Student Report on a Book Talk by Huaiyu Chen: In the Land of Tigers and Snakes: Living with Animals in Medieval Chinese Religions.

By Zu (Zuo Rui) Gan

On the 12th of October, the CARE lab, the Humanities Research Centre, and the “Meanings, Identities, and Communities” cluster from the Centre for the Study of Contemporary China invited Dr Huaiyu Chen to present on his book about the relationship between animals and humans during the time of medieval Chinese religions. Dr Chen is a renowned scholar on Chinese Buddhism and is an Associate Professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. A total of 22 students and 6 faculty attended the talk.

Dr Chen first brought up the history and context of Animal Studies. He pointed out that previous scholars had termed Christianity as an anthropogenic religion, and posed the question if Chinese religions were the same. Although Buddhist texts claimed to not harm any living beings, there were other contesting instances. He also highlighted the importance of understanding that although religious texts might portray one thing, the lived experience of the people might be different, emphasizing the gap between the canonical principle and the local understanding and approach. Hence, he stressed the importance of understanding the various social and political contexts and histories in place of these religions and cautioned against depicting Chinese religions as solely being against animal cruelty or emphasizing harmony between humans and animals.

Dr Chen further illustrated his point by providing sources where tigers were captured and pacified by various ruling groups such as the Buddhists, Daoists and the State. In fact, taming animals were often used as a way to showcase the legitimacy and power of a body. With claims of being able to tame tigers, the emerging Buddhists could upset the power balance of the local rulers and claim more followers and legitimacy. Another example Dr Chen provided of the complexities of human-animal relations in medieval Chinese religions was by providing visual evidence from the Dahuang caves, where depictions of humans riding and ruling over animals were commonplace. These depictions were not only uncovered in the past, and Dr Chen showed us modern-day statues of humans and arhats taming animals as well.

Dr Chen also brought up the interesting question of if animals can obtain enlightenment. In his research, he found certain texts claiming that the parrot would be able to achieve enlightenment because of it’s ability to talk. Since it could talk, it could theoretically chant and recite the Buddha’s name and thus eventually achieving nirvana, especially if viewed through the lens of Pure Land Buddhism.

During the Q&A section, some students expressed interest in understanding the relationship between animals and humans in Chinese tales such as the Journey from the West. Dr Chen ended his talk by highlighting that although there was no possible way to determine the agency and thoughts of animals, we can still glimpse the complex relations humans had with the animals that were present around them.

Health Humanities Initiative September Report

The Health Humanities Initiative has started a weekly meeting series since this Fall, to get faculty and students from different backgrounds together to discuss how health issues interact with the human experience.

Sept 6, 2023: Ice-break and theme exploration

In the first meeting, students each gave a brief introduction about their major background and potential topics they would like to explore in HHL. It was quite exciting that we had students from different fields: global health, anthropology, history, religion & philosophy, and biology. Students proposed several topics they were interested in, including how death is perceived in history and religions, the development of hospice in China, bereavement education, as well as the anthropological perspective of health’s definition. Considering students’ overlapped interests in death, we decided to mainly focus on death-related topics. We started our activity with students’ facilitation each week with no limitation on the forms and discussion between students and professors in order to explore different topics for further investigation.

Sept 13, 2023: Documentary Screening: My Last Summer

In this session, facilitated by Dong Ding, a sophomore student from Global Health major, we watched the first episode of My Last Summer, a BBC documentary that recorded the fears and hopes of five individuals diagnosed with terminal illnesses, with less than a year to live. They are brought together to spend four unforgettable weekends and share their thoughts and emotions about pain, religious beliefs, and the afterlife.

In the discussion, we talked about how different people’s attitudes are when facing death. One student mentioned this documentary provided us with an opportunity to gain a dynamic, holistic view of the dying ones as normal people with hobbies, passions, and emotions instead of being generalized as a group that can only perceive pain and pity. We also discussed the difference between dying and death with dying being a lengthy process while death happens instantaneously. In addition, we mentioned the essentialness of support from the secondary group, namely “similar others” when an individual is approaching death. As their closest family members and friends may not fully understand their feelings, having someone in similar situations to share their thoughts with can be very helpful in improving their well-being, which can be a part of hospice care.

Sept 20, 2023: Documentary & Lecture Screening: Death in Tibetan Buddhism and Philosophy

In the first section of our third meeting, facilitated by Jiachen Wu, a sophomore student in religion & philosophy, we watched a documentary about the Tibetan Book of the Dead and a lecture about death in philosophy. The documentary features the process of a Buddhist master trying to guide the soul of a dead man to achieve nirvana. It displays how death is optimistically perceived as a chance to escape from the circle of reincarnation and become a Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism. We discussed how death as an inevitable and positive component in Buddhism can help people learn about and accept the death of themselves and their loved ones. We also talked about the definition of compassion in Buddhism. Additionally, we compared the rituals for dead people, such as cremation, in diverse religious beliefs.

In the second section, we watched a lecture about philosophical questions about body and soul taught by Prof. Shelly Kagan from Yale University. Descartes’s argument is that if one can imagine the soul as an independent figure, then the soul can be independent of one’s body. However, in the video, Prof. Kagan argues that based on the phenomenological differences and dependence, which is the imagination of the dependent soul out of the body, should not be a valid and complete support for the duality of body and soul. He applied the example of morning stars and evening stars to further demonstrate this issue. The morning star and the evening star could appear independently, and actually only independently, while they are the same single planet. Therefore, Prof. Kagan proclaims that he himself doesn’t believe in the existence of the soul, no mention the rebirth based on that. In our discussion, we talked about the relevance between Descartes’s theory and Tibetan Buddhism. We also mentioned Venus and Aphrodite, the Roman and Greek forms of the same deity, an example of one soul in two bodies as a possible counterpoint of Descartes’s theory.

Sept 27, 2023: Presentation and discussion: Health Ethical Principles and Hospice

Ethan Tung, a sophomore student in Global Health/Public Policy, facilitated the discussion session and shed light on several ethical principles specifically applied in the medical field and the principles in a broader context. For medical ethics, the four pillars are autonomy (self-decision), beneficence (trying to improve the overall well-being and achieve the best outcome), non-maleficence (doing no harm and ensuring the treatment/decisions align with the patient’s interest), and justice (fair and equitable distribution). A shared characteristic of them is patient-centered. In broader ethics, the three major principles are utilitarianism, deontology, and absolutism. Utilitarianism is a type of consequentialism that focuses solely on the outcome of the decision. Deontology, the study of duty, applies laws to define what is right and wrong, does and don’ts. Absolutism emphasizes things that are unconditionally wrong regardless of the context and the consequence of the action, which is similar to non-maleficence in medical ethics. Ethan used stealing food to feed one’s hungry family members as an example. From the utilitarianists’ perspective, it is morally right because it can help the food feed more people and achieve better outcomes. However, to deontologists and absolutists, it is wrong because stealing causes harm to other people and is an illegal action. In our discussion, we compared the principles in two fields. We also looked into the international codes ethics of hospice care and found the interaction between the two theories. Codes ethics, as a result of the materialization of the ethical principles, is a linkage between application and the fundamental theories.

Citizenship Lab Calls for Grant Applications for Faculty-Student Research Collaboration

The Citizenship Lab invites applications for funding from faculty, Class of 2024, and Class of 2025 students working on or developing Signature Work (SW) projects related to citizenship.

Citizenship Lab Faculty Grants

The Citizenship Lab, part of DKU’s Humanities Research Center, invites proposals from faculty working on projects related to citizenship (broadly construed). The Lab will provide funding of up to 10,000 RMB, and the call will remain open until the available funds are exhausted. Grants may be used to cover any research expenses so long as the project involves collaboration with student researchers. Projects leading to or involving Signature Work (SW) are encouraged but not mandatory. If required, the Lab can assist in identifying students interested in conducting SW in a related field.

Applications should include an abstract-length proposal (300-500 words), a brief statement explaining the anticipated role of the student(s) in the project, and a proposed budget. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. Please submit your application, or any queries, to by 15 November 2023.

Citizenship Lab Student Grants

The Citizenship Lab invites Class of 2024 and Class of 2025 students working on or developing Signature Work (SW) projects related to citizenship (broadly construed) to apply for funding of up to 5,000 RMB. Grants may be used to cover any research expenses including those relating to field-based and experiential learning activities. Proposals must indicate whether you have or are seeking a mentor.

Applications should include an abstract-length proposal (300-500 words). Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. Finalists may be asked to provide additional information, including a proposed budget and budget justification. Please submit your application, or any queries, to by 15 November 2023.

Addendum: Potential Research Topics

The Citizenship Lab welcomes applications on projects relating to the following topics. (This is a non-exhaustive list of topics that the Lab will consider funding.)

  • Political participation or active citizenship
  • Historical formation of political communities
  • Extending rights beyond the human
  • Environmental justice and activism
  • Climate change and social justice
  • Indigenous social movements
  • Memory and responsibility for (in)justice
  • Including future generations in present citizenship practices
  • The future of citizenship
  • Democratic innovations
  • Digital civic participation and engagement
  • Citizenship in non-democratic regimes
  • Struggles for and over the rights
  • Gender, racial, or class inequality
  • AI, Big Data, and citizenship
  • Surveillance capitalism, privacy, and freedom
  • Democratizing transnational and/or global governance
  • Planetary or cosmopolitan notions of citizenship
  • Refugees, borders, and walls
  • Home and belonging
  • Global health and citizenship

Congratulations to Titas Chakraborty on her recent publications

Congratulations to Titas Chakraborty on her recent publications!


“Nederlandse slavernij in Zuid-Azië “(Dutch Slavery in South Asia) in Staat en Slavernij, eds, Rosemary Allen, Matthias van Rossum, Esther Captain, Urwin Vyent (Athenaeum, 2023) 

This chapter provides an overview of the nature and impact of slavery and slave trade as carried out by the Dutch East India company in South Asia. The chapter was part of a book commissioned by the Dutch Ministry by the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK), as a direct result of a motion filed by Dutch parliamentary Don Ceder which asked the Dutch government to present the results of independent national research into the history of slavery and into “what took place at the time of slavery, on behalf of whom and how” before the end of 2023. The publication of the book accompanied the King of Netherlands’ public apology for the Dutch state’s involvement in slavery and slave trade.

“Slavery in the Indian Ocean World” in The Palgrave Handbook of Global Slavery, eds, Damian Pargas and Juliane Schiel (Palgrave MacMillan 2023)  

This chapter provides a comprehensive history of various forms of slavery in what came to be known in historical works as the Indian Ocean World, or a specific zone of multi-regional connections through maritime practices. It explores the dynamics of enslavement including the trade in slaves, the range of work that enslaved men and women performed, and the possibilities of social mobility for slaves and ex-slaves. In doing so, the chapter familiarizes readers with three major historiographical debates in the field, namely, who/what constituted the figure of a slave; the relationship between slavery in the Indian Ocean world and other forms of bondage such as the Atlantic slavery and indentured servitude; and the relationship between abolition and colonialism in the Indian Ocean world. 


Titas Chakraborty is Assistant Professor of History. Her work focusses on slavery, labor, migration and gender in South Asia and the Indian Ocean World.

Congratulations to Caio Yurgel on his recent publication!

Congratulations to Caio Yurgel on his recent publication!

God, a Metaphor: A Meditation on Alejandra Pizarnik’s ‘Awakening.’ TEXT 27 (Special 70): 1–14. 2023.


Alejandra Pizarnik’s life was a long preparation for suicide. But instead of letting the Argentine poet’s death define her legacy, this article will focus on her intellectual sparring with the notion of God – and her ultimate strategy of turning God into a strawman for her own processes of creation. In her diaries, Pizarnik vows – like a prayer – never to call on God, never to invoke him. This is, she writes, the ultimate test: her blood may boil, her screams may consume her, her veins may burst, but she would rather keep her mouth shut. Pizarnik couldn’t bring herself to believe in God – which means she couldn’t stop writing about him.

This article will centre its analysis on Pizarnik’s most famous poem, “Awakening,” in which she repeatedly invokes the Lord (“Lord / the cage has turned into a bird / and taken flight”) until she turns him into something else, something darker still. By resorting to her diaries spanning the late 50s until her death in the early 70s, as well as her connection to the oeuvres of Sylvia Plath, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Jacques Lacan, this article will show how Pizarnik – labeled as a “gifted girl” – was placed (and placed herself) in the impossible position of being expected to be ambitious (because she was gifted) but not too ambitious (because she was a woman). “Awakening,” written and published between 1956 and 1958, articulates the turning point of Pizarnik’s extreme position toward God: how can someone who pushed herself so hard accept a God that would be willing to forgive anything? Continue reading “Congratulations to Caio Yurgel on his recent publication!”

Congratulations to Hyun Jeong Ha on her new article in the Journal of Peace Research and the Excellent Academic Book Award

Congratulations to Hyun Jeong Ha on her new article!

Klocek, J., Ha, H., & Sumaktoyo, N. G. (2023). Regime change and religious discrimination after the Arab uprisings. Journal of Peace Research 60.3: 489–503.  Continue reading “Congratulations to Hyun Jeong Ha on her new article in the Journal of Peace Research and the Excellent Academic Book Award”

Upcoming Events of the Gender Studies Initiative

The Gender Studies Initiative is pleased to announce its lineup of events for the fall semester 2023. Explore a wide range of topics including gender inequality, sexuality, gender identity formation, feminism,  liberation and more. 

  • October 11: Gender+Body 
  • October 23: Buddhist Nunneries in Sichuan
  • October 25: Gender+Household
  • November 7: Lecture: “Bury the Corpse of Colonialism: The Revolutionary Feminist Conference of 1949” 
  • November 10: Lecture: “Homosocial, Homophobia, Misogyny:  Understanding Patriarchal Society”
  • November 12: Gender+Education
  • November 22: Gender+Feminism

Faculty and students are invited to join the Gender Studies Initiative, a place for everyone to explore gender conversations

Contact Lia Smith <> or Yixin Gu <> for more information.

McaM 2023 Youth Theater Drawing the Lines: Spinning and Weaving Histories at a River’s End

A research project initiated by Ho Rui An and Zian Chen in collaboration with Feng Haoxin, Liew Xiao Theng, Sun Jiyuan, Wang Ruohan, Xiong Xin, Yan Jiayue, Zeng Yuting, Zhang Tianyu, Zhang Yilin, Zhou Feiyang

Duration: 7th-11th Oct, 2023

Public Program: 7th Oct,2023 (Sat)

Organizers: Ming Yuan Group, Ming Contemporary Art Museum

Supported by: DKUNST Art on Campus|Division of Arts and Humanities | Humanities Research Center, Duke Kunshan University

Drawing the Lines: Spinning and Weaving Histories at a River’s End is a research project initiated by Ho Rui An and Zian Chen that examines the historical development of the textile industry within the Yangtze River Delta region beginning in the late nineteenth century. Following a six-month process of fieldwork, archival research, and workshops supported by Duke Kunshan University’s (DKU) DKUNST Art on Campus program and with the participation of DKU undergraduates, the project culminates in a research-based installation and one-day public program at Ming Contemporary Art Museum—formerly the premises of a paper machine factory in a reflection of Shanghai’s industrial heritage. 

The installation organizes the materials gathered over the research process into three sections, namely Narration, Network, and Noise, each providing an artistically inspired framework to probe into the shifting relations between labor, technology, and capital across over a century of textile histories in the region. Through the public program, the objects and images on display are further articulated through a series of live interventions that include a lecture, guided tour, mapping exercise, and tea session with former textile workers.

The DKUNST Art on Campus program is curated by Prof. Zairong Xiang.

Student Report on Picture a Scientist Screening and Discussion

Reported by Lia Smith, Class of 2026

The screening and discussion of Picture a Scientist was the first Gender Studies Initiative event of the Fall 2023 semester. Picture a Scientist is a powerful documentary that illustrates challenges faced by women scientists in the U.S. Women scientists in various fields such as biology, chemistry, and geology discuss their daily encounters of harassment, both big and small. These encounters can range from degradation and bullying from mentors, failing to get the same-sized office compared to their male collogues, and seemingly minor but constant harassment at work. This documentary also reveals the intersectionalities that are at play with gender to further marginalize women of color and women of older age in the field. Continue reading “Student Report on Picture a Scientist Screening and Discussion”

Student Report on Gender + Mind Talk

Reported by Lia Smith, Class of 2026

The HRC Gender Studies Initiative‘s Gender+ series continued on Wednesday, September 13, 2023with a discussion of Gender+Mind in DKU’s Water Pavilion. This event brought philosophy professors Hwa Yeong Wang and Emily McWilliams together for a conversation on the development of philosophical thought in relation to gender. Continue reading “Student Report on Gender + Mind Talk”