Alumni Stories: Mary Jane Casavant '85

My freshman fall I...took Rel. 1: Patterns of Religious Experience. It was 1981, the class met in 105 Dartmouth and was team-taught by Professors Ronald Green and Robert Oden (both of whom had been voted best professor at the College). I was blown away by their brilliance. I would often forget to take notes for long periods of time, just mesmerized by their performances....I recall being astonished and humbled by my good fortune: my job was to sit in this room, listen to these guys speak, and try to catch and retain as much of it as possible. What could be better? Their passion for their subject and for teaching was palpable...and they were clearly having a wonderful time. That course was the ideal introduction to what the very best parts of my undergraduate education would look like: challenging my ingrained assumptions; requiring a careful reading of texts and the presentation of cogent written arguments; driving me to read outside of the required texts and ply my friends with questions about what I was learning. I ended up majoring in Religion and later earned an MA in Religion and Culture. Today, I work in marketing for a wholesale candy company, and my liberal arts education comes in handy every day. I research ideas and data from multiple sources, compare seemingly disparate points of view, listen intensely to what others say, develop my opinions from a position of both breadth and depth of understanding, and present my ideas in a clear and persuasive way. Even more important, that introductory course and all the subsequent religion courses helped to make me a citizen of the world. Without some understanding of religion and its relationship to world cultures, I don't know how anyone can understand the nightly news, the current American political environment, and the past few thousand years of history, literature, economics, politics, art, and the human condition. I recall one of my professors, Kevin Reinhart, saying in 1983 that American citizens would need to better understand Islam in the coming decades; no one then could have understood just how right he was. The understanding of religion as a cultural force is essential to an understanding of human endeavors in the past, present and future. But of all the courses I took, that one introductory class stands out for the pure joy it generated. It marked my transition from high school student to college student, and the moment my professors' passion became my own.

Mary Jane Casavant '85