Professor Mark Luttio is a big fan of experiential education.
"The classroom can only go so far and deliver so much," he said. "It's easy to go through life in a hermetically sealed bubble, but that won’t help you understand what the world is actually like.”
In an educational environment, it’s easy to see how hands-on learning applies to science, business studies or fine arts. But Luttio teaches religious studies. How can he teach an intangible subject in a way that engages “all five senses,” an approach he believes is essential to learning?
He starts close to home, at the Snyder Sanctuary on campus. There, he invites students to remove their shoes, as followers of many religions do when entering a sacred space. He lights incense in a vessel decorated with a lotus flower—a sacred image in Hinduism and Buddhism—that he happened to buy in a Catholic gift shop in Tokyo.
Then he introduces the students to meditation, a practice many religions incorporate into ritual and prayer. “I have them become aware of their breathing, and they begin to realize why centering yourself is so powerful,” he said.
“Contemplation—which comes from contemplata, meaning 'to see'—allows us to silence the distractions of the ego and see the potential of the true self,” he said.
"Risking is an important part of learning."
He also teaches on the other side of the world—in Japan, where he was born and raised. Each January Term, he guides a group of Lynn students through a three-week visit that immerses them in Japanese culture. They may participate in a tea ceremony—a Zen ritual focused on being present—or attend a sumo match, a religious ritual as well as a sporting event.
Luttio also practices what he preaches.
In 2017, he completed a five-month, 17-country journey. He wanted to explore additional religions and rituals the way he encourages his students to learn: by seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching.
In Jerusalem, Luttio encountered a family who had been tattooing pilgrims since the 1300s. He had never considered a tattoo, but he felt compelled to get one.
“Ideas need to get embodied. I needed the experience to become part of my very being,” he said.
He chose a Jerusalem cross, which is now imprinted on his arm. He said it’s a constant reminder that “risking is an important aspect of learning. You have to be willing to ingest the food, to get close to people.”
Back in Boca Raton, Luttio also takes his students to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.
“I have them sit among the bamboo," he said. "The bamboo teaches you. You hear the sounds of it creaking as it bends, and you realize that it has withstood all the hurricanes that have come through the area because it bends instead of being brittle. We need to move beyond tolerance and learn from each other. There’s a blessing to be had if we are willing to be taught.”