Acknowledgements and Bows

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It’s important to be mindful of all the factors that made my trip possible. It’s so easy to say “I” took a trip when actually there is a web of interdependent realities, each contributing to the overall project (and passage). Everything in life has the characteristic of interdependency if we take time to really think about how to “connect the dots.” For this Far West Passage, I will list the major “players” first, and then say more about each one in turn.

 

  1. Miko
  2. USF
  3. Body-mind
  4. zazen
  5. Relatively stable social & political contexts
  6. airline safety
  7. gear: bags, camera, iPad
  8. friends who kept in touch
  9. Max

 

So first, I have to acknowledge with gratitude and affection my partner Miko, who gave me the green light to do this trip. When funding for my sabbatical year research project did not materialize, it was then a matter of seizing the moment and liberating myself from the confines of academia. My first trip to Nepal (and second to India) took place 35 years ago, and Miko and I have been together for 34, so she has heard endless (and repetitive) accounts of that long-ago and faraway time. She knows how important it was in shaping some of my sensibilities, and perhaps in my turn towards anthropology. The chance to revisit some of these places and add new ones (Indonesia and Turkey) meant a long and sustained trip that, exciting as it sounded, she knew she didn’t want to tackle. So she kept the home fires burning, managed basic affairs, and served as an important link back to the contexts of life in Albany, California. Weekly emails and sometimes Skype conversations also helped to keep our personalities in tune, even as we were dealing with business matters. So thank you Miko!

 

Next, my university enabled me to do the trip by granting me a year-long sabbatical with no strings attached. I will do a separate entry on what a sabbatical is, does, and makes possible, but suffice to say that the issue is not money (although having 75% of one’s salary for an entire year is like manna from heaven). The main gift a sabbatical provides is time to explore, rest, take chances, think creatively, work without interruption, screw up, make repairs, and so on. It’s the “and so on” that perhaps matters most!

 

Body-mind balance gave me the confidence to commit myself to months of travel and occasional physical challenges. Had I not been very active all these years–hiking, backpacking, working out, eating sensibly–I would have had a very different and much more sedentary kind of trip. The fact that my knee could heal after an injury in the mountains of Indonesia is testament to the benefits of good health. I was also pretty calm during the trip, handling setbacks with equanimity and delighting fully in new discoveries and adventures. I credit this fairly stable state-of-mind/heart to…

 

…my ongoing zazen practice. It never gets old, never fails to teach me about myself, and remains a fundamental resource in the kind of life I’m trying to live and navigate consistently.

 

Relatively stable social and political orders in all the countries I visited meant that a foreigner like myself–such an obvious target for thieves and miscreants–could move about in relative safety. This is no small matter. Compared to countries where one’s health and sometimes life is at risk because of conflict, disease, skin color, country of origin, religious affiliation, or disaster, my trip was mostly free of overt political and social strife (save for Turkey).

 

Airline safety was another hugely significant factor in this trip. Although I did take chances when in Nepal and India on airlines with sketchy safety records, I was mostly impressed with the professionalism I encountered on all of my 21 flights. I should mention, though, that three days after landing in Pokhara, Nepal, another airline crashed in the mountains, with 18 killed. We saw the cremation of a government official who was on that flight in Kathmandu when we visited the city’s main Hindu temple.

 

Now we come to the heart of the matter: my gear, various and sundry though it may be, performed wonderfully. When I left the Bay Area in late September for my first two talks in Hawaii, I had to pack everything I thought I would need for the entire trip. That meant clothes for temperate Japan, tropical Indonesia, and winter in India and Nepal. I had 3 bags, the smallest of which fit inside my large day pack so that I could board a flight with only 2 bags. At first, I could carry on both bags and thus avoid the anxiety and time wasted at baggage claim.

The small backpack was my daily go-to bag, safely protecting my valuables and capable of carrying a modest amount of supplies. The 22-inch size wheelie had the option of converting to a backpack in case I needed to schlep it and the other bag over rough terrain. All 3 bags came from REI and held up beautifully. Boots by Keen, running shoes by New Balance.

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What made the difference for storage in tight spaces were compression sacks to push the air out of folded clothes and thus provide more space. I had many other smaller bags to carry cords, plugs, medicines, toiletries, clothes, socks, underwear, camera gear, and an extended keyboard for the iPad mini. I did not have a cell phone and now think this was probably a mistake, but oh well. I managed.

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My camera, bless its lens, light meter, and motherboard, was a Canon Powershot G15. It doesn’t look like much but its body is metal, not plastic, and it is manufactured in Japan. Only a couple times did I want a telephoto, but not enough to lug around a big single-lens reflex camera like I did last time (a metal-body Nikon, plus wide angle and telephoto lenses). I found that the G15 could get me reasonably close and then, after editing and because of high pixel count, I could crop and zoom to get the close-ups I wanted. There’s already a G16 on the market, and I would buy this model again.

These acknowledgements started out with a personal touch and that’s how they will wind up.

All the friends, colleagues, and even strangers who took time to communicate and express support for this endeavor meant a great deal to me when traveling solo. Although I rarely felt lonely, there were many occasions when I would have enjoyed a face-to-face conversation at dinner or breakfast to recount stories and discoveries, or just to swap information or bitch about this or that. Being in email contact with folks near and far was always inspiring (even when unhappy news arrived) and much appreciated. Sincerely yours…

 

Finally, a big bow to my son, Max, for taking time out of his busy media-driven life in Tokyo to come into “deep Asia” and spend a week with me in Nepal. Without him, it’s unlikely I would have done the paragliding adventure, which remains among the top five discoveries of the trip.

The fact that we got along so well is also a marvelous and deeply appreciated gift that I will never forget. With any luck, we will try again to be in Nepal together within the next five years, and take a trek along that ridge leading to the high valleys near Machapuchare Himal.

 

 

 

 

Far West Passage: Completing the Circle, Heidelberg > Frankfurt > San Francisco > Albany

After a memorable final day and evening, I was up by 5:30 to complete final preparations prior to being picked up by a shuttle that would take me to the Frankfurt airport directly.  It was a calm and beautiful morning, with plum trees in full bloom, birds singing, and the sun not yet making an appearance above the mountains that surround Heidelberg.  My heart was in my throat as I got in the van, driven by a man with puffy, dyed-pitch black hair, sort of 1950s style.  No sooner did we get on the high-speed freeway linking Heidelberg to the rest of Germany, traffic slowed down and was backed up for many kilometers.  There were two women on the van and both were mostly asleep the entire way, missing the gorgeous morning scenes of sunlight streaming through groves of trees beside the highway, castles and forts atop hillsides and promontories, and dazzling fields of yellow mustard plants.  

The scenery of the highway to be traveled to the airport, however, was anything but tranquil.  3 lanes of vehicles were crawling along, which our driver found unacceptable and so, to my astonishment, pulled onto the shoulder to the right of the slow lane and began his end-run maneuver.  He did not creep along but accelerated to 70 kmh and would weave in and out of the slow lane whenever he felt like he had made progress.  Thus, the trip that took me to Heidelberg in 40 minutes at a terrific and terrifying speed, now deposited me at the airport in around 70 minutes, giving me precisely 90 minutes to go through security, buy a gift or two, and have plenty of time to calm down and reflect.

More about that later on.  

Thus did the very long day of April 8th, designated long in advance as the completion of my 27,600 mile round-the-world passage to the Far West, come to a happy conclusion.  My dear partner Miko had prepared the house with streamers and a couple charming drawings to welcome me back.  And although I rode the Bart train from the airport to the nearest station, there were no incidents or weirdness to jolt or disturb me.  

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So now, as a friend remarked, it is a matter of “landings” into the territories and configurations of the life I left behind.  I will get to these issues in a few days, but will dedicate my next entry to “acknowledgements” of all the components, people, and opportunities that made my “passage” possible.

Far West Passage: Completing the Circle

 

Sitting on a deck with warm morning sun on my back in Northern California is as good a place as any to bring this travel report to a conclusion (of sorts).

In the last episode, our traveler was still in Heidelberg, Germany, counting down the days before the flight that would take him directly to San Francisco. While marvelous in its efficiency in covering 5,600 miles in 12 hours or so, this flight would also plunge this traveler back into domestic and social contexts that would require full attention and energy to navigate successfully.

But that’s another story.

The second talk I gave (my seventh of the trip) was for a research group titled “Europe and Asia in Global Contexts.”   I’ve already discussed this group, the fine poster my host prepared, and so now need only mention briefly the bare facts of this event that took place some 14 hours before my departure.

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Holding a talk on a Monday afternoon during the period between winter and spring academic terms is not an optimal time. Even though I offered to forego the lecture because the timing seemed wrong, my host determined to go ahead and see what would happen. As a result, my transportation costs from the Frankfurt airport were covered, and I got a free meal after the lecture. To my host’s surprise, on April 7th, the room was full and the audience diverse. Students, faculty, post-docs and even a couple folks from the general public were in attendance.

This time, I could focus only on my book and some of its more provocative themes. I met with an IT person an hour beforehand to work through the setup and video links, so everything went smoothly and the talk concluded right on time. Afterwards, there was a discussant –a young assistant professor of Japanese modern history, Dr. Prof. Martin Krauss–who raised a few points and critiques that I then responded to. Standard format…but also amazing because we were operating in English and everyone seemed totally tuned in.

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I will mention only one of the discussant’s critiques, and that is the concept of “experimental Buddhism.” He said that over 100 years ago, Japanese Buddhists were “experimenting” with new forms of their religion and trying to make it relevant for a rapidly changing society. Why do you think, Prof. Nelson, that your book is about something “new” and significant?

I’ve entertained this question in several different forms, and have a half-page in my book that addresses it directly. There are two important characteristics that make “experimental Buddhism” in contemporary Japan something new and innovative. First, information technology allows greater access to information, teachings, services, and institutions (to name a few) and so individuals are empowered as never before to be discerning consumers of religious resources. Second, the Japanese state is not involved in contemporary religion the way it was back in the 1880s and 90s. This is hugely significant because it gives both individuals and temples/priests the autonomy to experiment with Buddhist traditions in unprecedented ways.

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I talked to a number of people afterwards who wanted to ask questions privately, then went out to dinner at the “Art Hotel” not far from my loaned apartment. After that, a normal conclusion to the day would have been thank yous and see you laters. But the day did not end that way and took a turn that I will never forget. Enough said.

 

Entertainment Interlude via Celtic Music

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Heidelberg was in the middle of a big cultural festival connected with the university, with concerts, theater performances, lectures, and recitals happening almost every other day.  The apartment I stayed in was on Theatrestrasse and adjacent to the main hall, housed in a modernist architectural style that was at odds with its surroundings but which let in lots of light.  

I noticed a poster for Irish/Celtic music scheduled for the Saturday I was in town and was able to hear a band called “The Outside Track.”  4 women (from New Breton, Canada, as well as Scotland, Ireland, and Northumberland) and one guy, originally from Germany and now in Ireland.  Very fine tunes, muscian-ship, and general dynamics on a small stage in a hall that held around 100 people sitting cheek-to-cheek.

Here’s a short video (2’42”) of one of their more lively tunes.  http://www.theoutsidetrack.com/media/

Heidelberg Lectures: First Appearance

logo-University-of-Heidelberg

 

Why would anyone want to read about the experience of giving a lecture on a topic related to contemporary religion? To learn about the person giving the talk? To delve into religion in society and politics? To experience vicariously the give-and-take of a university “moment” shared by speaker and audience where ideas are presented, examined, debated, considered, deconstructed, rejected, or just possibly, inspiring?

 

I make no claims on any of the above in my first appearance before eight people and two professors (yes, it’s debatable if professors are “people”) during the period between winter and spring terms. For me, what is significant is how I responded emotionally and professionally to the queasy sinking feeling of, once again, facing technical problems prior to the talk.

 

Maybe I should have seen them coming. After all, the Powerpoint I planned on using for the first talk was originally finalized in Jogjakarta, Indonesia back in November. I’d created the basic structure of the talk for my first lecture in the department of Anthropology at the Univ. of Hawaii in September 2013. I had then updated and refined the topic of “experimental religion” while staying at my son’s apartment in Tokyo in October.

 

When I used the computer at Sanata Dharma University in Jogja to add a slide, change a bit of text, and then save the whole thing, I never imagined that the ancient Microsoft word version (1999-2003) would jeopardize the end result here in Germany. Certainly, when I looked at this file while preparing for my talk at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala (Jan. 2014), there was no problems with compatibility.

 

I came to the Religious Studies department offices a couple days before my talk to finalize the slides and Powerpoint, and the office computer had no problem reading the file or making upgrades. But the day of the talk, when I wanted to add one more slide, the entire file was now “unreadable” (or whatever the word is in German) because of compatibility issues. I couldn’t believe it. I tried other files on my portable memory stick/drive and they were unreadable as well.

 

Was the drive corrupted? Was there a God of compromised computer documents I could pray to for deliverance? After close calls in Indonesia and India, this time was I screwed? I was already imagining using a chalkboard and reading parts of my book, and how to make that combination interesting.

 

I decided on a plan of action that might possible result in a functional Powerpoint. I had about 90 minutes to return to the apartment (my iPad could not access the university WiFi because I did not have an account), download the document from Dropbox, send it to my email account, then return to the university, download the email attachment, and rebuild the Powerpoint. Right.

 

But then how to get the document to the lecture location with a possibly-corrupted memory drive? Simple: I had to go downtown and find a computer store and purchase a new memory drive and then return to the university, transfer the file, and head to the lecture location.

 

I did all that, thanks entirely to a little bicycle I was allowed to use that belonged to the owner of the apartment I was staying in. I was watching the minutes closely, breathing deeply, regularly, so as to control upsurges of panic. Internal dialogues went something like, “Chill out! It’s just a lecture (at a major university) during interterm (before graduate students, faculty, and undergrads as well). This problem you’re facing does not touch life or death, only your ego and reputation.” Gee, thanks for being so encouraging.

 

I met my colleague’s assistant, Kathrin, a Ph.D. student assigned to be my “handler” for this talk. She in turn had her own assistant in charge of the laptop and projector. 10 minutes before the 2:15 lecture time, we entered the room and put the freshly-purchased and recently-loaded memory drive into the MacBook Pro laptop. Nothing happened except the “wheel of doom” spinning and spinning. A “restart” menu attempt went nowhere, so there was nothing to do except reboot the computer via its powerbutton override. By now it is 2:10, and the laptop is slowly coming back to life after 30 seconds in shutdown mode. The room has 10 people waiting for my lecture on “experimental religion” to begin. By 2:13, the main screen is back and the Powerpoint icon has been clicked. The “wheel” spins, the seconds flow by, anticipation builds as the three of us hover over the laptop–and then, tah-dah!

 

“Experimental Religion: New Theories and Methods for a Fast-Moving Target” appears on the screen, and Inken begins introducing me. I don’t have a prepared text and work from the slides in making my main points. By all accounts, the lecture is well-received. Several of the grad students mention that my way of “mapping” some of the dynamics in play when a person affiliates with a particular religious tradition is useful and relevant.

 

Immediately after my talk concluded, I used the handy little bike to buzz back to central Heidelberg and attend the keynote address of a conference on Pentacostalism in Brasil and Australia. Cristina Rocha, the speaker, is a co-editor for the Journal of Global Buddhism, a leading scholar of global religious “flows,” and is a person whose work I cited in the opening pages of my own recent book. I’d never met her before and so it was a good chance to see her in action. It was time well-spent, and we later connected a day later for a chatty and fun lunch.

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By the time I returned to the apartment and had a German bock beer in my hand, I was deeply reflective about the day and its challenges. I’d managed to overcome them without despair or too much frustration. No anger was involved either, so all in all, I felt okay about both lecture and lecturer. Yes, this is mundane but the possibility exists that presenting my ideas in an interesting and visually compelling manner will make a difference in the research or thinking of a student or two. The opportunity gave me yet another valuable opportunity to have both research and Self dramatically in the spotlight.

 

One more talk to go.

 

Backtracking to April 1st via 600,000 Years Ago

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The late March/ early April weather in this part of Germany is, like climate in most parts of the world, slightly off its rocker. A string of warmer than normal days have infected Heidelberg’s residents with spring fever and created a relaxed, festive air that pervades even the side streets. Winter is over, flowers are bursting out, and people are happy to be wearing t-shirts and short skirts rather than the scarves and overcoats of the past five months.

I see beer bottles in the hands of men and students at mid-day, and street cafés are full of people chatting, drinking, always eating, and of course smoking as well. Hauptstrasse is always nice to stroll because there are no cars and the stores are inviting, plus there are public squares full of chairs and tables that are serviced by nearby restaurants. It’s a civilized and, lest we forget, privileged scene made possible by Germany’s great economic clout as well as the discipline and conscientiousness of its citizens in complying with state and corporate goals.

What fascinates me about Heidelberg is its role as a historical crucible for any number of significant events that have shaped European and, more broadly, Western civilization. So as I am strolling through the old town en route to the hillside “Philosopher’s Walk” footpath above the city, I’m thinking about some of these historical milestones:

  • Not far from the city was the site of a major archaeological discovery: the so-called “Heidelberg man,” with a jawbone unearthed by a worker at a construction site in 1907. “Homo heidelbergensis is an extinct species of the genus Homo which lived in Africa, Europe and western Asia from at least 600,000 years ago, and may date back 1,300,000 years. It survived until about 200,000 to 250,000 years ago. It is very likely the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens (in Africa) and the Neanderthals (in Europe).” (Wikipedia)
  • At a site in northern Spain, a large pit contained the bones of over 32 homo heidelbergensis individuals and a number of animals. Axes found at the site are fashioned from rare red quartzite, leading archaeologists to suggest that they were a kind of ritual offering for a funeral. If true, it would be the oldest evidence of funerary practices. By extension, these offerings make the burial pit, dated at 350,000 years, one of the oldest known religious sites on the planet.
  • Heidelberg was occupied in the 5th c. BCE by Celtic people, who venerated a nearby mountain as sacred, naming it “mountain of the saints” or Heiligenberg. Mountains as portals to the other world is common in China, India, Tibet, and Japan, with some of Japan’s most ancient Shinto shrines starting out in this way. My second book (Enduring Identities) has an entire chapter devoted to “sacred geographies” in general and the importance of mountains in the Kyoto area in particular. 
  • In 40 BCE, the Romans set up a garrison on the banks of the Neckar river, and stayed until around 240 CE when local Germanic tribes drove them out. That’s 280 years of continuous Roman settlement, or 42 years more than the history of the United States. One can imagine the Romans must have felt they were on the edge of the known universe, separated from Rome (and “civilization”) by the Alps and hostile tribes. That they could stay for so long is testament to their supply routes and the relative military control they had over the area.
  • After the Romans left and the area reverts to local chieftains, the city becomes a valuable pawn in any number of continental power plays. Catholic monasteries were founded in 868 and 1130, the first occupying the old Celtic fortress. 1196 marks the first historical reference to the city in a document originating at Schönau abbey. Control over the city goes back and forth between a number of local princes and lords, until things heat up during the Protestant reformation. In 1518, Martin Luther came to Heidelberg university (which had been founded in 1389) to defend his 95 thesis protesting the domination of and sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church.
  • By the late 1500s, the region was thoroughly Protestant, and yet conflict was persistent between Lutherans and Calvinists. But nothing compares to the “Thirty Years War” (1618-1648) which ravaged Central Europe from the brutality of the conflict caused largely by mercenary soldiers in the employ of Protestant and Catholic forces. Here’s an etching of a Catholic priest giving last rites to executed Protestant prisoners, (good Christians all, of course).

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Jacques Callot, 1632, “The Miseries of War”

  • The fighting and plundering was bad enough but there were also plagues and famines, not to mention witch-hunts. Who else to blame for all the misfortunes and calamities that rained down on innocent peasants and village people? Estimates of population decline due to this war and its consequences are between 25 and 40% in Central Europe, with some places losing up to two-thirds of their citizens. It must have been a wretched time to be alive. (Some of the history of this period is evoked in The Meeting at Telgte (1981) by German author Gunter Grass.)
  • Heidelberg was devastated by a French-Catholic force that besieged the city in 1622 for two months. This etching below shows cannons positioned along the north side of the Neckar river in some of the exact same places I walked and took photos. How the city could hold out for two months facing this kind of firepower and dwindling resources is beyond me.

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  • Heidelberg also claims the spotlight prior to World War II. It was a Nazi stronghold where some of the early excesses against non-Aryan citizens were committed. Jews were singled out, synagogues burned on “Krystallnacht,” and some 1000 were deported to die in concentration camps. Streets that seem so peaceful and commercially-oriented today once conducted mobs of young men wearing black armbands with the swastika as they went about their self-righteous “purifications” of German society. At the end of the war, the departing Wehrmacht forces dynamited 3 of the arches of the lone bridge across the river. Ironically, this was the only destruction to the city during the entire war.  
  • When Allied forces occupied Germany, Heidelberg became a major garrison town since so much of the Wehrmacht infrastructure was left in place and undamaged. After so many battles and close calls, the commander of all Allied forces in Europe, George S. Patton, was severely injured in a car accident near Heidelberg and died some 12 days later in a hospital here.
  • Immediately after the war, Heidelberg university was re-established and guided by a number of leading scholars, including the philosopher Karl Jaspers. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/jaspers/) To his great credit, he resisted the Nazis to the best of his ability whereas philosophers like Martin Heidegger openly supported the National Socialists (as they were called). Jaspers started his career as a psychiatrist but then moved into theology and philosophy. Because of his friendship with the sociologist Max Weber, he was later accused by philosophers like Adorno and Lucaks that he had “contaminated” philosophy with concepts drawn from sociology and anthropology. (Clearly, he is my kind of interdisciplinary guy.)   The Allied forces quickly chose him as one of the top scholars to administer the university.

It was in a building dedicated to Jaspers that my main public lecture would take place on April 7th.

All this history may bore readers who have never visited the city, but to me it provides nuance, depth, and significance for the present day. Perhaps that’s because I come from such a young nation, or maybe it’s because I have a great respect for the lessons of history which we just can’t seem to learn or, having learned them, can’t seem to remember when circumstances require. I was also predisposed to historical perspectives due to my travels in Greece and Turkey where I visited some significant (and significantly ancient) Greek ruins dating back to the 5th century BCE. On the island of Naxos, I encountered Mycenaean burial sites from the 8th c. BCE.

 I guess this summary of Heidelberg’s history helps me understand my own a little better. The settlements, the conflicts, the proclamations, even the witch-hunts remind me of the forces at work within myself. Like the Treaty of Westphalia that established peace after the 30 Years War, this trip I’ve been on has contributed to a demeanor of stability and calm. That is not to say I was “at war” or embroiled in conflict beforehand or during the trip. Anyone who has followed even a fraction of these reports knows that is not the case.

 And yet there is a retrospective “historical” awareness, based on one’s own experiences, that can be useful in navigating the present. A historical perspective can get heavy and rather dark sometimes, but it can also peel back the glittering surfaces to show that human nature hasn’t changed very much. We still want protection and stability, as long as we feel that we are not being exploited. We still hunger for resources that we think will enhance our lives. When we rally together around some supposedly noble cause, whether it is breaking away from the Catholic Church or creating a political party to support a leader called Hitler, we appropriate some of the best and worst tendencies of the human heart and mind.

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On the stroll that provided the photos above, I descended from the Philosopher’s Path and ended up by the river where many people were lounging and enjoying the late-afternoon sun. A group of girls were doing flips and cartwheels with great energy, and seemed delighted that I wanted to take their photo. The girls with glasses were German, whereas the other two identified themselves as Germans with a Turkish background. I got their permission to post the photos, and now hope that they will eventually check out this report about their city, culture, and society…and the dynamism that is part of Heidelberg’s cultural pulse, whatever the historical era.

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Heidelberg, Germany: Last Stop and Zone of Transition


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Eight days have gone by since arriving in Germany, and not a word written or a report filed to recount events, people, lectures, concerts, meals, and adventures. I did spend time on several postings to round out my time in Greece but that was mostly to clear the decks for what would happen next.

When I say “Germany” I really mean one place only: Heidelberg. It is a lovely city beside the Neckar river whose university was founded in 1386, Germany’s first. The Roman Empire had established a small outpost here in 468 and defended it against frequent attacks by local tribes. Germans are persistent people, so eventually the empire had to close up shop and give the area back to its original inhabitants.

Heidelberg is home to one of the premier research universities in not only Germany but all of Europe, and is the academic home of my colleague, Inken Prohl, a professor of religious studies. Back in 2006 when I last came through at Inken’s invitation to show my documentary film on Yasukuni Shrine, the visit was just one stop among several during my winter break. That was when, over a tall glass of tasty German beer, Inken asked me to co-edit a volume on contemporary Japanese religions, a project for which she already had a contract. Well sure, what the heck, why not?

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But that was the beer speaking. I had my own project on contemporary Buddhist temples in Japan and had recently returned from six-months of research followed by another half-year at the Centre for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of British Columbia in Victoria.  I really didn’t need a project editing other people’s contributions, which turned out to be some 21 chapters that ended up being a 561 page tome costing an outrageous $265. As the only native-speaker of English on the “team,” I had to jump-start the project a couple times, and finally pushed it to completion because we were approaching five years of compromised deadlines.

Back in October of 2013, I let Inken know I would be coming through Europe en route to the U.S. and offered to give a talk if time and circumstances permitted. Mostly, I wanted Heidelberg to serve as a zone of transition between the intensities of Greece and Turkey and the slower, even mundane pace/dimensions of life that awaited back in the Bay Area. She obliged by scheduling a talk even though the spring term had not started officially.

Another contact I had was a China historian, Ana Hosne, in a “cluster of excellence” promoting the study of “Asia and Europe in a Global Context.” The cluster concept brings together people from diverse academic backgrounds on particular topics, puts these (mostly-junior) scholars in dialogue with each other, and sponsors research and publications that is directed by a full-time faculty member at Heidelberg. Incredibly, the funding comes entirely from the German government and lasts for several years. There is a pressure to produce quality work in a short period of time if the funding is to be renewed for another cycle. Ana’s speciality is Chinese Jesuit history, which drew her to USF to use the archives at the Ricci Institute, and that’s where we met. She very kindly contacted people in the Japanese-studies group and so another lecture was scheduled: the only option being April 7, the day before my final departure back to California.

She also helped to arrange an apartment for me to stay in after two days in a hotel (the always reliable and quiet Regina close to Bismarkplatz) provided by Religious Studies. Just steps from the main theater and Hauptstrasse, the pedestrian-only shopping street (for tourists and locals), Pablo’s place was available because he and his wife and small child (who live in Paris where she works) were off to attend a conference and visit relatives in the U.S. Pablo is Ana’s colleague at the Cluster, and works on Chinese intellectual history.

Thus I was accommodated, and thus scheduled for two talks: one on “experimental religion” and the other on my book. Here’s the nicely done poster Ana prepared for the final talk:

image And so that is the beginning of and the context for my time in Heidelberg.