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Facolta' Valdese di Teologia

In January 2011, I participated in a one-month study abroad course at the Waldensian seminary of Rome, with students and faculty from Italy, New York, California, and Virginia. As part of this course, we had the opportunity to meet with local Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders from around the city to discuss the current state of ecumenical and interfaith relations in Rome. We also had a private meeting at the Vatican with Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue from 2007-2014.


The course included scholarly tours of historical sites relating to the early history of Christianity including the Colosseum, the Catacombs of Rome, the Catacombs of Priscilla, the Basilica of St. Clement, Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, the Vatican Museum, and several other lesser-known churches and basilicas throughout the city, including the home of St. Cecilia (patron saint of music). During my stay, I also had the opportunity to take a day trip down to Pompeii, to study the tragic city that was so well-preserved under the volcanic ashes of Vesuvius. I followed my research trip with a week-long pilgrimage in Assisi, where I stayed with the Benedictine nuns at the Monastero San Guiseppe.

My research project focused primarily on issues relating to immigration and homelessness in Rome, inspired by the Van Gogh exhibit that was featured at the National Gallery of Modern Art while I was there, as well as my bourgeoning interest in Italian neo-realism. 

Universitas Gadjah Mada, Jojakarta, Indonesia

In 2013, I received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to spend a summer in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, as an independent research fellow exploring the complex relationship between traditional and modern Javanese understandings of religion, culture, and the arts. My research was coordinated and overseen by faculty at the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Jogjakarta, where I took classes in Indonesian religious history and religious diversity. I also had the opportunity to take gamelan music lessons with both Javanese and Balinese instructors, and throughout the summer conducted numerous interviews with musicians, dancers, professors, religious leaders, and instrument makers. I observed gamelan music being performed in a variety of different contexts and cultural settings, including large international festivals, private house concerts, religious services, and government-sponsored palace performances. With the help of some friends, I wrote a song in Indonesian that you can listen to below.

Karena Aku Mencintaimu (Because I Love You)Kristen Leigh
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My time in Indonesia also included visits to important historical sites including Borobudur, Prambanan, and the active volcano of Mt. Merapi. Through my connections with the university, I was able to visit several small rural villages in the surrounding region, and connect with local families and schools. Towards the end of my time in Jogja, I had the opportunity to perform live on Indonesian television along with Sufi leader Cak Nun and his modern gamelan orchestra, which is one of the highlights of my musical career. My stay in Java was followed by a week in Bali, where I conducted comparative cultural research, focusing on the influence of Western tourism on the production, presentation, and commercialization of Balinese religious and cultural identity. Below are two video compilations that I created to accompany my presentation on Javanese and Balinese gamelan music. 

For those interested in learning more about my adventures in Indonesia, click below to check out my travel blog: 

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Indonesia Research
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