Ivette Vargas-O’Bryan

Project Proposal

What college students often fail to experience in a Western setting about Buddhist studies is how this religion requires a high degree of participation and is expressed through much devotional practice.  ABC co-anchor of Nightline Dan Harris, who recently converted to Buddhism, noted that Buddhism is something to do.  In this digital pedagogy project, two Austin College faculty and one Louisiana State University faculty member will team up with the Crow Collection of Asian Art Museum to provide undergraduates an opportunity to better understand the ways Buddhism is a religion of participation and cooperation. Digital and web-based platforms will create discursive and immersive environments demonstrating complex Buddhist principles which include emptiness, impermanence, and karma.

Crossing what in Western academic terms are considered the disciplinary boundaries of religion and science, students will actively engage in activities that take them beyond the traditional classroom to critical collaborative, inquiry-based learning. In particular, Zen ink paintings of the late Japanese artist and research biologist Iwasaki Tsuneo (1917-2002), who interlaced Buddhist and scientific principles, and a Tibetan sand mandala will form the foundation for the creation of a 3D virtual world and other web-based platforms (websites and e-books) to be used in two museum exhibitions. In conjunction, students will be expected to participate in regular coursework, museum lectures, and mind-body workshops.

As a result of this project, students in connected courses (as well as the general museum public) will be able to engage in a participatory and meaningful learning experience about the Buddhist tradition as well as concepts that have cross cultural relevance.

Project Collaborators:

Ivette Vargas-O’Bryan (Associate Professor of Religious Studies)

Michael Higgs (Chair of Mathematics and Computer Science)

Paula Arai (Associate Professor of Buddhist Studies, Louisiana State University)

The Crow Collection of Asian Art Museum (CCAA) Dallas, Texas:  Museum Director (Amy Hofland), curatorial and technical staff (Curator Caron Smith, Danny Skinner), Education Program (Director Jill VanGorden), Wellness Program (Wellness and Partner Program Manager Agathe Dupart), and others

Course Plan:

Although the project will mostly focus on courses in Buddhism (REL110, REL 250 and possibly REL220), it is highly collaborative involving linkage with Higgs’ computer science course, “Holistic Videogame Development: Not for Gamers” and working with an art institution and an external Buddhist scholar.  We are fortunate to have worked with many of the same collaborators from the earlier Mapping Cultures Project.  This current project will span several semesters focusing on different developmental stages that will eventually lead to two CCAA museum exhibitions (spring 2017 and 2018) showcasing original artworks and digital and web-based platforms. We have already had two planning meetings with the CCAA in May 2015.

Semester 1 (fall 2015/ fall 2016): Development of an Omeka website and scalar e-book in REL 110. Introduction to Buddhism course.  This will test the technology and prepare for engagement with Japanese Buddhist paintings and Tibetan mandalas needed in later semesters and for the first exhibition in spring 2017.  I also plan to introduce students to the use of Second Life in contemporary Buddhist practice on the web.  Dr. Higgs will be testing images with his students and contacts abroad.

Semester 2 (spring 2017):  REL 250 course on Buddhism, contemplative art and science will engage student learning and research development of Iwasaki’s works in a website to complement an exhibition of original works by Iwasaki at the CCAA. This course will also include lectures by Arai and participation in the CCAA Wellness Program (mind-body practices such as yoga, taiji, qigong). A co-exhibition at AC may be possible.

Semester 3 (fall 2017):  REL 250 course will be linked with Michael Higgs’ course, “Holistic Videogame Development: Not for Gamers.”  Common class sessions will be devoted to lectures providing students common background on Buddhist art and traditions, and opportunities for students in both courses to work in teams to help in the production of a virtual world exhibition of Iwasaki’s work and a Tibetan mandala scheduled at the CCAA in spring 2008.  REL 250 students will be producing a website to serve as an archive of student research, an online display of student progress, and to support the digital exhibition.  These activities will be supplemented by workshops conducted by Dr. Arai and the CCAA Wellness Program.

Semesters 4/5 (Jan term 2018 with Higgs; spring 2018): These sessions will include individual and group consultations and final work with Vargas-O’Bryan and Higgs for a CCAA digital and original works exhibition.

The learning outcomes for this course project will mostly focus on AAC&U’s criteria of intercultural knowledge and integrative and applied learning (utilizing digital or web-based platforms and interdisciplinary methods).




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