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Linfield Magazine #27

“We work on critical thinking, which is important in multiple situations. How do you relate to people who think differently than you?” – Bill Millar ’60, professor of religious studies Bill Millar ’60, department co-chair, has been a part of the religious studies faculty since 1984 and says the academic study of religion embodies the core values of a liberal arts education. Courses serve as a platform for students to think carefully and critically about religion, and then go beyond the classroom to test what they have learned through firsthand experiences of cultural and religious diversity. Millar also has a B.D. from Andover Newton Theological School and a Ph.D. from Harvard. Professor Stephen Snyder (not pictured) joined the faculty in 1978. He has a bachelor’s from Stanford and a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Summer 2013 l i n f i e l d m a g a z i n e - 9 Religion and academics Students enter classes from a variety of starting points. Some have no background in faith-based study. Others take a course to explore their own spirituality. In most cases, however, students are unfamiliar with what it means to study religion in an academic way. For various reasons, they’ve simply not experienced it in a classroom setting. “We get the whole range of students,” Millar said. “For some, it’s liberating to find they can study religion in an academic way. For some, it’s scary. We have to find out where they are. Part of our mission is to ease them into the discovery that it’s just like any course.” Janelle Davis ’13 used an academic perspective to wrestle with end-of-life issues for her senior thesis project. A double major in religious studies and intercultural communication, she interviewed participants of funerals and memorial services – from pagans to pastors to attendees – then wrote and performed a one-person play. She learned that religious faith is central to dealing with the death of a loved one. She calls religious studies faculty “inspiring” and said she didn’t have to believe the same theology to have meaningful discussions. “Before, I saw the world as black and white,” said Davis. “When you can view things not through a single lens, but through multiple aspects, it gives insight. No matter what you think about religion, understanding it and the forces it represents can be hugely helpful.” Where paradigms hit the pavement Chaplain David Massey ’78 shows students how life outside the classroom can be relevant to what they’re learning in class. He coordinates campus fellowship groups, service events, spiritual retreats, special events and other activities, many off campus. In addition to leading the approximately 12-member Chaplain’s Team, Massey teaches half time in the department, a model uncommon at many institutions. He teaches courses in practical theology, the dynamics every person experiences no matter their religious tradition – death, loss, forgiveness, reconciliation. It is where “paradigms hit the pavement,” says Massey, who also leads the Interfaith Committee. One such class which offered an interfaith approach to homelessness had a major impact on Daniel Namazi ’14, a biochemistry major and Interfaith Committee member. “I’ve seen people who are homeless but I’d never thought about their life stories,” said Namazi. “We talked with them and got a different perspective. It removed a stereotype from my mind that will help me always in my life. Whatever you do, you should not be judgmental.” Namazi grew up in a Baha’i home in Guam and was taught to accept all religions. He said his classes and involvement with the Interfaith Committee have helped him grasp the importance of what he is learning and opened his eyes to different people. He is fascinated by the heart, not just anatomically, but as a spiritual entity. “Spirituality affects the heart physically,” said Namazi, who plans to become a heart surgeon. Experiential understanding is central to the religious studies curriculum. Students visit mosques, temples and churches – sometimes for the first time. After learning about religions in Asia, students may go in small groups or on their own to a Hindu temple or Jewish synagogue. In May, more than 200 Linfield students, faculty and staff attended talks by the Dalai Lama in Portland. The hands-on experiences that put students outside their comfort zones are formative, encourage self-reflection and prompt students to examine their own filters and beliefs. By comparing the best of one tradition with the best of another tradition, common themes emerge. “To truly dialogue, which is at the heart of religion in a


Linfield Magazine #27
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