Student Accolade - Erin Cline, Doctorate In Philosophy '06

August 24, 2004
Erin Cline

Central Texas seems like an odd place for an Alaska native who studies Chinese philosophy and plays Celtic music. But it feels like home for Erin Cline, a Presidential Doctoral Scholar in Baylor's Department of Philosophy, who speaks Mandarin and plucks a mean double bass.
Since 2000, a year before she came to Texas, Cline has spent her summers observing and interviewing Confucian and Daoist priests in China as part of her research toward a doctorate in comparative philosophy. She wants to understand better the significance of the religious rituals performed by priests and how they relate to the philosophical and religious texts, the Zhuangzi (Zwong-zuh) and the Daodejing (dow-de-jing). "I'm interested in how the ethical teachings in those texts are expressed in contemporary beliefs and practices," says Cline, who converses comfortably in Mandarin and is able to read the texts, which are written in classical Chinese.
As the daughter of an anthropologist and part of an American family that emphasized its Irish heritage, she grew up comparing and contrasting her own culture with others. She says western Christians can learn a great deal from Asian traditions that are compatible with their values. "It's very tempting sometimes to go in one direction and say the [religions] are totally different or that they are all just the same. So we're always folding these two tensions of comparison and contrast together," she says.
While studying Asian heritage, Cline has found a way to connect to her Irish background. She is an accomplished singer and plays the bass, acoustic guitar and piano. Although she previously played bluegrass music, she now performs with a three-person Celtic group at Baylor. She also is melding her two passions -- using her experiences in China as material for lyrics.
Cline will spend next year studying with two top scholars in Confucianism and Daoism at Brown University in Providence, R.I. Although she started her graduate studies at the University of Hawaii and has had opportunities to study elsewhere, Cline prefers Baylor. "I think it's important that philosophers be able to have dialogue about religion and religious practices in relation to philosophy," she says. "A lot of programs are not open to that, but Baylor is."