From an early age I have gravitated towards East Asian art and culture. I found myself aesthetically drawn to the woodblock prints and detailed textiles from the region throughout my adolescence. This interest in Asia, more broadly, led me to take Mandarin Chinese as my foreign language during my first semester at the University of Tennessee in the fall of 2012. During my sophomore year as I tried to fill GenEd requirements while deciding what to major in, I took my first Religious Studies class. The class was Introduction to Religions of Asia with Dr. Megan Bryson. My interest in Asian culture, art, and religion intensified through taking this first course and my academic interests started to narrow as I discovered how fascinated I was by the diverse Chinese religious landscape. Initially I thought of my interests in Chinese art history and religion as distinct and separate. While working with my advisor, Dr. Bryson, we found ways to integrate my passion for Chinese art and religion in my undergraduate research.
Throughout my time as a Religious Studies major, I was able to work on my own research and assist my advisor with one of her projects. The department’s commitment to facilitating undergraduate research both allowed me to foster a love for the research process and prepared me for my graduate studies. In the two seminar classes I took in the department, I wrote papers that incorporate Chinese art and religion. The first focused on Chinese Buddhist whole body relics and the other explored gender issues surrounding Buddhist hell scrolls from Taiwan. During the summer of 2015, I completed an undergraduate research internship. I worked alongside Dr. Bryson on her project “Preserving China’s Fading Past.” I spent those weeks converting video footage and images on slides to more up to date and accessible formats. These images document lived religion in the rural Yunnan of China. The next semester I presented images and information about the rituals seen in the video footage at the University of Tennessee’s Discovery poster presentation day.
I am preparing to graduate in May of 2017 and will start working towards a Master’s degree in the History of Art. I plan to continue focusing on Chinese religious art in my research as a graduate student. After completing my program, I am interested in working in an art museum in either a curatorial or education department. My Religious Studies roots will always influence all aspects of my life, including my future career. When thinking ahead to working at a museum, I know my background in Religious Studies will influence me to think of a museum’s relationship to the wider community. My years spent studying a wide range of religious traditions has also left me with cultural sensitivity and knowledge that are necessary for making decisions on how to exhibit objects of religious significance in the context of a museum.