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Steve Plachinski

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Fellowship Experience

My Brueggeman fellowship (interreligious dialogue in Indonesia) was a defining and formative experience from an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual standpoint.  The opportunity to fully define, plan, and implement an international research project, while only an undergraduate student, pushed me outside my comfort zone and helped me develop the self-confidence needed to venture 'off the beaten path'.  In addition, the international travel component was invaluable:  my travel gave me a window into Indonesian culture that one can only get when traveling alone, and organizing the trip in an unfamiliar international context taught me how to manage uncertainty and trust the people around me.  While my career in environmental science has since taken me in a different direction from the topics explored in my Brueggeman research, the knowledge and skills I gained as a Brueggeman fellow have been a major part of my current successes and will continue to inform my personal and professional life. 

While in Yogyakarta near the end of my trip, I had the opportunity to visit a small Buddhist vihara (temple).  After participating in a one-hour sitting meditation session, I was able to talk with the ten or so locals in attendance.  Despite what I might have initially thought, I was told that many of the people practicing here at this vihara practiced as Muslims or Christians and did not consider themselves 'only Buddhists'.  In other words, these people were active Muslims or Christians, and maintained their identity, while also practicing meditation in a Buddhist context.  They were, in a sense, multi-religious.  Through this experience, I realized in a new way that religion and religious identity are not rigid, exclusive, or static.  In many cases, they can be very fluid and accommodating.  I don't think that my personal experience of religion and spirituality fits clearly in any common definition, and it was amazing to see first-hand that this same thing was true for people half-way across the globe.  This realization is something I couldn't have found in a book or journal; it could only be learned through experience, thus a 'Brueggeman moment'.

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