Wilson Lecture Series: Bringing Religion to the Classroom

April 1, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Logan May


Is there room for religion in the classroom? SMU Chaplain and Minister Stephen Rankin thinks so.

Rankin held an open discussion concerning religion and higher education Friday afternoon in the Hughes- Trigg Center. Rankin spoke earlier this month about religion and how to integrate it within the classroom at SMU as part of the Wilson Lecture Series. As a follow-up to his speech “Seeking a Better Way: SMU as a Leader in Church-Affiliated Higher Education,” Rankin and his pastoral team shared ideas and asked questions.

“How can I let my faith be shown in the workplace?” Rankin asked to begin the meeting.

Many universities are now putting a strong distinction between their academic mission and religious life. Religious studies are now being made into extracurricular activities instead of integrated within education.

“I want to smudge that line,” Rankin said.

SMU is in an unusually good position because of its connection to the Methodist church and ability to go against the grain, Rankin said.

However, professors are still unsure of how to spark faith-based questions and discussions within their classes. Professors wonder if they can ask questions regarding the religion of a student and if so, if it’s deemed disrespectful.

Kathleen Stephens, an SMU academic advisor, said it starts in the first year. More and more students are coming into their first year at SMU with a set plan. They want a specific major to get them a specific job and are losing sight of what is meaningful. Students have to fulfill five out of six perspectives courses and many leave out the religious studies section all together.

“I want students to know we as advisors are there for more than just to schedule classes,” said Stephens.

Rankin suggested possible training opportunities for advisors so that they can help each student dig deeper to find their potential. More students are now interested in religion and looking for mentors, so they should be given the opportunity to pursue those interests. It is time to change the idea that education and religion are separate.

Katie Lewis, administrative assistant to the Chaplain, said she wishes she had more guidance throughout her time in college.

“I would have liked someone to say, ‘is this meaningful to you?’” Lewis said.

These are the questions Chaplain Rankin hopes to find the answers to. Rankin, along with his pastoral team are working hard on new ideas to integrate religion and faith on campus.

“Stephen Rankin is leading us in an exciting vision,” said Associate Chaplain Judy Henneberger.

Rankin suggested offering more classes that focus around faith-based discussions and holding group sessions in the dorms for guidance. Wellness is currently the only class that discusses religion. In addition to religion in the classroom, worship is held on-campus at Perkins Chapel every Wednesday and Thursday at 11:30 a.m.

“Faith should play a larger role in education,” Rankin said. “We are hiding a view of the world.”

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