Alumni Stories: Jennifer D. Molinar '98

I graduated from Dartmouth with a double major in Religion and Government, concentrations in Philosophy of Religion and Political Theory, respectively. The Government major I undertook in order to appease my parents, who felt strongly that I needed to 'be able to find a job after graduation'. The Religion major started after I took a randomly selected 'Religions of India' class with Professor Hans Penner. I could not have been more amazed when, as we dove into the course, a window was opened and suddenly I started to understand what a liberal arts education might mean for me. My math, science, government and other courses were all outstanding, each important tools in their own way. But here, in the study of Buddhism and Hinduism, worlds away from my own, I realized that religion was itself a critically important tool for understanding the human experience. While science might explain the how?, and government or history the what? or the when?, studying religion gave me an opportunity to better tackle the why? component of so many of life's great questions. Studying religion at Dartmouth was never about listening to my professors or classmates proselytize, though my classmates included firm believers and non-believers alike. The discussions that we had in class, whether about Eastern religions, Jewish mysticism, moral psychology, Christianity or Islam—none of these ever devolved into which religion was “right.” Instead, we regularly (and respectfully) challenged each others' assumptions and grappled with how to understand world views that were oftentimes vastly different than our own. Studying religion helped equip me, in a rational, non‐secular way, with a vocabulary of how to think about religion, human belief and the human experience. I eventually went to law school, much to my parents' relief. Unsurprisingly, the political theory I picked up through my Government major has grown dusty with time. Religion, on the other hand, has stayed with me. It's been twenty years since that first religion class, and there is rarely a day that goes by that I do not in some way draw upon or reflect on the tools my religion coursework gave me. That my study of religion is still relevant is unsurprising as well, since one only need check their daily news feed to see how much religion matters in the world.

Jennifer D. Molinar '98