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ISSUE 121 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/21/2007

Requirements hinder

By Linnae Stole
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 21, 2007

In the twenty years since the approval of St. Olaf's mission statement, the picture of St. Olaf has changed. While the college still tries (and in many aspects, has succeeded) to remain true to its Norwegian-Lutheran heritage, the fact remains that a sizeable portion (around 25%, according to the college website) of St. Olaf students don't consider themselves Christian.

Is the requirement demanding that students take two Christian-based religious classes now archaic and unnecessary? Given the interdependence of the world in which we live, I believe that the college's decision to focus solely on Christianity disservices its students.

I interviewed three students of various backgrounds and belief systems about their opinions on St. Olaf's religion requirements.

Kelsey Thomson, a sophomore from Rochester, Minn. is a Lutheran who chose St. Olaf partly based on its religious affiliation.

She sees nothing wrong with the current religion requirements, citing that St. Olaf, while increasing its diversity somewhat over the years, still maintains a close affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The freshman religion course is necessary, she says, as it gives students a guide for what type of religion course they may want to take to fulfill the upper-level BTS-T course.

Ahmed Ali is a junior, also from Rochester. He practices the Muslim faith, and before enrolling at St. Olaf, he went to mosque nearly every day. He believes that the freshman religion course should be done away with, as it is strictly biblical.

He also feels that St. Olaf should broaden the scope of its religion requirements. For example, he thinks that St. Olaf should change the requirements from "biblical studies" to "religious studies." He would also like to see more religious diversity within the department. For example, he suggests hiring a Muslim to teach Islamic studies courses.

Kate Lennox is a sophomore from Virginia. While raised both Lutheran and Episcopalian, she became an atheist as a teenager.

Upon coming to St. Olaf, she was surprised to learn of the religion requirements, but she had a positive experience in each of the classes she has taken so far.

She feels that the first-year religion requirement isn't necessary, but it is important to have some sort of religious requirement as a way to gain a broader perspective on culture and society. Like Ahmed, she was interested the in the idea of a "religious studies" requirement rather than the current "biblical studies." She would also like to see more course offerings focused on world religions.

Across the board, the interviewees agreed that they haven't felt pressure in any of their religion classes regarding their personal beliefs, and agree that the professors teach from a scholastic point of view.

Given St. Olaf's strong ties to the church, it remains to be seen whether any drastic changes will be made regarding the religion requirements.

If and when that time comes, I hope that our student body's increasing diversity will be taken into account and that any changes will remain true to the foundations that have helped St. Olaf flourish for nearly one hundred and thirty years.

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