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ISSUE 115 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/1/2002

Behind St. Olaf’'s Stained Glass

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer


Friday, March 1, 2002

St. Olaf describes itself as a college of the church. To some, this phrase is straightforward. St. Olaf is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran church body in the U.S. The college was founded as a religious academy, was at one time associated with a seminary, and has been officially supported by Lutheran churches for over a hundred years. But these bare facts dont reflect the wide range of religious experience among St. Olaf students and faculty. Nor do they necessarily illuminate what the phrase a college of the church is supposed to reflect. College of the church? I dont even know what that means. Does it mean the church gives us grants? speculates Senior Amy Hanson. The Identity and Mission for the 21st Century document written in 2000 says, Although St. Olaf is an expression of a church, faith is not its central purpose. We believe that religious claims like all other claims at a college should be contested. At a college, religion can't be just what we presume or assume; its an intellectual matter, a matter of thoughtfulness and mindfulness, of argument and conversation. Some students wholeheartedly agree with this. Being a school of the church should mean understanding the Christian religion in the context of other religions, says one student, who thinks this should be reflected in more classes on non-Christian religions. Senior Lisa Kuhl applauds the ease of religious conversation between friends. It doesnt come up very often, but when it does, people are really comfortable about it and like to hear other perspectives. The Identity and Mission document goes on to say, We think we serve our students best not by being officially uncommitted or noncommital, but by committing ourselves to a particular tradition that offers substantial leverage and approaching questions of religion and the liberal arts. The mission of St. Olaf College is religious, but it isn't sectarian. It derives from an understanding of God and God's ways in the world, but it doesn't require a belief in God for productive participation in the community. The religious makeup of the St. Olaf student body reflects this belief. In the 1999-2000 school year 43.9 percent of St. Olaf students were Lutherans. Almost 16 percent were Catholic, and there were substantial minorities of other Protestants, agnostics, and atheists, as well as handfuls of students from almost every religion imaginable. There are currently at least 13 student organizations devoted to some aspect of spirituality, ranging from Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) to the Pagan and Alternative Religions Association. One student, who identifies himself as spiritual, not religious, says he feels his non-traditional beliefs are accepted- mostly. He says St. Olafs multicultural approach simply isnt done to the same degree with religions. There are some people who would be perfectly open about saying they arent comfortable with having non-Christians hereand I think this is encouraged by some faculty and Christian leaders on campus. However, he also says that St. Olaf is as an institution, generally without prejudices&he problems Ive had have come from the strong evangelical understanding of some students. The greatest pressure to fit the religious mode is social. "To be involved socially its hard not to be involved in church. For instance, there are no singing opportunities at St. Olaf that dont involve participating in Christian worship to some extent, he says. Kuhl, who is Roman Catholic, felt confident coming to a Lutheran school. Though she worried that it would be overwhelmingly Protestant, she says, The religious nature was an assurance that it was going to be a place where I would feel comfortable and I would feel welcome. She expected an atmosphere similar to that of her Catholic high school, and has not been disappointed. In fact, her first-year religion professor was a Catholic nun who once lived in the same convent as Kuhls great-aunt. The only problems Ive had were in some history classes about the Reformation - in those classes, I sometimes had to speak up and say, Excuse me? Catholicism isnt like that anymore. Senior Amy Hanson is Mormon, and has encountered some misunderstandings about her beliefs. She would also like to see more variety in religion classes. I took Religion in America, and it talked almost exclusively about Protestant denominations. But she also says that her knowledge of religion has broadened since coming to St. Olaf because of personal encounters. Ive had some really good religious dialog, and learned more about other peoples ways of thinking. St. Olaf has opened a large door for me in that respect. Perhaps it is as the Identity and Mission statement says: At St. Olaf, interest in religion isnt universal, but it isnt weird either; instead, its just normal. Hanson says, St. Olaf overall is neutral towards religion  doesnt necessarily build up faith, but doesnt hurt it either. Its out there if you want it.





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