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Exploring Living Religions in the Silicon Valley

Students in Dr. Elizabeth Drescher’s RSOC 14: Exploring Living Religions course visited several local religious communities across religious traditions to conduct fieldwork on social, cultural, and material expressions of religion and spirituality in the Silicon Valley. Communities involved in fieldwork included: Buddhi Vihara Buddhist Pagoda, Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, Chua Bao Phuoc Temple, Duc Vien Buddhist Pagoda, Gold Sage Monastery, Grace Baptist Church, San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, San Jose Quaker (Friends) Meeting House, and San Jose Sikh Gurdwara Sahib, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Sunday Assembly Silicon Valley, Shri Krishna Vrundavana Temple,  and Temple Emanu-el. Students participated in services, attended lectures, and interviewed community leaders and congregants. Students developed community profiles and videos that will be included in the Religious Studies Department’s Living Religions Collaborative website, which will be developed in the new year.

Students report that the diversity of visits and rich, experiential engagement with practicing communities encouraged a greater openness to religious pluralism. As well, the course’s focus on the study of “lived religion,” which highlights concrete, embodied, material expressions of religion in social and cultural context, allowed them to understand religion as being about more than competing beliefs or formal practice, but rather modes of experience integrated in the everyday lives of practitioners.

Student Experiences

Sikh
Andrew Feldmeth, Blair Harges, Alex King, and Katrina Rudd were among students who explored living religion at the Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in San Jose, where they observed a worship service and a community meal prepared by volunteers at the Gurdwara.

atheist
Kathryn Decker, Ian Bright, Lucy Gilbert, and Ethan Smith were among students in “Exploring Living Religions” who attended the Sunday Assembly Silicon Valley—the so-called “Atheist Church”—in Mountain View to explore how the non-religious practice “religion.

Buddhist
A visit to Duc Vien Buddhist Pagoda by “Exploring Living Religions” students Patricia Ornelas, Jada Paddock, Jasminder Bains, and Alice Matsuda included an in-depth interview with two of the nuns in the community as well as the privilege to join the sisters as they visited the bedside of a dying community member to offer prayers with the family.

Baptist
Daniel Demeter, Adrienne Lee, Jon Skipper, and Daniel Serouss were among students in the “Exploring Living Religions” class who visited Grace Baptist Church in San Jose, which has a vital ministry to the local homeless community, including homeless students at nearby San Jose State University.