Two new courses illustrate how the Divinity School is broadening its scope to include more world religions.

By Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93 | The University of Chicago Magazine

The list of people who died in February begins in 1924.

Rev. Todd Tsuchiya of the Midwest Buddhist Temple slowly reads their names aloud. He’s accompanied by somber, beautiful piano music—an improvised version of “Nadame,” a gatha, or hymn, used at funerals and memorial services—played by jazz pianist Bob Sutter. At the sound of each name, family members and friends of the deceased line up to add a pinch of incense to the burner.

It’s the first Sunday of February, the temple’s monthly memorial service. Stephan Licha, assistant professor in the Divinity School and affiliated faculty with the Center for East Asian Studies, sits near the front of the room, surrounded by his students. The visit to the temple is the first of three field trips for his course The Globalization of Japanese Religions.

Oshoko, or the offering of incense, represents the acceptance of transiency and fulfillment in life,” explains the “Buddhist etiquette” page on the temple’s website. For those new to Shin Buddhism, the page gives explicit instructions: Stop two steps back from the table and bow. Beginning with your left foot, step up to the table. With your right hand, take a pinch of incense and drop it in. Then put your hands in gassho—prayer position—and bow. As a visual example, there’s a photo of an elderly man, incense in his right hand, a cane in his left.

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Featured photo: Near the heart of the main quads, the Swift Hall Cloister Garden sometimes provides a plein air classroom, sometimes a needed moment of Zen. (Photography by Anthony Arciero)