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Manchester magazine
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The religion of critical thinking
After 123 years, the academic study of religion remains integral
to the Manchester curriculum

Kate Eisenbise, assistant professor of religion, discusses a mid-term exam
with Micah Spurgeon ’15, who aced it.
(Click on photo for enlargement)
Related links:
Religion: the curriculum
In the beginning, they were religion majors
Religion at Manchester

More pictures from this article:


Yousraa Kamoona ’13,
a Muslim who took Manchester’s
Introduction to the Old Testament



Bethany Clark ’11 is a student at
Bethany Theological
Seminary in Richmond, Ind.



Justin Lasser, assistant professor of religion, discusses Paul’s letters in Introduction to the New Testament.

 

CRITICAL THINKING. It’s an acquired, essential skill – the difference between making careful, thoughtful decisions about one’s life and taking rash, haphazard chances.

“Critical thinking is looking at an argument, breaking it down into its parts and saying, ‘Is this supported by the evidence?’ It’s an inductive method,” says Professor John H. Planer.

And it permeates every discipline, every course of the Manchester College curriculum. Also essential to a Manchester College degree: at least one course in religion, where students bolster their critical thinking in leaps and bounds.

"The study of religion assists in critical thinking and analytical thinking,” says Professor Emeritus Robert Bowman ’56, who has taught courses ranging from the basics to Biblical Greek, Jesus and the Gospels, and Ancient and Medieval Christianity. “How can you deal with issues that don’t really have any primal answers, but have directions?”

By providing students with the insight and skills to ask questions, professors guide their students toward answers, says Kate Eisenbise, assistant professor of religion whose courses range from the introductory to Religions of India and Feminist and Womanist Theologies. “We’ve worked really hard to make sure that if you take the courses, you’ll end up having those kinds of analytical tools to answer those questions.”

Manchester has required religious studies for a Manchester College degree for more than 100 years, says Registrar Lila Van Lue ’79 Hammer. In the beginning, the religion classes were about the work and messages of Jesus, as embraced by the Brethren denomination. And for many years, religion was part of “integrated” or “survey” courses that gave students a taste of an array of academic study.

Today, the study of religion has an intentional place in the core curriculum, the classes filling an entire semester, January or summer session. Students can delve into the content of the Hebrew Bible, learn about Christian traditions, and study the beliefs and practices of Buddhism and Islam, among other topics.

Sociology and religion major Todd Eastis ’14 says Manchester is sending an academic message to students by offering and requiring classes that discuss non-Christian faiths: “… that there is a bigger world out there, and it is important to understand the beliefs of all these different people to
understand how our world really works.”

“Christians do not live in a vacuum,” notes Eastis, of Warsaw, Ind. “It might feel like it, especially being in northern Indiana, where it’s out of the ordinary not to be Christian. But in the world, which Manchester tries to prepare us for, we do not live in that vacuum.”

Students learn scriptures and ideas from an objective point of view, says Julie Garber ’79, who teaches religion and peace studies. “I come at it almost like an anthropologist,” says Garber, an MC English major with a master’s from Bethany Theological Seminary. “I separate the study of religion from the doctrine. It’s not teaching that you be critical of something,
but to ask questions of what and why people behaved as they did.”

Yousra Kamoona ’13, a Muslim from Baghdad, Iraq, agrees with Garber. “(The religion classes) were more like history for me. The professors weren’t trying to force anything. They were just telling us about the Bible and the Old Testament and how it came about,” says the computer science major. “I thought it was really interesting. I learned how similar the Old Testament and the Qur’an are. They have similar stories, the same people.”

Biology-chemistry major Micah Spurgeon ’15 of Fort Wayne enrolled in Introduction to Religious Studies, taught by Eisenbise. “To be honest, I was dreading the class,” says Spurgeon, a Catholic.

“Even though I knew it was an objective class, I was prepared for others to somewhat judge me on my religious beliefs,” says Spurgeon. “To my surprise, I found that those around me were actually curious about the different religions. Intro to Religious Studies has become one of my favorite classes.”

Often, religion courses help students solidify their faith.

“Studying religion has helped me to really think through my beliefs and practices,” says Bethany Clark ’11, now a student at Bethany Theological
Seminary. “Why do I believe what I believe? My classes and professors have helped me to struggle with my thoughts and my beliefs and begin to sort through them. This struggle has definitely strengthened my faith and helped me to come to greater realizations.”

Whether or not the religion courses at Manchester College help students obtain a stronger faith, one thing is certain – the critical thinking skills are
applicable to all walks of life, not just to religion.

Justin Lasser joined the religion faculty in fall 2011, teaching introductory classes in the Old and New Testaments as well as Judaism, Christianity, Islam. (He also teaches philosophy.)

Lasser puts it bluntly: “To leave Manchester College with a liberal arts education without knowing what your neighbors believe, or learning about it, would be detrimental to society.”

BY XUNANTUNICH HALEY ’14

 


Religion: the curriculum

THE ACADEMIC STUDY of religion seeks to understand religious phenomena – texts, beliefs, doctrines, practices, world views – by way of historical, critical and constructive methodologies. Manchester students of religion have opportunities to:

  • acquire a sympathetic understanding of the Bible, the Christian faith and other world religions
  • articulate and reflect upon the core claims that distinguish the Christian tradition
  • become acquainted with the major methodologies and issues in the study of religions and religious texts
  • understand a world in which compassion reveals the divine

While certain introductory religion courses endure, the curriculum also is rich with courses and seminars in the research interests of faculty from philosophy, religion, peace studies and other academic disciplines:

Introduction to the New Testament
Introduction to the Old Testament
Christian Traditions
Introduction to Religious Studies
Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Christianity: Reformation to Vatican II
Religious Classics
Christianity in 19th and 20th Centuries
Religions and War
Jesus and the Gospels
Feminist and Womanist Theologies
Genesis Seminar
Elementary New Testament Greek
Ancient and Medieval Christianity
Religions of India
Reformation and Early Modern Christianity
Introduction to the Hebrew Bible
The Confucian and Buddhist Worlds
Quest for Historical Jesus

 

 


In the beginning, they were religion majors

More than 230 religion majors are among Manchester’s 15,000-plus alumni.

The 170 living religion majors are scattered across the United States, from Washington to New York, working in a diversity of fields, from prison chaplains and religion professors to lawyers and nurses.

There are coaches, and a seminary president and English teachers. And yes, there are a fair number of pastors, mostly for the Church of the Brethren – but not as many as you might think in recent decades.

Ferne Strohm '58 BaldwinFerne Strohm ‘58 Baldwin, who served Manchester for many years as a professor of sociology and social work, and as its archivist, was among six religion
majors in her class.

“A lot of people, if you ask them, would think that people who graduate from college in religion will all go to seminary and be pastors,” muses Baldwin, who retains close ties with the College.

“I knew all those five people (in my class) well. Only one was ever a pastor.

“I thought: That’s kind of interesting.”

BY XUNANTUNICH HALEY ’14

In this issue
With our Mission as our compass and many fine copilots
from the president

Manchester University
Manchester will become a University on July 1

Religion: It's academic
Study in religion is a tradition, today and in the beginning
123 years ago

Leadership by Mission
Moving faster and further than any in history

How to put Students First!
A giving opportunity for each and every alum

Alumni Authors
They rhyme and they research

Philanthropy 101
Linda Murbach ’62 remembers Manchester

Profiles of ability and conviction

1957: When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to town
 

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