One of the primary themes in my teaching is that religion matters, not only in the sense that it is meaningful but that religion has material consequence. Faith and spirituality are not abstractions from the stuff of the world but are tied up with the tangible ways we live and move and have our being. Religion can inform how we dress, what we eat, the ways we understand and use our bodies, even how we construct buildings and organizes ourselves in community.
What I hope students recognize is twofold. First, as we learn about the world’s religious traditions, I want students to know that it is not enough simply to memorize basic tenets, as if religions are merely sets of concepts existing in the ether, apart from the world. Instead, I want us to take seriously that religions are lived, and how religious beliefs and practices are embodied matters, shaping our ways of relating to one another.
Second, I want to encourage students to acknowledge that their own ways of thinking and being have consequence. What we believe is never simply a benign set of precepts, but our beliefs inform how we act, including the ways we treat ourselves and others. What we believe matters.
Take, for example, the ending of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul offers greetings to a number of people laboring on behalf of the gospel. We are reminded that sharing the good news is work. It is a tangible commitment to engage for the sake of making real the presence of God’s grace and mercy, here and now. It is also a collective endeavor. We are connected with one another, not only in spirit but in our embodied ways of living and working together.
One pair stands out: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Rom 16:7). They stand out not only for being “prominent” but also because Junia, a woman, is recognized as an apostle, perhaps the most esteemed role among early Christ followers.
But for a part of the text’s interpretive history, Junia was replaced by Junius, a man. All of the earliest manuscripts have Junia, but apparently, some found it so inconceivable that a woman could be identified as an apostle that they assumed a mistake and literally rewrote the text, “correcting” it as Junius. What we believe about what’s possible shapes what we make possible.
Thankfully, we stand in a tradition that has believed and acted otherwise, that has cultivated a mission “committed to women’s education and helping every student find a unique voice and purpose.”
And so, we greet Vivia, Tonya, and Kaiya, prominent among educators and pastors, truth tellers, and gospel sharers. And we greet Cassie and Jaylan, exemplars of the Wesleyan spirit of connecting faith and service.
And we greet and thank you and so many who continue the legacy of making real Wesleyan’s commitment to help every student find a unique voice and purpose.
Tyler M. Schwaller, Th.D.
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Ackerman/Hurdle Chaplaincy Chair