My guest blogger this week is Ellen McKay, the program coordinator for the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life. Ellen works closely with students on a wide range of projects related to spiritual and social life on campus. When we think about diversity, matters of faith can sometimes be overlooked, and Ellen’s post highlights just how important they are to many students.
—Shirley M. Collado
Middlebury is a very secular place, and people are sometimes surprised to find students of faith here. But there are many. One of the best parts of my job is working with students in our 10 student religious groups. I’m always impressed with the dignity and energy of these students, who have chosen to continue their spiritual practices during their time at Middlebury.
When Dean Collado asked me to write a guest post, I went to several students and recent graduates and asked them this question: “How does your spirituality add to your liberal arts education?” I got some very thoughtful answers. I’ve included a few here, and more are on our website. Please visit—and contribute your own answer if you’d like.
How does your spirituality add to your liberal arts education?
Andrew Snow ’15: I came to college with a very grounded belief in God, and I was active in my church community. In college, it’s interesting to see how your beliefs may tie into the classes you take or affect your views on philosophical arguments. The same can be said of the topics discussed in a liberal arts education and their impact on faith. Sometimes, the topics have made me believe in the values of my religion, and sometimes they have made me double check the things I believe in.
Edna Tang ’12: One of the most valuable things that has happened to me at Middlebury has been having my faith challenged, not only when I am questioned by others, but also when I am brought face to face with my own uncertainties. I have learned that it is important not to shy away from these moments because if we seek the truth, then it is vital that we explore and wrestle with these questions.
Patrick Hebble ’13: Through my spiritual life, I have come to have a greater love and appreciation for the place I live in, the opportunities given to me, and the people around me. I think this also plays an important role in my education. As a science major, I consider myself to be exploring God’s world. While some people claim science and religion to be incompatible, I find that my faith makes phenomena such as evolution and neural interactions so fascinating and beautiful.
Katie Pett ’13: During orientation, I found out about one of the Christian groups on campus, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Two years later, I’ve found some of the deepest and most honest friendships I’ve ever had. These weren’t simply products of time spent together; they came from a collective pursuit of truth. This group was formed as a safe place to ask questions—we trust that no question is too big or small.
Blake Harper ’15: I’ve found that by approaching my studies with God behind, beside, and beyond me, I can get a great deal more out of them. Practicing mindfulness and meditation can also do wonders for your intellect, and it has been nice to feel sharper, more aware, and more closely connected to the intuitive, creative brain.
Kathryn Benson ’13: Talking with others about their faith and beliefs is an amazing gift. I’ve found that regardless of what religion a person is, their traditions and values are similar to mine in one way or another. The neat thing about faith on campus is that, regardless of how diverse people here are, through spirituality we all have the common connection of a shared faith and love for something that is much bigger than ourselves.
I’ve been reading a lot lately by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and have been struck by the similarities between our students’ responses and his beliefs. In his book My Spiritual Journey, he talks about the important role spirituality plays in facing the challenges of the 21st century:
“I think that despite the rapid advances that civilization has made over the past century, the immediate cause of our present situation is exclusively privileging material progress above all else. We have thrown ourselves so frantically into its pursuit that we have neglected to pay attention to the essential human needs of love, kindness, cooperation and caring. . . I am referring to what I call ‘secular ethics,’ which includes the key ethical principles such as compassion, tolerance, kindness, and the responsible use of science and power. These principles transcend the boundaries between believers and nonbelievers.”
At Middlebury, we are fortunate that our community includes a broad spectrum of the world’s ancient wisdom traditions. Listening to each other, embracing our different perspectives, and recognizing how much we share are some of the main goals of a liberal arts education—and some of the best things about working at Middlebury.
I’d like to thank all of the students and alumni who took time to write an answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this post—those printed here and others on our website.
We’d love to hear what you think: How does your spirituality impact your education? Or does it?