Religion Department

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.

Alumni Stories: Steve Mayer '72

I had no idea I would study or major in religion before taking a survey course to fulfill distributive requirements my freshman year. My only previous exposure was the requisite Sunday school and Bar Mitzvah training. To this day, I feel the need to explain to people that it wasn't preparation to become a rabbi! But it did expose me to the thinking of Kierkegaard, Sartre and Spinoza, to the quest for the historical Jesus and the contrast between Purusha and Prakriti in Hinduism. I had some inspiring professors and found it to be an exciting field of study. It opened my mind to a lot of the world, including philosophy, anthropology, art history and literature. At the time, there was a lot of experimenting with Eastern religions; it gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for our own Western traditions. I hit the job market in 1973 in the midst of our first oil embargo-induced recession. I found myself in San Francisco and eventually landed a job in business-to-business publishing. For the past 35 years I've been publishing magazines for the restaurant industry.

Alumni Stories: Daniel B. Isaacs '83

I was a Religion major...and it has served me well both personally and professionally. I entered Dartmouth with advanced placement credits in Math and Physics but took Rel. 1 as an elective freshman year and was hooked on religion as a study of cultures, people and different ways of thinking. I have worked in the investment business for most of my career and some have asked me how religion prepared me for this career. Beyond the understanding of people and culture and assimilating and synthesizing information, attempting to understand religious concepts stretched my mind to make other more traditional studies easier. When others in business school had difficulties with mathematical formulas and options pricing theory I told them it was nothing compared with trying to understand Kierkegaard's Leap of Faith!

Alumni Stories: Betty P. Guttag Whitewolff '00

When I was faced with choosing a major, I froze. What was the use in specializing? Wouldn't I need a graduate degree to pursue a chosen professional path? Wouldn't I specialize then? I wanted a broad knowledge base, not to become an expert by the age of 21. Yet, I had to choose a major. Choosing to study religion gave me exactly what I wanted. The study of comparative religion is the study of history, from ancient civilizations to current events. It is the study of literature and art. It is the study of language and geography. It is the study of psychology and sociology. The study of religion is the study of the human experience. Furthermore, studying religion has allowed me to speak out, with informed confidence, against bigotry and prejudice, in addition to enriching my own personal, spiritual life. Choosing religion as my major was one of my first adult decisions and one of my best.

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.

Alumni Stories: Paul Colligan '86

...when I matriculated at Dartmouth I had the belief that whatever I chose to pursue in a career I would need specific training. I also believed that if 10 of my 33 credits were to be in my major that I had better choose a discipline that I enjoyed and found interesting. Growing up in Hanover I had the benefit of knowing many other faculty children and the reputations of many of the faculty. I had heard many great things about the Religion Department and the likes of Professors Green, Berthold and others. After taking Rel. 1 I fell in love with the idea of learning about all religions to complement my Catholic upbringing. It wasn’t until my junior year that I had a clue about a career path. My older brother was living in New York and worked at a well-known Wall Street firm. I had the opportunity to live with him while doing an internship at Lehman Brothers during my senior fall term. He was an institutional salesman and my internship was on the retail sales side. Since graduation...I have been working with ultra-high net worth families advising them on their investment portfolios. I love working with people and the dynamics of an ever changing market.

Alumni Stories: Robert L. Adams '74

I made a lot of poor choices during my college days, but one that proved right for me was my choice of a major, Religion. I was committed to a path in medicine and, given no specific major for pre‐meds, I had the latitude to opt for something that piqued my academic interest. Spring semester of freshman year was highlighted by an “Introduction to Asian Religions” overview course that led me to my major course of study without regret (excepting my not taking advantage of the foreign study for the major which, if memory serves, was in Edinburgh in those days). I eventually did pursue a medical career and believe that my undergrad studies in a field far removed from my professional field provided some depth to me that I feel would have been less if I followed the traditional choices (e.g., Biology or Chemistry) as a pre‐med major. I remain glad that I chose Religion as a major and am grateful to the College for making that available as a choice at the time.

Grassley, Ayotte and the Burden of History

By vowing to block any Supreme Court nominee the president sends to Congress, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and fellow Republicans are reinforcing the partisan gridlock that has paralyzed the nation for more than a decade, argues Randall Balmer in his Sunday, March 20, opinion piece in the Valley News, "Grassley, Ayotte and the Burden of History."  Instead, he urges Senator Ayotte to "fulfill her duties regardless of the political rancor she might incur from fellow Republicans. Even such a modest effort in these fraught political times counts as an act of courage." "Like Chuck Grassley [chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee], Kelly Ayotte's rendezvous with history has arrived. She can be remembered as simply another political hack, like Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid, or she can be remembered as a leader, one who faced down the rabid partisans in Congress and said 'Enough! I intend to lead, not stumble blindly along the pathway of political obstruction in the name of party loyalty.'"

Is Donald Trump a Tyrant?

To the ancient Greeks, "from whom we derive the political concepts that undergird our democracy," a tyrant (tyrannos) is "a figure who, usually through great personal wealth, circumvents established political processes to attain power. Often an outsider or one of the wealthy elite, the tyrant flouts conventions of discourse and forums for debate. The tyrant ignores traditions of deliberation and steamrolls opposition. Ultimately, a tyrant rises to power in ways that undermine democratic structures, leaving the ruler unaccountable to those ruled or to the checks and balances of the system." In his OpEd piece for Time, "This is What Ancient Greeks Would Have Called Donald Trump," Professor Devin Singh goes back to this definition and explores whether or not Donald Trump is a tyrant, fitting this definition, and if he poses a "fundamental threat to American democracy."

Evangelicals' Support of Trump Shouldn't Come as a Surprise

In an op-ed column in today's Los Angeles Times, Professor Randall Balmer observes that over the past several decades, evangelicals have become increasingly secular, more interested in the pursuit of wealth and political influence than fidelity to the teachings of Jesus, and that "it should come as little surprise that the candidate of choice for evangelicals so far in this 2016 election season is a twice-divorced, thrice-married billionaire famous for firing people on TV, who belittles the disabled and advocates policies - on immigration, for example, or the environment - utterly at odds with the 'biblical values' evangelicals purport to uphold."

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