us total in the presentation group. Some of us clicked right away and had the exact same vision for the presentation and some of us did not. That’s part of working in a group, though. Because we had some many different ideas about how we wanted to do the presentations, we ended up merging two ideas. So, for our first presentation we decided to tackle Japanese Creation Mythology. Easy enough subject right? Wrong!
The first challenge we had to tackle was what information we wanted to cover. Everyone in the group had their own idea about what we should cover. Ironically enough, most of everyone’s ideas ran parallel to what they had written their first essay about. We ended coming up with a presentation that was both interactive and informative.
The presentation started off with us challenging the high school students to come up with their own creation myth. We provided definitions, and gave some vague guidelines, and then let them run wild. We then compared and contrasted the stories that they came up with and compared them some of the different types of creation myth. We ran through some of the basic Japanese creation mythology and then we presented some different opinions and perspectives on it.
I felt like we were able to leave the students in that classroom with a little bit more knowledge then they started off with. What knowledge did I leave that classroom with, though? Well, outside of the obvious increase in information about creation mythology (specifically Japanese) I walked away knowing a little more about the different perspectives and how, more or less, there is not clear interpretation about Japanese Creation Mythology.
Blog 3: Back To High School…Take 2.
After the first presentation, you might assume that our presentation group was a well oiled machine. Well, you if you assumed that then you are wrong. We were not. Once again, we went through similar problems that we went through in our first presentation. In addition, as a group we, also, had to overcome the challenges of group members losing motivation and actually getting work done at our meetings. Eventually, we all agreed to do a presentation of Japanese Life Cycles and over the saying “Born Shinto, Marry Christian, Die Buddhist”.
I was in charge of doing the Marry Christian portion of the presentation. I was completely okay with this because it allowed me to indulge my super girly side and spend way too much time looking at wedding related stuff. Being in charge of this portion of the presentation, also, allowed me to challenge myself to not to present it as Japanese Religions, and traditions, being the “other” to our Westernized ideas. This was something I could easily see myself doing and I really felt like the high school students deserved a better representation of the Japanese Life Cycle. So, I pushed myself.
In the end, I felt like I was able to accomplish it. It was difficult not to say “this is what we do” but “this is what they do”. I wanted to draw comparisons and really get the high school students see how this saying was really indicative of the nature of syncretism within Japanese Religions.
Overall, I think this presentation was our best one. I think everyone in the group was able to come together at the last moment and really nail it. Additionally, I felt like the students that we presented to enjoyed it the most.
Blog 4: The Nature of Syncretism within Japanese Religions.
I decided to write this blog entry after the two presentations because that is when it really hit me. It was about 3/4th into the semester that I started seeing syncretism EVERYWHERE within Japanese Religions. Maybe it was because the readings were highlighting them, or because of the presentations, or because I was doing more and more metacognition, but how Japanese religions mix and mash beliefs and praxis was jumping out at me.
Maybe because it is because I was raised in an Abrahamic religion but syncretism was something I had a hard time swallowing. I’m used to you being either “this” or you being “that”. There was no “this and that”. Within Japanese Religions, it was the norm. Like the previous blog illustrates, you could be born Shinto, marry Christian, and die Buddhist, and nobody blinks and eye.
In addition, how non-religious most Japanese people classify themselves was absolutely fascinating. They did not see the rituals and traditions they were doing as religious, but instead of customary. It was present in their lives but there was no fascination with it being in every aspect (like some Western Religions).
It made it frustrating at times, though. Maybe because I couldn’t help but let some of my Western perspective into my metacognition efforts, but, at times I would find myself thinking “I just want to know what they believe”. If someone could write a Japanese Religions For Dummies I would really appreciate it.
As the end of the semester draws near, I can’t help but think that this was maybe the most important thing I learned this semester. I mentioned in the first blog that I felt like metacognition is all about learning to ask questions, and not necessarily knowing the answers.
Blog 5: The End.
This is the last blog. When I started writing this I didn’t really know what I wanted to talk about. I felt like I covered a lot of the experiences in the class in the previous four posts. I started thinking about what I’m walking away from this class with.
– Not Being Afraid of High School Students: Obviously, I was never afraid of high school students. However, the high school presentations did let me conquer a fear of public speaking. I was not necessary nervous about the public speaking, but instead, of them asking a question I didn’t know the answer to. This fear is also a large part of why I don’t ask a lot of questions in class. I don’t want to be unprepared and stand up there looking like a fool. By the end of this class, though, I was considerable less worried about this.
– Working in a Group: I think this is an underappreciated skill. The immersive learning project really forced me, and the other group members, to become a lot better at this. Not only did we have to present to high school students but we had to learn to work together academically. I imagine this will probably come in quite handy in the future.
– Metacognition: I know I’ve mentioned this about 15 times through out these blogs, but, I really feel like it was an essential part of this class. Let’s be honest, I’m not going to remember a majority of the things I learned in this class 35 years from now. What I am going to remember, though, are the exercises in metacognition. Forcing myself to review what I already know, what I’ve just learned, and what I have left to learn, will help in almost any field I go into. It’s kind of like having a flashlight. What I don’t know is the darkness, there’s usually a lot of it, but metacognition is like the flashlight, it helps me pinpoint what I need to see.
So, with that corny example, I’m going to end my blogging experience. I’ve learned a lot of things this semester and am able to say I’m walking away with a little more knowledge then before. It’s been real!