January 2, 2024
It is with a heavy heart to learn about the passing of my beloved professor, advisor, and mentor Dr. John K. Nelson. In the past seven years of knowing John, he has been more than an academic advisor. He was a friend and a family. John was dear to me as a mentor who guided my professional, academic, and personal path in a direction that is kind, humble, always enlightening, and thought-provoking. John’s humble nature has touched many lives and made positive changes. Learning his passing has been very difficult for me, and all day of disbelief. Just two weeks ago, we were emailing back and forth about Ph.D. programs, academia, and other wonderful endeavors.
I joined Dr. John Nelson’s program, Master of Arts in Asia-Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco in the fall of 2016. During our graduate program, as the program director, Dr. Nelson initiated and led multiple cultural events and trips within the U.S. and abroad. One major trip, Kakehashi trip to Japan not only changed the student’s lives but became a cultural bridge between the United States and Japan.
During graduate school, as program director and academic advisor, Dr. Nelson challenged students to critical thinking and be aware of the cultural norms in different societies. As an anthropologist, and someone who has contributed tremendously to the field of theology and religious anthropology, he illustrated the highest form of ethics, morality, and most importantly, what is to be an influential mentor. I remember when my research paper was accepted by the University of Hawaii at Manoa for the EWC International Graduate Student’s Conference, he was so proud.
I met John last in 2019 when he was teaching at UC Berkeley. I was presenting a paper on Mongolia’s ovoo culture and its environmental impact. Although he missed the presentation by a couple of minutes, he still came to say hello and gossiped about academics, the fire ritual he had just finished at campus, and something about his long, white beard. As a mentor, he showed me what it means to be a great mentor. A mentor who listens, who understands, and gives feedback that is realistic, considerate, kind, and full of life.
Dr. John Nelson wrote three or more books and published many more materials: A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine (1996), Enduring Identities: The Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan (2000), and Experimental Buddhism: Innovation and Activism in Contemporary Japan (2013). John’s contribution to Japanese Studies, Theology, and Religious Anthropology is only the tip of the iceberg of his great contribution to the understanding of humanity, culture, and everything that connects us all. I am a lucky student to have a professor, advisor, and mentor like John. I will forever cherish and love his wisdom and humble nature. Rest in peace.
Former student of Dr. John Nelson