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Chance to visit, study India next year offered through Religious Studies course
Monday, May 20, 2013

Fredonia students studied religion in India during J-Term this past year. The same course will be offered in January 2014.

By Roger Coda

Buoyed by the success during the last J-term of INED 399 Global Philosophy of Religion, a three-week study abroad program to Pune, India, plans are already underway to offer this unique learning experience to SUNY Fredonia students again, tentatively scheduled to run from Dec. 27 through Jan. 19, 2014.

The group stayed on the campus of the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education (FLAME) in Pune, in Maharashtra state. Entranced by the sun and warmth, nine SUNY students (five from Fredonia and one each from Binghamton, University of Buffalo, Brockport, and New Paltz) and an undergraduate from Australia enjoyed classes and trips together with 13 Indian undergraduates.

On their first field trip to Pune (population 5 million), students visited a historic hilltop temple complex, featuring shrines to the goddess Parvati, the god Vishnu, and others. Next on the agenda was a lengthy day trip to the metropolis of Mumbai, better known as Bombay, to see the famous medieval Shaivaite cave temples off the coast on Elephanta Island.

Students talked at length to their hosts about Sikhism on a visit to a Sikh Gurudwara in Pune. They also viewed a museum on the history of Sikhism and its martyrs, and enjoyed their traditional langar, a free vegetarian meal offered to all visitors after worship. Next on the agenda was a visit to sacred gardens, portions of largely intact old growth forest containing various shrines to local deities. Hector Andrade, a FLAME professor, philosopher and environmentalist, was their guide.

Dr. Dale Tuggy, professor of Philosophy and coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Religious Studies, created and led the program. “I’ve learned and taught about Indian philosophies and religions for years, and I think India is historically, politically, and economically important. It’s a huge country, bursting with peoples and cultures, and American students should experience it. And even though Indians speak many languages, higher education is done completely in English!”

Students enjoyed daily classes, exploring various Indian and Western ideas about God, conceptions about the ultimate reality, the gods, religious experience, reincarnation, religious tolerance, Indian religions and spiritual practices, and religious diversity. Cultural diversity within the class led to many interesting discussions.

“Background assumptions and cultural knowledge relating to religions are very different when it comes to Indians and Americans. Most of the Indians were Hindus, but there were also students raised Muslim, Jain, or Christian. Our group had agnostics, atheists, a couple of Christians, and a Jewish student,” Tuggy said.

“Our material included what you could call contemporary Anglo-American analytic philosophy, but also material from some famous modern Indians, including Swami Vivekananda and the prolific Indian philosopher Arvind Sharma. The non-Indians were eager to learn about these Indian thinkers, and the Indians enjoyed getting the perspective of a ‘Western’ philosopher,” Tuggy explained.

Pictures from the trip, showing both SUNY and FLAME students, can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/SUNYIndia2013. Many student blog posts, done under assigned pseudonyms, can be viewed at http://fredoniaflame.blogspot.com/.

Tuggy and three students utilized some free time to visit several additional religious sites, including an Anglican church and a rare Jewish synagogue, both built in the 19th century. Near the end of the course, the entire class visited the home of FLAME’s president, Dr. Indira Parikh, where they enjoyed a sumptuous Indian feast.

Last year’s program was supported by a one-time award of $4,000 – the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Internationalization. All but $34 (used for poster paper) went into program costs, reducing the financial obligation on SUNY students.

Tuggy said, “This is a new and sustainable program to an important country. It also serves the areas of Philosophy and Religious Studies, which are not strongly represented in SUNY study abroad offerings. We’re eager to do it again.”

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