“So, are you religious?” This question is a perpetual one for any person who decides to enroll in Divinity School. Unlike our peers in, say, English literature, who can pursue their field of study without question even when they are not novelists in their own right, people often wonder why a person who does not explicitly identify as religious or spiritual would choose to study religion. Or, if one does study religion as a faith practitioner, one’s ability to critically engage the study of religion without bias may be called into question. Thus, we find ourselves in something of an academic Catch-22: you can’t study religion if you aren’t religious, and you shouldn’t study religion if you are religious.
Fortunately, HDS has provided me with a fantastic community of peers, faculty, and staff who are committed to breaking down these assumptions. One of the things that I have most appreciated about HDS is the openness to studying religion from a variety of perspectives. I’ve encountered a broad range of approaches in my classes, from highly technical literary analysis to stories of personal struggle over the nuances of a particular passage. I believe that this blend of approaches not only enhances the study of religion, but is indispensable to the maintenance of religious studies as a field that is both academically rigorous and relevant to the millions of people who identify as religious or spiritual.
I have found that this openness to a multiplicity of approaches to the study of religion exists not only in the classroom, but in the community life of HDS as well. As a graduate assistant in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, I have the privilege of assisting with the planning of Wednesday Noon Services, hosted by a different student group each week. What I appreciate most about these services is that they not only feature more “typical” host groups (e.g., HDS Methodists or the Jewish Student Association), but they also feature less traditional groups, whose religious or spiritual orientation may not be as readily apparent. The services provide a forum for students incredibly steeped within a tradition, or from no tradition at all, to explore what it means to study religion, to immerse oneself in a particular practice or tradition, or to integrate both study and practice as one.
If you are interested in learning more about how we are bridging the divide between study and practice in our community life, I encourage you to check out ConSpiracies: Breathing Together the Breath of Life recently published by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, which contains a collection of student, faculty, and staff writings on the intersection of the intellectual and the spiritual at HDS.