Profile: Mark Unno

Imagine taking a class field trip . . . to a slaughterhouse. Last year, students in Mark Unno’s “Bull in the China Shop” seminar experienced those intense sights, sounds, and, well, smells. The course explored the slaughter and eating of food-source animals across Asian religions, many of which are typically stereotyped as vegetarian.

“But there are specific episodes in early Asian texts—Daoism, Confucianism, and medieval Japanese Buddhism—that refer to the slaughter and consumption of oxen,” says Unno, who specializes in East Asian religions and Buddhism. “In order to really understand the significance of the topic, I wanted students to have a visceral experience of the facts of animal slaughter.”

The course also included readings and a campus lecture by Temple Grandin, an award-winning scientist noted for her revolutionary work in compassionate livestock care and food production practices. “Her work places these topics within her larger exploration of worldview including God, the divine, and the ultimate,” says Unno. “She even makes references to Zen Buddhism.”

Some religious studies students want to learn more about the religion in their family backgrounds; others, like Unno, are interested in studying religious customs different from their own. Some are on a personal quest for religious meaning and significance. Others want to analyze various religions for consistencies rather than looking for something to believe in. Even atheists have a place in the discussion, says Unno, since atheism is really just another kind of belief commitment.

“In religious studies, we don’t assume faith,” he says. “We don’t teach religion, we teach about religion. I’m interested in exploring with students the critical questioning of religion, while having them come away with an appreciation for sympathetic understanding.” The winner of numerous UO teaching awards, Unno insists that his students enlighten him nearly as much as his research and scholarly pursuits. “I may have the specialized knowledge,” he says, “but we’re on an intellectual adventure together.”

Name: Mark Unno

Education: BA, 1982, Oberlin College; MA, 1991, Stanford University; PhD, 1994, Stanford University.

Teaching Experience: Member of the UO faculty since 2000. Previously, he taught for four years at Carleton College in Minnesota.

Awards: Rippey Innovative Teaching Award, 2005–7 and 2009–11; Oregon Humanities Center Teaching Fellowship, 2005–6; Robert F. and Evelyn Nelson Wulf Professorship in the Humanities, 2005–6; Coleman-Guitteau Teaching and Research Fellowship, 2009; Thomas F. Herman Faculty Teaching Award, 2010.

Off-Campus: He and his wife enjoy Eugene’s many walking and hiking trails, and attending the many wine, music, and arts festivals and fairs in the Lane County area. They also like gardening, though “my wife does most of the actual work, and I enjoy the product!”

Last Word: “Be a citizen of the world, not just an accidental tourist.”

—By Katherine Gries ’05, MA ’09