This project has provided the opportunity for a diverse group of undergraduate students to engage in experiential learning about the range of religions and health orientations in a cosmopolitan American city. Since 2015, small teams of undergraduate student researchers have been visiting Buddhist temples and centers throughout the Greater Philadelphia area. Unstructured interviews with monastics, teachers, community representatives, and members of local temples have focused on discovering connections between Buddhism and health.

Our project provides a model for faculty-led and student-centered research collaborations, and for student engagement in community-based participatory research. The classes taught at Penn State’s Abington campus have given students with a range of backgrounds the opportunity to cross multiple cultural and linguistic lines, and thus to gain more intimate exposure to the multiethnic diversity of the Philadelphia region. Fieldwork in many cases has been facilitated by student research assistants, who themselves are members of the cultural-linguistic group represented at the temple, and who have been able to facilitate cultural awareness and offer some basic translation assistance when necessary. Thus, through this project, first- and second-generation Asian American and international students have had the ability to bring stories about their own communities and cultural traditions forward into the public sphere.

This project is inherently collaborative, as students have worked in small groups to contribute materials to the overall project over multiple semesters. It is an example of what Nicholas Holt has called “legacy pedagogy,” i.e., iterative projects that build from class to class and year to year in order to deepen student-centered learning and agency. It is also inherently interdisciplinary, involving learning in Buddhist Studies, American immigration, ethnographic methods, and documentary photography and filmmaking techniques. The Penn State Center for Engaged Scholarship in Philadelphia has recognized our project for its innovative contributions to pedagogical excellence, and has supported our project through a generous Student Engagement grant.