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As Christmas approaches, children in many parts of the world look forward to a visit from the potbellied Santa Claus, who comes down chimneys carrying a sackful of gifts over his shoulder. In Japan, some children also wait for Hotei, a jolly Japanese god with a rotund frame who carries a similar bag full of treasures. Hotei’s visit, however, coincides with the new year.

Megan Bryson, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is a scholar of East Asian religions who studies the transformation of deities over time. She often explains to her students that cross-cultural encounters produce new understandings and images of gods. Read the full article on The Conversation.

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Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375,