Religion Department

Alumni Stories: John Helmiere '05

It was 9/11/2001, and I had just flown into Manchester for my freshman DOC trip. The pilot on my flight from Tampa to Manchester had told us we could look out our windows and see smoke rising because a plane had just accidentally flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings. Over the next four years as a Religion major, while the misuse and misunderstanding of religion catalyze war and fuel empire-building, my studies enabled me to gain a critical grasp of religion as an immensely complex and phenomenally influential force in the world. My Dartmouth education helped free me from certain assumptions about my own religious tradition, which resulted in a personal experience of interior spiritual revolution. I am now an ordained minister (affiliated with the United Methodist Church) and founded a church-cum-social-change incubator that practices mystical Christian spirituality and is dedicated to subversive political activism in solidarity with the oppressed and disinherited in our neighborhood.

Alumni Stories: William O. Brant '91

When I enrolled at Dartmouth, I was one of many people who thought of religion as just "something you do" rather than as a field of study. After my first course in comparative religion, I was pretty hooked and spent the rest of my Dartmouth career studying under Professors Fred Berthold and Hans Penner, including a great trip to Edinburgh. I went on to get my Masters in Comparative Religion at the University of Washington. I eventually went on to medical school and my current career as a professor of surgery and have come to the conclusion that, of any field I could have studied to prepare me for my job, religion was one of the best. My classmates in medical school consisted of many biochemistry majors, but the ability to really think about people in terms of how they approach their lives and pathology turns out to be far more important than much of the science that we all studied. This is best derived from a truly liberal arts background. I live in a religiously conservative community, and my patients often comment on how much they appreciate me knowing what makes them "tick" from a religious perspective.

Alumni Stories: Steve Ripp '97

As a double major in comparative religion and government, I studied the two great shapers of societies around the world. History, philosophy, literature, and art history all weaved throughout my religion classes, inspiring and enriching me. Thanks to my studies, upon graduation I felt I could engage meaningfully with individuals from anywhere in the world. Studies have shown that successful leadership starts with empathy, a quality in dwindling supply in an increasingly polarized world. By exploring competing answers to life's deepest questions, a religion major broadens one's capacity for empathy to a level unlikely to be matched by other pursuits. And as an added bonus, the foreign study program in Edinburgh, Scotland is terrific and should not be missed!

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.