Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar: China

Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar: China

I sat down with Dr. DeConinck, Teaching Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, to discuss her recent trip to China over intersession as part of the Faculty Travel Immersion experience sponsored by the Francis G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture (CCTC).  The focus of this trip was exploring the history and current realities of Catholicism in China, a history that is very different from that of the Church in many other countries, as Kate pointed out.

The Faculty Travel Immersion program has been running for several years, with prior trips to varied places such as Ireland, Rome and the Dominican Republic (  One of the aims of this year’s immersion trip to China was to allow participants to experience the global church, a goal which Kate felt was achieved.  The selected group of faculty toured and visited with individuals in many different seminaries throughout China during their immersion trip. Kate reported that the group was able to spend time conversing with individuals in a setting that helped to highlight for her how participation in the Church connects an individual to more than those in just a specific congregation or even country.  She felt that the immersion experiences served as an important reminder for both the group from USD and the individuals with whom they interacted in China that religious participation connects an individual to a global community of believers.

I asked Kate why she was driven to participate in the immersion seminar.  She told me that she was interested in this opportunity because of its focus on Catholicism in China, a topic that she felt would dovetail nicely with an upper division course she teaches here at USD on Catholicism in the U.S. Additionally, her own scholarly research investigates the ways in which religious communities confront difficult or traumatic pasts, so she was curious to learn more about Chinese Catholicism in the wake of the Cultural Revolution.  In her application for the program, she emphasized the potential connections between this immersion experience and her Catholicism course, which carries the DISJ flag. For example, one aspect of her course involves the exploration of representations in the Catholic Church. She reported being excited to see the depiction of Our Lady of China, an artistic presentation of the Madonna with child where both appear Chinese. Interestingly, Kate found that her enthusiasm for this unique image was not matched by the people she met in China, many of whom she reported exhibited a more pragmatic view with respect to the representation that led to viewing the image as inaccurate because Mary and Jesus were in fact not Chinese. Kate plans to unpack this dynamic in her post-seminar presentation on campus.

Another aspect of diversity that was of interest was the different experiences related to missionaries cross culturally.  She mentioned a Catholic missionary, Matteo Ricci, who upon arriving in China in the late 1500s was determined to incorporate local traditions with his message.  As a consequence, many individuals in China still hold him in high regard. This can be contrasted with some of the other global missionary narratives that involved eliminating local customs in favor of one specific message.  Kate mentioned that she is still working on processing the full immersion experience, but likely more topics of connection with her course and potential for discussion with her future students will emerge with further reflection.

Overall, Kate reported that the experience was incredible.  It combined some sight-seeing, such as walking on the Great Wall and visiting the Terracotta Warriors, with a lot of educational visits to local seminaries and smaller excursions to visit local areas such as a paper district and the Muslim Street in Xi’an.  Additionally, the experience allowed her to cultivate relationships with professors from other departments and increased exposure to the diverse perspectives that those trained in different disciplines can bring to a shared experience. She also mentioned that the CCTC’s organization and logistical coordination removed a lot of the potential stress associated with such a trip, for example securing travel visas for those attending, which can be complicated.

Kate reported that she would definitely recommend this experience or similar travel opportunities offered by USD, such as teaching abroad or applying for International Opportunity Grants, to other faculty. Her advice to those applying would be to do some self-reflection about one’s comfort with travel and immersive experiences. For those who might not want to travel as far as China, next year’s trip with the CCTC will not be international and will take attendees to New York City, San Francisco and San Diego in an effort to more fully explore the connection between immigration and the Catholic Church.

The CCTC is holding two sessions for those who attended the trip to present at the end of April and beginning of May (  Kate will give her presentation on Monday, May 6.  

Dr. Kate Deconinck in China

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