Rhodes Scholar Pema McLaughlin ’16 wrote their senior thesis on American Buddhism. Photo by Tom Humphrey
Religion major Pema M. McLaughlin ’16 was named a Rhodes Scholar on Sunday, becoming the 32nd Reed grad to win the prestigious award.
Pema compiled an impressive track record at Reed, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and winning the Class of ’21 Award for their senior thesis, “Pointing at the Moon,” which traced the development of Buddhism in America and posed deep questions about the nature and definition of religion.
Pema has also conducted research on Daoism, the Nation of Islam, and studied Chinese, history, humanities, and Japanese sword arts. Prof. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri [religion], who served as their thesis adviser, called Pema “an extraordinary student.”
What is religion, exactly? A sacred book? A belief in an invisible force? A system of morality? A way of life?
Religion major Pema McLaughlin ’16 spent many hours wrestling with this question—so simple yet so deep— in a senior thesis on American Buddhism, which won the Class of ’21 award.
While many religions are preoccupied with eternal truths and revolve around unchanging scriptures, they are fundamentally social activities, Pema says, evolving over time and place. Over the last 30 years, for example, a form of Buddhism has gained currency among middle-class, educated, white Americans, often as part of the self-help movement—which has led some scholars to dismiss it as a “night-stand religion.”
Prof. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri [religion], an expert on the history of Islam, will address the City Club of Portland on the threat of Islamophobia on Friday.
When politicians call for Muslims to be barred from entering the United States and for Muslim citizens to be registered, it is clear that Islamophobia has become an increasingly common aspect of national conversation.
Prof. GhaneaBassiri will join educators, community organizers, and other scholars at the Sentinel Hotel to discuss how the rise of Islamophobia is playing out in the Pacific Northwest on Friday, January 8 at 12:15 p.m.
When surgeon Muhammad Abyad was killed in Syria on September 5, as he did humanitarian work for Doctors Without Borders, it was hardly an isolated incident. Hospitals are routinely bombed in the chaos of current-day Syria, and so far over 20 staffers for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have perished while responding to disasters. On Monday, 50 medical professionals from across the globe united to publish an open letter in the Lancet saying that the Syrian health system is at a breaking point.
Somewhere in southern Turkey, Eliot Stempf ’11 knowingly nodded his head—and shifted in his low-rent desk chair as he contended with a glacially slow internet connection. Eliot lives in Gaziantep, Turkey, roughly 20 miles from the Syrian border, and is currently masterminding the launch of a humanitarian startup, SERA (Special Emergency Response and Assistance), which specializes in prehospital care and has so far trained roughly 50 Syrians to become emergency first responders.
SERA was founded in late 2012 by Peter Kassig, a 24-year-old Army Ranger and Indiana native who returned from Iraq intent on mitigating the carnage of war. Kassig, who’s an EMT, lives with Eliot in Gaziantep and frequently forays into war-torn Syrian towns like Deir Ezzor to lead training sessions, distribute supplies, and provide basic medical care. Eliot, meanwhile, remains in Turkey, hunched at his computer, networking with care providers, such as the Red Crescent, and conferring with two Syrian doctors who advise SERA on, as Eliot puts it, “how to deliver aid in a way that’s sensitive, without exacerbating political tensions.”