Where ‘more’ isn’t always better

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Rachel Mattingly ’11 discusses her research at the recent summer scholars poster presentation.

At first glance, Buddhism and economic development might not be words that automatically go together, but as you speak with Rachel Mattingly ’11, the fog slowly clears.

Mattingly, who is from Avon, Ind., began researching the Buddhist perspective on human rights and development during her spring semester in Thailand and then continued her work as a Summer Scholar this year on campus.

“I never truly understood what it meant for a country to be a religious nation until I went to Thailand, where 90 percent of the people are Buddhists,” Mattingly says. “So many members of the society have similar values—which informs their decisions.”

This made some areas of Mattingly’s research easier, and others more difficult. For example, she expected to be able to separate economic and social issues, but she found she couldn’t—they are too entwined. On the topic of technology, for instance, the social/religious viewpoint was so important that it actually affected economic behavior.

“In Thailand, technology is OK as long as it’s used at an appropriate level” Mattingly says. “What that means is, it’s good to improve the quality of your life if that allows you to more time to attend to your spiritual life. But it’s not OK if you’re doing it just to get a cool new gadget.”

Mattingly says the typical development indicators, such as gross national product and literacy rates, can’t simply be measured quantitatively—there is a distinct qualitative element to take into consideration as well. The Buddhist point of view is “holistic” rather than” atomistic.”

In other words, more is not necessarily better.

Mattingly, an international studies/environmental studies double major, is excited about the possibilities that her research has opened for her. She’s planning to live abroad for a year or two after graduation before applying to grad school or law school, where she wants to work on urban development policy, possibly with an international focus.

Editor’s note: Mattingly’s semester in Thailand was sponsored by CIEE and arranged by Denison’s Office of Off-Campus Study.

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