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ISSUE 116 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/21/2003

In Mellby’s footsteps: Lagerquist assesses views of school, future goals

By Jane Dudzinski
News Editor

Friday, March 21, 2003

The 21st annual Carl Mellby Memorial Lecture series continued last Thursday with a talk by L. DeAne Lagerquist, Associate Professor and chair of religion. Lagerquist’s lecture was titled "The Observations of the Observed: Theological Literacy, the Liberal Arts and Global Perspective."

Assistant English Professor and humanities chair of the faculty development committee Karen Sawyer Marsalek introduced Lagerquist and explained that the purpose of the Mellby Lecture series is to honor the ideals and goals of Carl A. Mellby, a St. Olaf professor during the first half of the 20th century. According to Marsalek, the purpose of the lecture series is to "communicate scholarship in meaningful ways."

Lagerquist divided her lecture into three parts: St. Olaf’s religious history, how outside scholars view the college and possibilities for improvement in the future.

Beginning with a brief discussion of her initial arrival at St. Olaf in 1988, Lagerquist said, "Much of what I knew about the place was dead people and the buildings for which they were named….Now I’ve come to know those who live in those buildings; I’ve come to know the community and love it."

She went on to detail the history of the role of religion at St. Olaf, beginning with the dedication of Boe Chapel in 1954, which she hailed as a landmark in that it signaled a period of trying to unite the sense of revived religion at the college with the newfound secularism in America.

Next, Lagerquist presented a variety of studies done internally by faculty members which ranged from the 1950s to the 1970s. In these studies, scholars grappled with ideas concerning the "making of college minds" in intellectual, moral and spiritual terms, encouraging a dialogue in a liberal arts college within a Christian context and giving up freedom in exchange for turning towards a neighbor for a new set of faith and values.

The second section of Lagerquist’s lecture analyzed four studies that scholars have recently conducted on Lutheran liberal arts schools like St. Olaf.

Many of these studies dealt with similar issues, including evaluating a college by its own vision of cultural diversity, the role of service and music in the religious sphere, and the "attention to the integration of the human person."

In this part of the lecture, Lagerquist also brought up a comment from former college president Lars W. Boe, who said, "We want to stand for a Christianity that functions."

With this idea in mind, Lagerquist began the final part of her lecture by asking, "What role will religion play in our endeavors in the future?"

She stressed the importance of keeping the history of the college in mind, as well as bringing up the issue of how to most effectively continue involvement in "active engagement."

"If we are to fulfill our mission, we must think about our ideals and live by the ideals we think," Lagerquist said.

Bringing up the fact that the four main components of American religion, according to religious scholar Katherine Albanese, are creed, cultus, code and community, Lagerquist said that the college cannot reduce religion to any one of the major components because they are all parts of a whole. Specifically pointing out that St. Olaf once prohibited dancing, she discussed the perceived moral implications for outside viewers that went along with this decision.

Going on to re-define religion, Lagerquist said that she felt it is "the ways people struggle to understand the world and how we live in it."

Lagerquist also strongly stressed that religion cannot be confined to classrooms, or to even discussion among students; it cannot even be limited to ideas, but must extend to the practice of worship, which upholds the goals of Boe, according to Lagerquist.

Her final point addressed the idea of "cosmopolitan citizenship" and how St. Olaf’s mission should be to cultivate this idea of integrating the theological tradition with the education among students and faculty.

Rebuking the claim by many outside and inside sources that St. Olaf is not enough like the "real world," Lagerquist said, "We must be what we hope our students will be like…Maybe ‘cosmopolitan citizenship’ is a naïve aim, but it is the naïve aims that are the most essential and the most pressing."

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