“[This trip] forever influenced my understanding of the depths of religious nature, the ways in which history should be remembered and preserved, and the influences both of these elements can have on present-day culture.”
“This trip has broken down what other teachers have told me, and taught me so much more through experience and personal insight from everyone we spoke with. I am indebted to both Western and everyone at Taisho.”
—previous Religion and Culture Seminar students
Japan is only one of many study abroad locations and programs offered at Western Michigan University, but its popularity continues to increase, especially with the announcement of a new Japanese major coming in fall 2012.
The study abroad program offers students the chance to experience the rich religious and cultural life of Japan. Students will visit temples, shrines, new religious movements and museums, and attend lectures by Dr. Steve Covell, WMU professor of Comparative Religion at WMU, Japanese scholars, and others.
Covell describes the journey this way:
“You begin your stay in the heart of Tokyo. You are housed in the classic Japanese style rooms of the priests’ dorms at Zojoji, a centuries-old temple located just under Tokyo Tower.
“Using Zojoji as our base, we travel each morning to Taisho University for lectures and cultural exchange with Japanese students. We then visit the headquarters of major new religious movements, ancient temples, and Shinto shrines. Free days have optional trips to shopping districts and parks.”
A highlight is the three-day, two-night trip to Nikko. The trip begins at Manganji, a training temple and pilgrimage site. Before leaving Manganji, students hike to its waterfall for a rare chance at waterfall practice. The rest of the Nikko trip is spent touring the famous world heritage sites.
“After Nikko we travel by bullet train to Kyoto for three days and two nights of exploring the ancient temples and pathways of this beautiful city,” says Covell.
The trip is made possible through Taisho University—a major Buddhist university in the Tokyo area. Unlike other Buddhist schools, Taisho is run by four different Buddhist denominations in cooperation, and therefore, offers the chance to observe different Japanese Buddhist traditions.
Covell earned his Ph.D. in Japanese Religions from Princeton and is currently the Mary Meader (Associate) Professor of Comparative Religion and chair of the Department of Comparative Religion at WMU. He has drawn on his experience and contacts in Japan to put together this behind-the-scenes tour of Japanese religious life.