Fostering a Love for Culture and Religion
When Mehdi Arronis (PhD in Religious Studies) stepped foot into China 20 years ago, he was on a mission to train with some of the best martial arts trainers in the country. Having done karate since he was 12 years old, he was ready to deepen his love for martial arts after he experienced first-hand training with visiting Shaolin Monks back home in France.
“After training with them for one week, I just wanted to go to China,” he beams. “The first time I went there I went to Shaolin for one month, I wanted to go back because I liked it so much.”
Thus, he began his journey moving to China where he taught French for 16 years, and then continued his studies at the Beijing Normal University in religious studies whilst also doing a distance master’s degree in Chinese studies in France. Eventually, he felt a calling to go to Hong Kong and that’s when he applied to study a postgraduate degree focusing on Daoism and Chinese Culture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
Choosing the Best
“Before going to the mainland, I had a stopover in Hong Kong and I loved it, I loved it so much that every time I left the mainland to extend my visa, I would make sure that I would go to Hong Kong,” he recalls.
So when he applied to CUHK and received a placement for study in the Department for Cultural and Religious Studies to specialise in Daoist studies, he jumped on the opportunity especially given that the University was famed for its religious centres including the Centre for Studies of Daoist Culture.
“I remember asking the main figure in France regarding Chinese religious studies about Daoism and the religion research centre, they said that the best is definitely CUHK — it’s also globally recognised for the good teaching quality,” he said.
Mehdi was also drawn by the more temperate climate in Hong Kong compared to Beijing, and he was keen to learn Cantonese, so heading south after 16 years in Beijing made sense.
An Unparalleled Study Experience
Stepping foot on to the CUHK campus, Mehdi was excited by the prospect of studying Chinese operative alchemy, from laboratory alchemy to inner alchemy and the change from one to the other. He desired to know the reasons why and that became his main area of study.
During that time, Mehdi embraced his experiences at CUHK citing that his supervisor was particularly good at theology and that he had the chance to extend his network through his studies. He also relished the fact that CUHK often invited experts to academic visits so that students could learn from some of the world’s best.
“There were a lot of new ways to do research, so on the whole, the religion and history became clearer for me,” he explains.
Having studied in Beijing previously, Mehdi studied religion in China in the context of Chinese philosophy. So coming to CUHK, he was able to look at his core subject from a theological point of view which was never part of his curriculum before.
“So it’s like I got to learn so many new things, like going through documents and archives and comparing the gods through theological comparisons. At CUHK, I was trained in a lot of views that I didn’t know about,” he says.
By studying religion, history and culture altogether and the internationalisation of religion, Mehdi was able to deep dive into a subject that he had grown a deep passion for.
Fostering a Love for Language and Culture
Beyond the academic learning, Mehdi applied to CUHK also because he was keen to fully immerse himself to learn Cantonese and felt Hong Kong and CUHK provided the perfect opportunity to do this. Pursuing his studies at CUHK was also a unique opportunity for him to throw himself into life in Hong Kong where East meets West creating a vibrant and wholly unique culture all unto itself.
Mehdi credits this environment for motivating him to develop a more open-minded view of differences and understanding of religious cultures within the context of a diversified society like Hong Kong.
So for those interested in getting the most out of their time at CUHK, Mehdi advises students to make the most of their study experience, and to take advantage of the language opportunities as a first step.
“It can just start with taking the first step and saying hello,” he says.