[HARC 0335]
Sacred Japan

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Professor: Packert, C

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Evaluation Comments for Packert, C

  1. Professor Atherton (now going by Packert) is very knowledgeable about Asian religious art history, and gets extremely excited about the topic. I personally am an Art History major, interested in Japan and religion, and therefore found the material very interesting to learn about. However, Atherton included way too much technical information (readings just describing the dimensions or specific architectural components of Japanese temples, which were useful for having a visual, but didn't put anything into context). She mentioned at one point that she wanted to give us a very comprehensive understanding of Japan's religions, so that we could have effective discussions in class. This manifested in enormous amounts of reading, some of which was repetitive, most of which was filled with complicated religious concepts, and all of which took a lot of time to process - even for someone who loves to learn about and has experience with religious analyses. There were literally several hundred pages to read per class. And a writing assignment due almost every other class. Effectively, I spent as much time on this one class as I did on my other 3 combined. In short, do not take this class unless you are prepared for an extremely heavy workload. It is possible to get away with not doing all the reading, but the way Atherton kept the class small and intimate, requiring us to actively participate in discussions daily, made it difficult to get by if you had even missed a single reading. This was enhanced by the esoteric nature of the material - unless you had read the articles, it was basically impossible to just analyze what people said in class and jump in. So again, you almost have to do all the assigned work. She is also a somewhat flaky teacher: she was often very disorganized, repeatedly changed assignments just before they were due, did not clearly explain assignments, etc. However, the actual discussions in class were a lot of fun, and often brought up fascinating questions about the material. As I said before, she is both knowledgeable and excitable, and loves to provoke in-depth conversations. At lot of the reading could be really interesting, too, although difficult, bringing up a wide variety of esoteric theories and quirky or beautiful examples. She is a very strict essay grader, but tried to work with us to improve our writing. What is hardest about her grading is that she wants you to format the essays in a manner specific to religious art historical discourse, which no one knew coming in; she seemed to expect it so much as a matter of course that it took a while for her to understand that we needed her to clearly explain for what she was looking. There are no tests, just essays, rewrites, and a lot of class participation. Professor Atherton is, however, very caring about the well-being - academically and personally - of her students, and very willing to help when needed. All you need to do is go and talk to her - about anything at all - and she does her best to really make things more flexible, or explain issues, or anything. All in all, a very interesting class, but also gave me the hardest semester of my life. Very demanding but fascinating. Take it if you are into this kind of material, but don't if you are neither willing to handle the work-load or actively want to learn about Japanese religious culture. Do not take this to simply fulfill a requirement - it's not worth the effort.

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