News

February 8, 2013

Students Encounter the Arts and Spirituality in Bali

For the first three weeks of January, a group of Lafayette students and faculty visited the small Indonesian island of Bali, where they learned how Balinese spirituality is intimately connected to the arts.

The focus of the class was Balinese theater, dance, and music. In Bali, artistry, and the performing arts in particular, are deeply tied to the country’s religion, a form of Hinduism. The Balinese believe there are essentially three audiences: the Balinese, the tourists, and the gods.

“In fact, as is often quoted, there is no word for ‘art’ in Balinese, since it is so ubiquitous in the culture,” says Mary Jo Lodge, associate professor of English, who taught the course along with Jennifer Kelly, assistant professor of music.

View and share more images of the Bali course on Flickr

The group experienced a wide range of arts, including traditional Balinese dance, gamelan music, mask making, and shadow puppetry.  Students first experienced the performing arts as audience members,  gradually moving toward more participatory workshops.

“The arts are everywhere in Bali, and it was fascinating to be immersed for several weeks in a culture where music, dance, drama, and puppetry are practiced and performed so regularly and by such a large portion of the population,” Lodge says.

“It was awesome to see how intertwined their religion and performing arts are,” says Kidane Kinney ’15 (Staten Island, N.Y.), an international affairs major. “The arts are so intricate and different than western forms.”

In one memorable experience, the Lafayette class was invited to a family compound for the “awakening” of a new temple. The students saw sacred ceremonies not typically open to tourists, including a village gamelan ensemble and puppet master telling stories.

“It was a very surprising experience,” says Derek Vill ’14 (New Milford, Conn.), a chemical engineering major. “While I was expecting a solemn, silent occasion, it was far warmer.  People talked and joked, kids played, and everyone tried their best to talk to us in whatever English they knew.  I never thought I would feel so welcome at such a foreign, highly religious occasion.  It’s an event I’m unlikely to experience anywhere else.”

The class even made an appearance on Indonesian television. While in the town of Ubud, students visited the family home where the Paon Cooking Class offers courses in traditional Balinese cuisine. An Indonesian TV crew from a travel program filmed the class all day, from the market to the rice fields to cooking and eating.  The resulting program will be featured in television broadcasts throughout Indonesia.

“Experiencing the realities of a culture such as Bali, which is often quite different from its media constructs geared toward tourism and the notion of paradise, was a mind-expanding opportunity for our class,” Kelly says. “I was so proud of our students for broadening their world view and being open to wildly new experiences.”

This is the third interim abroad course for Ana Drehwing ’13 (Wyckoff, N.J), a psychology major, who previously traveled to Egypt and the national parks of the Western U.S.

“I have found that learning about a topic, while experiencing it at the same time, is the most effective and best way to learn,” she says.

Drehwing found the Balinese philosophy about good and evil insightful.

“They have a very interesting concept of good versus evil.  Good cannot exist without evil; in fact, it must exist in perfect balance with the good,” she says. “My experience in Bali has taught me to always give people the time of day, and experience situations as they come.  It has brought me closer to a balance in my life.”

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