Welcome to the core curriculum’s religion class.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” says Kathleen Gilbert ’14 when asked about her class called Intro to Judeo-Christian Tradition. “I’m not really religious … so I didn’t know much about the Bible before I took the class. Now, I have a deeper understanding of Christianity and a better point of view on the Bible in general.”
Most undergraduates at Saint Joseph’s have a limited religious education background and enter their required theology class with no preconceived notions.
“They come at it like blank slates,” Dr. Steven Bridge, chair of the theology department, says. “Most students don’t know much about the Bible, so I try to use a lot of popular culture analogies that they can relate to.”
From global issues like 9/11 to personal experiences, students learn how the Bible and God relate to both monumental events and the small events in their day-today lives.
“I love how dedicated the theology faculty is,” Steven Wiley ’14 says. “The fact you can talk to them at any point in the day just about life in general is great. I even talked to Dr. Bridge about how I found God. They’re just there for you.”
While some students are greatly affected by the introductory course, others just find the course gratifying. The faculty members make the material interesting through videos, class discussions, and assigning personal essays about an individual’s spiritual journey. “As part of the course, using readings and topical items on YouTube, students discuss such themes as the Holocaust, Jewish and Christian views of death and the afterlife, the meaning of suffering, and the theology of sin and grace,” says theology professor Sister Marilyn Sunderman, RSM, Ph.D.
“I found how theologians used historical knowledge and scientific proofs to prove the stories in the Bible fascinating,” Nathaniel Hunt ’10 says. “The records the Romans kept on Jesus, for example, coordinate with the events of the Bible.”
Science, historical fact, and the Bible are three things most students dismiss as unrelated. That is a common misconception, according to the theology faculty.
“Not everything in the Bible was meant to be taken literally. The Catholic Church supports the teaching of evolution and doesn’t take Genesis literally,” theology professor Daniel Sheridan says. “There is no split between science and religion, or at least there shouldn’t be.”
Intro to Judeo-Christian Tradition functions not just as an introductory course to the Bible, but also helps to inform students about fallacies regarding Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, and even Islam.
“Most public universities don’t have these courses, but I believe every educated person should have a college level knowledge of the Scriptures for both educational and spiritual purposes,” Dr. Sheridan says. “We are not just trying to better inform Catholics or Protestants with the course. We are trying to inform everyone to better understand the great religions of this world in order to combat prejudices.”
Students in theology classes often share personal beliefs and stories. Discussions are amiable and respectful, as well as invigorating and interesting. Some students are not Christian, yet feel secure enough to participate in the discussions.
While required core curriculum classes are a hotly debated issue among students, the theology course provides a chance to truly apply the material students have learned to their everyday lives.
“The part of the class that most students take to heart is practicum,” Dr. Bridge says. “This is when a person goes out and practices Christian love, which focuses on extending kind acts to strangers and enemies. I’ve seen so many students rise to the occasion and repair their estranged relationships. It’s really amazing.”