1- When did your interest in religious studies begin?
While I was at Mount Allison, I loved taking all different kinds of classes. In my second year I took a course on Chinese history. I found the topic deeply interesting and the professor, Marilyn McCullough, was a marvellous teacher. In the summer of 1998 I joined the study abroad program that she led in China. I had never been to East Asia and while we were there we visited sacred Mount Putuo. This island is home to an important Buddhist deity (bodhisattva) named Guanyin. During the weekend we spent wandering in Mount Putuo's temples and on its beaches, I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life learning about sacred sites of this type. When I returned to campus, I became an Asian Studies major. Today I am a professor of East Asian religions (China and Japan) at Mount Allison. My research focuses on sacred mountains. I have come full circle.
2- What was your path after Mount A?
After Mount Allison I went to China and lived in Chengdu in Sichuan province. In 2004 I earned my MA at McMaster University in Buddhism and East Asian Religions. In 2004, I was awarded a four-year Social Science Research Council (SSHRC) graduate fellowship and a Buddha Dharma Kyokai (BDK) Canada Graduate Scholarship. I used these funds to begin my research in Japan. In September 2006, I started my graduate work at Columbia University in New York City where I earned my MPhil and PhD in East Asian Religions. Since first traveling to China as part of Mount Allison University's study abroad program I have regularly returned to China and Japan to study and do research. Most recently, a Social Science Research Council fellowship allowed me to spend six weeks in Kyoto, Japan continuing my work on the construction of Mount Wutai as a sacred site in Japan. This summer, I will return to China to participate in a conference on Mount Wutai's pan-Asian importance.
3- Research interests?
I study sacred place and pilgrimage in East Asia. My current work focuses on Mount Wutai (literally the Mountain of Five Plateaus) in China. Between the seventh and thirteenth centuries this mountain was built and rebuilt at sites throughout East Asia including, for instance, Mount Odae in Korea and Mount Godai in Japan. Exploring this topic, I am trying to understand what the creation and re-creation of Mount Wutai's landscapes achieved for Japanese religious practitioners in different pre-thirteenth contexts. At the moment I am working with my colleague Chen Jinhua at the University of British Columbia to put together an edited volume on the mountain's pan-Asian importance.
4- Teaching or research?
This isn't a choice that I feel I have to make. Teaching and research feed each other. Last semester my third-year students completed fantastic projects on objects that I have been given or purchased while carrying out my research in East Asia. These include statuary, maps, and musical instruments. This semester I am incorporating their beautiful projects into my second-year class, "Food Practices and East Asian religions." Working with my students I'm developing my abilities as a scholar who uses objects to understand religious practice. Recently, the University generously provided our department with funds to create an "East Asian Religions and Material Culture" collection at Mount Allison University. Right now, one of the real joys for me is finding objects that I can bring here to help students learn in a hands-on way about religious practice past and present. In the future I would like to make this resource available to a wider community of individuals interested in the study of East Asian religions.
5- You and your husband are residence dons at Windsor Hall. What is the best part of being a live-in don in residence?
The best part of being a don is getting to know Mount A students and enjoying the energy of living with 185 young men and women. It is fantastic. I love the conversations at the meal hall. Growing up with a big family of students, our son Daniel knows that the world can be a really friendly place.