Why Study Religion? with Alumnus Seth Gaiters

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. Seth Gaiters, a Comparative Studies alumnus, think it’s important to study religion? Shurouq Ibrahim, CSR’s Graduate Research Associate interviewed Dr. Gaiters to find out. Watch the video below for his response!

Shurouq: How would you answer the question: Why study religion?

Transcript:

Dr. Seth Gaiters:

I’ve been shaped and formed within a religious matrix, particularly within Black Christianity. So, even before I was born — there are stories of my mother singing hymns to me, while I’m in her womb, playing at the piano. I grew up in the thing. So then, when I realized what I’m within and the discourses that formed me and are swirling around me, I started to have questions. And so, I have a particular experience that is particularly unique; however, when I started to look more critically at the human experience in all our various particularities, one of the things I found was that religion is how people make sense of the ultimate significance of their lives. Religion — whatever that is — religions are the ways in which we orient ourselves in order to deal with shifting landscapes and suffering and pain and these ultimate questions about meaning in life. And I’ve found that people of the world…have these kinds of questions, have these kinds of struggles, and so the inversive is that I became intrigued about how this teaches me something about what it means to be human. And all of that complicated stuff that I just said, it matters to people. And if I’m concerned about people and the mattering of people, I want to understand what matters to them, and so religion helps me to get at those really deep questions.

 

Dr. Seth Emmanuel Gaiters received his Ph.D in Comparative Studies at OSU. He is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion and Africana Studies at University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His research examines African American religious studies, with particular interest in the exploration of religion and race through Black progressive social movements and cultures in America. He is currently completing a book manuscript, tentatively titled, #BlackLivesMatter and Religion in the Street: A Revival of the Sacred in the Public Sphere. 

Why Study Religion? with Alumnus Damon T. Berry

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. Damon T. Berry, a Comparative Studies alumnus, think it’s important to study religion? Shurouq Ibrahim, CSR’s Graduate Research Associate interviewed Dr. Berry to find out. Watch the video below for his response!

Shurouq: Why is the study of religion important?

Transcript:

Dr. Damon T. Berry:

One, if you take the classical notion of what it meant to study the humanities or liberal arts, which was — and still is in ways that people don’t acknowledge — the foundation of higher education. The whole point of it wasn’t just so that you could be good at producing widgets. The point of it was to make a more well-rounded person who could engage very purposefully as a citizen, as someone who belongs to a community, has a certain situation in that community, has relative relationships of power in that context, and to act accordingly — to know yourself and your world well enough to engage intelligently with it. So I would argue that anybody benefits by studying religion — just by nature of the ways it’s going to make you engage with questions that you don’t otherwise get to engage with.

On the more immediate level, there’s no way that you’re going to talk about freedom in the American context, or the modern liberal democratic context, without having to wrestle with religion. In my Intro class, and in other contexts, when I talk about the history of religion in America, for example, we can’t not talk about the First Amendment, Article VI — which are the only two places where religion is mentioned in the Constitution — and the fact that religion is never defined in American law. And then you have subsequent legislation that affects people’s reproductive rights, it affects all sorts of things. So, whether you’re in business, whether you’re going to work in a law office, or you’re just going to be a person living in a modern liberal democracy, you have to know about these things. And if you don’t, there’s going to be a lot you don’t understand about why things are going the way they’re going. And in the context of religious freedom, this is on the UN Charter of Human Rights, so I don’t know if there’s a place on the planet where you can live where you don’t have to think about that.

 

Dr. Damon T. Berry received his Ph.D in Comparative Studies from OSU. He is currently an Associate Professor of Religion and Chair of Religious Studies at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. His research focuses on the imbrication of religious and racialized discourses that shape and inform ideologies and practices of exclusion and violence. He has published in several venues on topics such as religion and violence and the history of racist movements. He has written three monographs: Blood and Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism Christianity & The Alt-Right: Exploring the Relationship, and most recently, The New Apostolic Reformation, Trump, and Evangelical Politics.

Why Study Religion? with Alumna Kati Fitzgerald

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. Kati Fitzgerald, a Comparative Studies alumna, think it’s important to study religion? Shurouq Ibrahim, CSR’s Graduate Research Associate interviewed Dr. Fitzgerald to find out. Watch the video below for her response!

 

Shurouq: Why should people study religion academically?

Transcript:

Dr. Kati Fitzgerald: 

That’s a good question. We had a faculty panel recently [at Wittenberg] where the question was: Why go to college, or why get a liberal arts degree? And I think that my answer to both of those questions is quite similar, so there are maybe three things I can say on that.

One is that in order for us to live peacefully in the world…we come into contact with foreign others all of the time, with people that we don’t understand, with people we don’t agree with, with people who look different than us, who speak differently than us, who eat food or dress or act in the world differently than us, and in order for us to be able to live peacefully in the world we have to have some sort of common vocabulary. We have to be able to just feel comfortable having conversations and asking questions and engaging in the world. And I think the most fundamental benefit to a liberal arts education especially one in religion and religious studies or philosophy is that it just allows us to develop this vocabulary necessary for peaceful communication in the world.

The second reason is that part of, again, this drive towards peaceful coexistence is the need to develop the skill of compassion. And compassion isn’t just, “Oh, I feel sorry for somebody else who has experienced suffering,” but it’s really the practice of “taking off” my own point of view. I think some things, or I think I think some things, and if I practice, all of the time, not thinking those things — what if I just take off that hat and I allow myself to see and experience things from somebody else’s point of view? Then I’m able to not only feel empathy and connection with other human beings, but also, I become more flexible in my own thinking. I’m able to see — “actually, I’m mostly not right, mostly I’m wrong about almost everything. And therefore, I should have a sort of broad-minded approach and curiosity when I encounter other human beings.” Courses in religious studies, courses in religion and philosophy, are really good at doing that — sort of digging at your core understandings…So that practice, just doing that over and over again, creates a sort of countenance towards understanding others.

And then the third reason is that we are not just trying to replicate…or create better more efficient workers for a particular system. We’re not just trying to reinvent or repopulate the kind of working class for another generation, but really, we want to be thinking about new paradigms of justice. We live in a world that is violent, we live in a world that is unequal, we live in a world that is deeply unjust, and so we have to be thinking about — all the time — how do we really not just break down or criticize those systems but then build back up different kinds of understandings of ethics and morality and justice in the world? And so I think also that studying religion, thinking about these things deeply, breaking down our own understandings of what is right and wrong, and up and down, and black and white, allows us to creatively produce different forms of social justice in the world. Whether they are effective or not, I don’t know, but at least, I think, the study of religion allows to be thinking innovatively about the kinds of societies we want to build in the future.

 

Dr. Kati Fitzgerald received her Ph.D in Comparative Studies from OSU. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Religion at Wittenberg University. Her work centers on the lives and religious experiences of Tibetan lay women. She uses primarily ethnographic methods in contemporary Tibet to understand the religious theories of everyday Buddhists. She is also interested in the intersection between artistic production and religious practice, lineage, oral transmission and bodily forms of liberation. 

Why Study Religion? with Ph.D Candidate Zari Mahmoudi

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Zari Mahmoud, a Ph.D student in Near Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, think it’s important to study religion? Shurouq Ibrahim, CSR’s Graduate Research Associate, sat down with Zari to find out! Watch the video below for Zari’s response!

 

Shurouq: Zari, why did you choose to study religion? And why should others study religion?

Transcript:

Zari: That is a really interesting question. Thank you for asking. For me, it was because I was always interested in…reading mystical literature, mystical texts, mostly Sufism, because I studied Persian language and literature. And for me, it was important to know…what is the cosmology — what is the reason to get to know the universe rather than just the mundane life that we have.  How can a human being be connected to God and be unified [with God] as those Sufis going through those journeys and ’ahwāl and maqāmāt? It started off with my mother reading Mawlānā poetry for me. Later on, I did so many other studies like reading Mathnawi myself, Shams’ lyrics, Attār’s works and Jāmi’s works and so many other Sufis. And right now, I’m really interested in working on women and female mystics in other religions like Christianity, Kabbalism, and also Islam. So, I think it’s important to study religion as a human being to know other reasons — rather than just biological reasons — why we [humans] are here [on earth], and [ask] what is the origin of the universe, or what is one of the reasons for the origin of the universe? It just always soothes me to study about it and learn more about it. This is my reason for why I study religion.*

*Note on terms:

  • Ahwāl pl. Hāāl: a temporary state of consciousness, generally as a product of spiritual practice that a Sufi reaches.
  • Maqāmāt pl. Maqām: literally meaning “spiritual station” that a Sufi must pass through to reach one of two outcomes: annihilation or unity with God.
  • Mawlānā (Rumi/ Balkhi) was a 13th century Sufi, poet, and Islamic scholar who is famous for his Mathnawi, which is an extensive poem written in Persian and one of the most influential works in Sufism scholarship.
  • Jāmi was a 15th century poet and Sufi scholar known for his great works in Sufi literature.

Zari Mahmoudi is a Ph.D candidate from the NESA department at OSU. She is currently researching female mystics and Chivalric spirituality in 13th century and 15th century Persian literature.  

Why Study Religion? with Ph.D Student Patrick Dunn

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Patrick Dunn, a Ph.D student in Comparative Studies think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

 

Transcript:

Patrick Dunn: Religion connects us with the vastness of what we don’t know, and that includes the very ancient human past. Religion is our link to our lost ancestry as a species. And religion is also — at least it has been for the last 5000 years or so — what connects humans to the cosmos beyond our understanding, beyond what is conceivable, really, as a reminder that our knowledge is limited, and that the universe is greater than we can comprehend. So, I think those are some of the really important reasons to study religion.

Patrick Dunn is a first-year Ph.D student in Comparative Studies. He is interested in the ways modern “secular” institutions mediate human relationships to the “paranormal” and “supernatural,” and how these relationships replicate a logic of religious secrecy. Before coming to OSU, he lived for ten years as a Zen Buddhist monastic and ordained priest.

 

Why Study Religion? with Dr. Chadwick Allen

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. Chadwick Allen, Professor of English and Adjunct Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

And don’t miss the upcoming opportunity to hear Dr. Allen’s talk (4/14), “Wombed Hollows, Sacred Trees: Burial Mounds and Processual Indigenous Subjectivity,” and go on a curated tour of the Newark Earthworks (4/16) with him and Dr. John Low, director of the center. These events are co-sponsored with the American Indian Studies Program in the Center for Ethnic Studies at OSU. More information can be found on the event webpage. We hope to have you join us!

Transcript:

I’m a professor of English, and my work looks at indigenous self-representation in literature, other arts, and activism. I did my undergraduate degree, however, not in English or art history or  political science or even anthropology, but rather in the comparative study of religion, which combined all of those areas and more.

I think I was drawn to the study of religion for two primary reasons. First, because I was fascinated by how different peoples construct their worldviews. And, second, because I was interested in comparative approaches. What happens when we put different conceptions of the world into generative conversation?

Because I was particularly interested in studying indigenous worldviews, I was struck that, although the study of religion was expansive in its interdisciplinarity, it was also rather conservative. When I was an undergraduate, the field focused primarily on so-called “world religions” that had one or more central written, sacred texts. I like to think the field has expanded beyond such limitations, and I think one reason more people should study religion is to push the academy to continue to expand its understandings of the breadth, diversity, and, really, the complexity of human experience

***

Interested in sharing with us what brought you to the academic study of religion? Send us an email at religion@osu.edu!

Why Study Religion? with Dr. James Padilioni, Jr.

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. James Padilioni, Jr., Professor of Religion at Swarthmore College, think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

And don’t miss the opportunity to hear Dr. Padilioni’s talk, “‘When the Consciousness we Know as Life Ceases’: Zora Neale Hurston’s Hoodoo Multiverse” at the CSR conference, “The End of Life and What Comes Next: Perspectives from Healthcare, History, Anthropology, and Religion,” March 31-April 1. For more details and registration, check out our conference website: go.osu.edu/dyingwellconference.

Transcript: The best way I can answer the question “Why Study Religion?” is just by telling you why I study religion. So, for me the study of religion comes down to a question about meaning but also meaningfulness, moreso than just meaning—meaningfulness being the whole potential that we discover for meaning, and meaningfulness abounds.

So, what is meaningfulness? When I think of that in three different dimensions, there is the cosmic sense of meaningfulness, thinking of cosmogony, or creation stories, origin stories, myths, all of those questions—cosmology—these cosmic sensibilities of meaning and meaningfulness and pattern, structure. And also mystery, which is a running corollary to meaningfulness in religion for me. It’s also about cultivating this sense of wonder and mystery around the inability for meaning to present itself all of the time to us.

But another sense of meaningfulness that I find in the study of religion is in social meanings and social meaningfulness, the patterns that we discover and then create and recreate in kinship and in other forms of social relations: friendships and communities we belong to and the feelings of belonging or feelings of ostracization or outsider. All of that can be part of the study of religion and understanding how shared sensibilities, “the group mind,” comes together and understands itself and creates itself and doesn’t always understand itself, doesn’t always seek to create itself as a community Again all of those understandings can be part of the study of religion.

And then the last dimension of meaningfulness that I find in the study of religion pertains to the interior self and the interior meaningfulness of our life, of our sense of self, who we are as persons, who we are as human beings, but also and more importantly who we are in our human becoming. I think all of that is accessible to students, especially when they are studying religion in college because there are so many questions that you’re going to have as a young person anyway that will be boiling up and pushing and resonating against some of those same questions of the interior meaningfulness, the patterns that we create in our everyday life, the everyday rituals and habits and friendships and other relationships and chosen kinship networks that we associate with.

We can study both or all from the cosmic to the social down through the interior person and out again in the religious studies classroom. So, I think that the study of religion really offers students a whole cosmos worth of wonder.

***

Have questions about our upcoming conference? Interested in sharing with us what brought you to the academic study of religion? Send us an email at religion@osu.edu!

Why Study Religion? with PhD Student Elise Robbins

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Elise Robbins, PhD Student in the Department of English, think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

Transcript: “So in my Masters, I had a professor tell me, when I expressed that I was interested in studying religious literature, he told me, ‘OK, well you better be ready for people to argue with you.’

And I think that’s why, for me, the study of religion is so important. It’s because it is so high stakes for so many people, and people have feelings about it. I have feelings about it!

So, my main area of interest is the intersection of English literature and Christian religions in the Renaissance, which is an incredibly formative time for our modern culture. I mean, our country probably wouldn’t exist without the Protestant Reformation and what came out of that.

And, so if I had to sum up in one word why I think it’s so important to study religion, it would be the idea of “inheritance.” This idea that our past is not really our past. It informs our present and will continue to inform our future. And we can just let it take us on that ride, or we can be more critically aware abut how we shape the future coming out of the past.

So, I’m really interested in creating these connections between past individuals and religious communities to help us better understand ourselves and our very religiously steeped culture. For me, I’m particularly speaking about the Protestant-majority United States, which is my world, which has been incredibly shaped by our religious past. I think being able to understand that makes me and makes others critically aware citizens of this religiously informed community, whether we’re practitioners of religion or not. And for me personally, it helps make me a more critically aware reader of religious texts and practitioner of religion myself.

I think being able to intervene critically and see these traditions as not things that have to be the way they are but that can be changed—that originated in a specific moment in time and therefore can be different than they are—helps us to hold some things a little more loosely. And that can help us assess and evaluate these past inheritance and decide what beautiful parts of those inheritances we can hold onto and what harmful aspects of those inheritances we can—to borrow a biblical metaphor—prune in order to grow towards a more just and loving society.”

Interested in sharing with us what brought you to the academic study of religion? Send us an email at religion@osu.edu!

Why Study Religion? with PhD Student Savannah Finver

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Savannah Finver, PhD Student in the Department of Comparative Studies, think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

Transcript: “Why study religion? And why is it important to study religion? That is such a great question, and there are so many different ways that we could potentially answer it. Thinking about my context and what I study—I study the intersection of religion and law in the United States—I think that particularly in this country, there is a strong myth that there is a strict separation between church and state. But one of the things I’ve learned over the course of my study is that actually that wall of separation metaphor comes out of a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association and actually doesn’t appear anywhere in the legal structure of the United States. So, what that leads to is quite a number of complications in determining what actually is the role of religion, especially when so much of the population sees religion—at least in the United States but also in other neoliberal, democratic nations—as this segmented off sphere of life that doesn’t really impact other spheres, such as politics or law—you know, “Religion is something you do on Sundays, it’s not something you bring to work with you.” Of course, as we can see, especially recently with the legal battles playing out in the Supreme Court, that’s not the case. Religion plays such a fundamental part in our lives. It informs for many of us in the United States a core part of our identity. And that, in turn, impacts how we vote. It impacts how we think about the major issues in our lives. It impacts our stances on key political questions and stuff like that. So, for me, the study of religion has allowed me to really think critically about the question of why do people do what they do? Why do they think what they think? Especially in our current moment being as divisive as it has been.

Also, religious studies is such a fundamentally interdisciplinary study that the answers that I’ve gotten when asking these questions about what people do and why they do it have been more rounded than, say, if you were only to take a psychological lens or only to take a social science lens. I’m able to get a more complete picture of how social groups form, how power operates, and what really is the role of religion in forming who we are and what we do.”

Interested in sharing with us what brought you to the academic study of religion? Send us an email at religion@osu.edu!

Why Study Religion? with Dr. Solimar Otero

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, staff, and guests what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. Solimar Otero of Indiana University’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

Transcript: “That’s an excellent question! I’m actually a folklorist, and my work deals with everyday expressive culture. And religion is so much more than what people usually think of in terms of, say, formal rituals or formal texts. Religion is something that involves our everyday lives and our everyday expressions. Religions influence the way we eat, the way we think, the way we dream, the way that we understand ourselves, the way that we relate to other people. So religion’s embedded in cultural practices that many people don’t consider to be part of, say, official religious life. And so I think that we should study religions because it will allow us to learn more, not only about ourselves, but about other cultures and other people.”

Interested in sharing with us what brought you to the academic study of religion? Send us an email at religion@osu.edu!