Statue of Buddha

A new web course will be offered this winter to all students who have wondered about the history, beliefs and practices of East Asian religious tradition.

In her upcoming course, professor Melanie Coughlin will share her knowledge and help hone in on your own experiences with religions. In fact, she will show you that religions indigenous to East Asia also interact with more popularly-conceived Western religions and movements, “like the proselytization of Christianity and modern feminism,”  she told Carleton University OnLine.

First intrigued by the Far East after studying Japanese in high school, Coughlin took to working and studying in Japan to experience a different lifestyle, one that she would not have in North America.

“I was exposed to a Zen-like quality of experience,” she said. “I realized that in order to integrate what I’d learned about thinking and living into a Canadian lifestyle, I needed to grasp the roots and the impact of what I’d learned within the larger East Asian context.”

Since then, Coughlin has developed her own specialized research in Japanese Buddhist philosophy and has also been an active research fellow at Kyoto University for the past three years. As teaching is one of her greatest passions, Coughlin has “completed several courses in online and active learning strategies and [is] deeply committed to accessible education.”

Now, she teaches her students about East Asia and its religions because she wants them to benefit from contextualizing and deepening what they already know about East Asia.

Coughlin offers an example: “If a student has only ever encountered East Asian practices and ideas through popular culture, then exposure to more scholarly sources will allow them to better judge the truth of what they are told.”

Conversely, she said, if another student has only encountered said practices only through personal experiences, then perhaps these academic exercises will allow them to better understand what they are already familiar with.

“And honestly,” Coughlin admitted, “teaching is the best way to keep learning.”

The class itself is set up in such a way that Coughlin’s academic expertise will guide her students’ individual reflections and experiences. In terms of content, she said, “we think both large and small,” asking questions about what religion is and how it should be studied.

These contextual questions will influence finely-tuned assignments, “like using a single historical fact to write one’s own interpretation of a single sentence from Confucius’ Analects,” Coughlin explained. With individual and group dynamics, the course is quintessentially designed for the web.

Coughlin will be teaching East Asian Religions (RELI 1716) this winter. She said that it is her goal “that anyone interested in the topic of religion or East Asia will walk away from this course with knowledge and skills that remain useful a decade later.”

By Bianca Chan

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