Friday, November 5, 2010

From The Intern Files: Academics vs. Belief

by Amanda Ryan, Fall Resource Development Intern for Project Interfaith

“What does a person with a degree in Religious Studies do?” I often get this question once I tell people of my choice in major. The next question typically is, “Are you going into ministry then?” After being a Religious Studies major for a little over a year, these questions tend to get a tad bit annoying. That is why I feel I need to differentiate between my academic pursuits and my personal beliefs.

I view pursuing a degree in religious studies as my opportunity to academically learn about all religions, to treat all of the religions equally and to learn about them in a like manner. It is not about whether I believe in the religion or not. It is about growing in knowledge about the religions and their followers. Religions, beliefs, and cultures have always fascinated me. The different practices of the world’s religions - their holidays, rituals, and faiths - are what have drawn me to studying religion. Religion has always been with us, from the early polytheistic societies of Mesopotamia to the religions of our present civilizations. It has influenced almost every aspect of people’s lives. Studying religion is a way to better understand the world around us, which is needed in today’s society.

For me it is important to leave my personal beliefs at the door when I walk into a class dealing with religion. I cannot let my belief interfere with my learning of a different religion or even my own religion, Christianity. Walking into a classroom with your own notions can make it hard to really grasp what you are supposed to learn in a religious studies class. For example, when I am reading for my Hebrew Bible class, I should not use my Christian interpretation of the biblical stories to understand what is going on. Instead, I must, critically think about the situation and why it was put in the Bible. This is what makes my academic studying of religions different from my own personal journey of spirituality. In no way have my studies changed my mind about my religion. If anything, it has made me realize why I believe in Christianity. It has also helped me realize why other people believe in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and the many other world religions. In the end, I plan on using my Religious Studies degree to teach people about the different religions and help end ignorance about them, whether that is through working in education, continuing in the non-profit field, or in a totally different area in the workforce.

Amanda will be starting her second year at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the fall. She is currently a Religious Studies major. At this time, she does not know what she will be doing with her degree, but can possibly see working in education. Amanda has spent time volunteering in Denver, Colorado during the Denver Christmas Conference. During her senior year of high school, Amanda wrote a research paper on Woodstock where she developed a deep love for 1960s culture. Amanda’s current interest include; music, art, and cooking. She is greatly interested in the human rights movement that is happening in Eastern Africa and would like to travel to Africa to help in this effort. Amanda also enjoys spending her free time sitting in the park; basking in the sun, while reading her current book of choice.

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