Shawn Arthur

Assistant Professor of Asian Religions

Appalachian State University

Contact Infomation                                  


Office Phone: 828-262-4031

Office Fax: 828-262-6619

Address: I.G. Greer Hall, office 115, Boone, NC 28608

Special Program on March 25, 2010

Visiting Lecture by Mulysa 'Mayhem' Lesser (Boston) on the History of Tattooing & Religion!

click link for flyer



Chinese Medicine: This course provides an historical overview of Chinese approaches to health and healing practices in order to help students gain comprehension and practical experience of the major concepts and methodologies employed in this field as its status grows in the United States. The worldview of traditional Chinese religion and medicine, with its concepts of bodily energies (i.e., qi, yin, yang, and the mind/heart), is introduced to better understand the variety of practices associated with Chinese medicine – such as acupuncture, dietetics, fengshui, and qigong. Additionally, the development of this tradition and its relationship to Daoist religious concepts of the body, immortality, and inner transformation is explored.


Myth, Symbol, & Ritual: This course is an introduction to the strengths, limitations, and complexity involved in the cross-cultural study of human narratives (myths) and practices (rituals). After acquainting ourselves with some key terms and issues regarding religious and cultural myths, symbols, and rituals, we will examine assorted examples of each and will apply appropriate scholarly methods and theories to explain the wide spectrum of their usage, function, and propagation. Course texts include: William Doty’s Mythography, Mari Womack’s Symbols & Meaning, Catherine Bell’s Ritual: Perspectives & Dimensions. We will also examine such themes as hermeneutics, urban legends, comparative world mythology, theories of correlative cosmology, and Joseph Campbell’s impact on Western culture.

Daoism: Daoism is a subtle, yet complex, Chinese cultural tradition focused primarily on integration with the totality of reality, including its transcendent dimensions. As such, Daoism encompasses a broad array of moral, social, philosophical, medical, and religious ideas, values, and practices. This course explores the historical development of Daoism utilizing academic works and primary sources in translation in order to elucidate the ways Daoists experience themselves, relate to the world, and attempt to achieve their various individual and socio-political goals.


Nature-Oriented Religions: This course examines religious groups – such as Daoists, Shinto practitioners, Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, and Contemporary Pagans – that are focused primarily on working with, attuning to, and investing meaning and value in the natural world as a sacred reality. We begin with an overview of anthropological and religious studies accounts of such key themes as animism and anthropomorphism, and how these worldviews have been traditionally understood. We then critically reflect on how these relate to the beliefs, practices, concepts of self, importance of localized space, and images of cyclicality that are explicit in the nature-oriented worldviews of the course groups. During this process, we examine a range of methodologies and theories from the anthropological study of religion. Additionally, we will address the environmental ethics advocated by these groups, and will inquire about the conceptual resources that these religions can offer to a contemporary understanding of a healthy relationship with the natural world.

Buddhism: This course is a study of the major issues, important schools and personalities, and key technical issues and texts in the Buddhist tradition – from its origin in India, to its elaboration in China, Japan, and Tibet, and its encounter with modernity in Asia and the West. We will utilize primary and secondary sources to elucidate the various ways Buddhists experience themselves and their place in the world, to discuss the nature of Buddhist ideology and its relationship to practice, and to consider the goals of Buddhism and the ways that these goals function for practitioners.


Visions of Ourselves: Religion, Culture, and the Body : Everyone lives in a physical body, which is central to our identities. This course explores the body as a multi-faceted locus of contested religious, social, cultural, philosophical, political, and scientific ideals. We will utilize Western theoretical perspectives (especially from Religious Studies, Anthropology, and Psychology), global comparisons, and experiential learning to discuss and critique various perceptions of the human body as informed by religion, medicine, popular culture, and the media. After examining many of the ways and reasons that people attempt to control and modify their bodies – through practices such as dieting, exercise, tattooing, cosmetic surgery, and rites of passage – in search of legitimacy, power, and perfection, we will reflect on how these goals influence our visions of ourselves. Official Course Designators: writing (W), multi-cultural (MC), and cross-disciplinary study (CD).



Current Research Interests

Religious Dietary Practices; Religion and the Physical Body; Method and Theory in the Study of Religion; Chinese Medicine; Religious Cosmologies; Ritual Studies; Contemporary Paganism and Wicca

Currently I am working on three major projects. First, I am revising my dissertation, entitled “Ancient Daoist Diets for Health and Longevity” (Boston University, 2006), for publication. This text focuses on the dietary regimens followed by third century Lingbao Daoists and their relation to perceptions of the body and Chinese medicinal concepts. This research eventually will be expanded to include an examination of the history of Daoist dietary practices. Also, I plan to continue research on the relationship of Chinese medicine and Daoism, as they both emerged and shared many concepts as well as the common ideological framework of cosmological correlation.


Second, I recently finished a chapter on Chinese religion for a textbook that examines religion as it is practiced throughout the world. Rather than relying on sacred texts to understand religion, this text explores ‘lived religion’ and the various ways that religious practices embody religious ideals. My chapter deals with the differences between laypersons and monks in Daoism and Buddhism, as well as Confucian ideals that are embedded within Chinese culture although this political ideology and its associated religious tendencies are officially not accepted. 


Third, I am editing 2 conference papers about Daoist dietary practices and their religious, social, and political implications, as well as these nutritional components of these dietary regimens and what expectations they promote for understanding the body and its inherent problems.


I recently finished a paper on apocalyptic ideas present in the Wiccan religion. Although most Wiccans to whom I have talked deny that their religion is concerned with an apocalyptic mindset, my research indicates that there is a prominent strand of thought that expresses fear that the environment and the natural world is in danger of immanent destruction. This essay explores the manner by which these beliefs are developed and propagated among Wiccans – as a predominantly oral tradition directly related to their worldview and its inherent focus on the sacredness of the Earth. Additionally, I investigate Wiccan perspectives on the future of the natural world and the variety of Wiccan solutions to perceived environmental problems. Furthermore, in comparison to trends in other millenarian studies, I discuss the unique reactions that are elicited when proposed apocalyptic changes are delayed and Wiccan environmentalist ideals do not come to fruition.



2009, forthcoming. “The ‘Naturalness’ of Daoist Dietary Asceticism” for a special issue on food and religion in The Journal of Religion, Nature, and Culture.


2009.                  “Chinese Religionists – Daoists and Confucians” in Religions in Focus, ed. by Graham Harvey. London: Equinox Publishing.


2008.                   “Eating Your Way to Immortality: Dietary Expectations in the Lingbao wufuxu”, for The Journal of Daoist Studies, 2: 32-63.


2008.                 “Proselytization or Information: The Internet and Wicca” in Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets, and Culture Wars, ed. by Rosalind Hackett. London: Equinox Publishing, 409-430.


2008                  “Wicca, Apocalyptic Millenarianism, and the Future of the Natural World” in The Journal of Religion, Nature, and Culture, 2.2: 199-217.


2006                 “Life Without Food: Bigu and the Daoist Body” in Daoist Body Cultivation: Traditional Models and Contemporary Practices, ed. by Livia Kohn. Magdalena, NM: Three Pines Press, 85-115.


2005                  “Paganism, Technology, and Nature” in Encyclopedia of Nature and Religion, ed. by Bron Taylor. London: Continuum International, 1241-2.


2005                  “Tattoos” in Encyclopedia of Nature and Religion, ed. by Bron Taylor. London: Continuum International, 1622-3.


2002                  “Technophilia and Nature Religion: the Growth of a Paradox” in Religion, 32.4: 305-16.