Michael Boulton: I would describe myself as a sincere-minded rather than religous, philisophical or spiritual person. I believe that an awful lot of the world’s problems are caused by a lack of empathy, and see an open-mind as one of the most important qualities a person can have. Hopefully, my writing reflects the fact that I, like everyone else, have two ears but only one mouth.
Nandini Chatterjee: I am a casual atheist with an insatiable curiosity about religion, which I study professionally. I have not experienced any emotional need nor discovered any intellectually satisfying reason for believing in divinity, but I bear no hard feelings against those who have. My atheism is personal, casual, non-doctrinal and frankly, unenthusiastic – I refuse to make a religion of it. However, religion and all the cognitive, aesthetic and social processes that it inspires, is an unending source of delight, despair and fascination for me. I look forward to talking to you.
Jennifer Cresswell: I am a bisexual Church-going Christian but that bears no relation to my being here. I am here because of my love of East Asian cultures and long fascination and belief in the importance of study and understanding. I am a classicist currently researching a PhD in twenty-first century English language depictions of the topography of Ancient Rome in cinema and television, but my side passion for anime and manga led to me looking at Japanese depictions as well. In looking at how the past is presented we can learn a lot about our present, and films are great fun to watch as well… If anyone wants some advice on good films to watch on any subject do get in touch!
Benjamin Epstein: I am a pre-fieldwork research student in Medical Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. My main areas of interest lie in the Anthropology of Japan and the Anthropology of Psychiatry. I am also curious about the history and philosophy of medicine, science studies and the philosophy of science. Can psychiatry as a global set of institutions linked to commodity markets really help the impoverished, the marginalised, or the suffering anywhere? Can it respond to local idioms of distress, or is it a homogenising force determined to transform the world into a mono-culture of ‘happiness’, where drugs and neurobiology are the only ways we can access our interior worlds and live fulfilling lives? I believe that to study the work of mental health offers an excellent opportunity for understanding how a society works, and how its subjectivities are constituted. I hope to carry out future research about the psychiatric system and the care and provision for the mentally ill in Japan.
Victoria Flexner: During my life, my feelings towards America have wavered from one extreme to another. Growing up as a first generation American in New York City, I can honestly say I felt absolutely no attachment to the rest of the country. As a matter of fact, I disdained everything and everyone south and west of New York City. My complete disillusionment with the US led me to the United Kingdom where I studied for four years. While abroad, strangely or perhaps quite obviously, I began to feel American. I learned that it is easy to reject your culture when you are at home, but when you are abroad your nationality becomes inescapably a part of your identity. Since moving back to New York, perhaps I have regained some of my former negativity towards the rest of the States, but now I see the problems of this country as ones that belong to me as well.
Ioannis Gaitanidis: I would not really know how to accurately describe myself. But I can say a few words about the things I like. I like teaching, especially at university-level. I also like doing research on subjects that people generally find absurd, not so much because I am exceptionally interested in those specific subjects, but because I am fascinated with what makes things “absurd” . I am also a pessimist. For that I blame Rene Barjavel whom I grew up reading. I’ve just walked the first steps of an academic career, and I am looking forward to seeing how long I will be able to stay on this road. http://sites.google.com/site/ioannisgaitanidis/
Matt Holmes: I live in the Austin, TX environs, where I’ve nearly teetered my way through an undergraduate history degree with moments of brilliance and utter despondency. The stand out accomplishment on my resume would be that I made muffins for many years. I was raised with a self-help form of Christianity that is very popular in America’s gated suburban communities, and I have practiced Zen with some regularity for almost year. I started my practice 8 years ago, but it’s not very sexy to stare at a wall when you’re 20. I love Shinryu Suzuki, The Heart Sutra, reading the Bible as literature, and Candide by Voltaire. Having experienced therapy and medicine, I am interested in linguistic-relativity, and how the rhetoric of psychology has shaped our world-view. I am also interested Post-Colonialism, and how we forge new personal/cultural identities from a problematic past.
Yoshi Inoue: For much of my life I have been fervently obsessed with the notion of ‘Truth’. In spite of its seemingly ungraspable nature, or possibly because of this, it has occupied my time more than any other pursuit. This on-going preoccupation with the Absolute has its roots in my upbringing. My parents surrounded me with a religious environment, both of them devout Christians, and I grew up knowing my father first and foremost as a church minister. Since the age of eleven I have had the privilege of studying in the United Kingdom where I am currently in my final year of university. During my second year as a student I fell into an acute depression where a belief in the futility and ultimate meaninglessness of all life and action clouded any clarity of vision I had aspired to before. Since that point I have experimented with a myriad of ways to inject meaning into this existence, stroking my ego through: readings of philosophy, travelling in a vain attempt to ‘find myself’, indulging in sensual pleasures, experimenting with drugs, faith musing, physical exercise, meditation, etc. However, all of this striving for meaning, all of this search for the Absolute, was of no avail. What truly changed the course of my life, invigorating what I saw as a grey world of suffering with never-before-seen colour, was meeting someone who I can count as a teacher, a colleague and, above all, a friend. He encouraged me to once again take up this journey with passion but, at the same time, with gentleness. My search continues but is now driven by a renewed sense of hope and joy.
Marie-Thérèse: I’m an agnostic, fence sitting, devil’s advocate. Full-time admin, part-time religious studies student with the Open University. I believe in social responsibility, and grassroots activism. I also believe the world would be a better place if there were more spaceships in it.
Tom Monaghan: A recently graduated history student, I am now working as an elementary and junior high school English teacher in Japan. I live on a beautiful small island in the Seto Inland Sea which populates with hipster tourists at weekends. Inspired by an interest in history, philosophy, literature, psychology and the study of other cultures, I sometimes struggle to understand this endlessly fascinating country and to perform my assigned role as cultural representative of the UK, or the ‘West’ – or sometimes even of the whole world outside Japan (“please tell the class about Independence Day”, I was asked recently). I am enjoying this unique and sometimes bizarre experience, indulging in Japan’s comforts and delights, periodically enlightening myself with Zen wisdom in which I have a beginner’s interest (as Shunryu Suzuki might say), and slowly making progress with the language before I return, some day, to the harsh reality of London postgrad study.
Valerie Pate: The power of the mind is a subject that fascinates me to no end. Our beliefs, our viewpoints and feelings not only describe us, but serve to influence the type of lives we will lead. Raised as Christian, I also attended many Jewish services in my youth. I have since explored many forms of religion – reading and searching like a woman with a mission to “find out”. In the end, I can only surmise that I believe all religions are valid. The truth, in my opinion, is represented by both all and none of the belief systems I examined – and that isn’t so much a cop-out as an admission of open-mindedness. I enjoy writing (especially poems), reading (especially historical fiction), learning about other cultures, and meeting people who also enjoy a meaningful conversation.
Mindy Quigley: I am a church-going agnostic. I’m allergic to intolerance, unthinking adherence to dogma, and cat dander. My philosophical heroes include: Voltaire, whose great advice in Candide to “tend your garden” lays out an achievable goal for progressives; John Lennon, because I also imagine there’s no hell below us; and John Stuart Mill for his pursuit of a rational and humane society.