Last August, I wrote a harsh, though earnest, reflection on the required reading for a religion degree at Calvin for my first blog post on the post calvin. It simply wasn’t diverse enough during my time at Calvin. A year into a graduate program studying theology, my musings from last August still ring true, and I’d probably even be harsher if I wrote it today, but I’ve also realized just how well my Calvin education prepared me for my graduate program.
To be completely honest, my first year was very easy, and I’m grateful for the way my Calvin education prepared me. My grades came easy, and most tellingly, without much stress. Sure, I had to do the work of any graduate program, mostly silly amounts of readings, but I knew how to read the kinds of texts assigned (and had read many of them before) because of my previous studies.
The ease of my first year wasn’t because my graduate program isn’t up-to-par with peer programs or anything like that. Boston University School of Theology, where I go, has an alliance with most other graduate schools of religion in the Boston area, including Harvard Divinity, Boston College, Hartford Seminary, and more. And I’ve tried my best to maximize my courses from other programs. So, just to cover possible rebuttals, I don’t think it would be a fair assessment to say it’s because my institution isn’t “intensive.”
Those same readings I complained about in August—which often lacked racial and gender diversity—also prepared me for graduate school. (Though my grad school has been much more diverse, which is expected from a United Methodist Church seminary). As far as biblical studies goes, I was one of three or four students in a class of around 90 that started our fall survey course of the Hebrew Bible who knew what to make of the phrase sitz im leben. As my peers panicked over the midterms, I and the other former Calvin religion student in the same program instead found ourselves concerned with our lack of concern. The same thing could be said of various church history or historical theology courses.
And while I complained about the lack of diversity in the required readings at Calvin, I now realize that didn’t quite equate to a lack of diversity in ideas. In biblical criticism courses, I practiced traditional literary criticisms and womanist and post-colonial criticisms. I was taught the permanent pillars of the field like Aquinas and Luther and read from people doing cutting-edge postmodern or progressive theology like Mary Daly.
It wasn’t just the readings either. The religion faculty who taught the material were even more valuable. Each of them (and more non-religion faculty!) contributed to my education in an indelible way that I’m feeling more grateful than ever for. My two courses with Dr. Laura Smit, Historical Theology I (from Patristics to the Reformation) and Theology of Narnia, not only introduced me to much of the theological canon but also forced me to consider how each thinker’s theology contributes to the Good Life. The plethora of courses I took from Dr. Won Lee, alongside copy editing for his amazing book project on Korean biblical criticism, equipped me with the tools to read different texts in different ways that still make sense, which one does a lot of in graduate school. I could go on and on, but the best thing I can say is they taught the material well and passionately, which, in my mind, is the best compliment I can give an educator.
While I don’t want to retract anything from my August reflection, with my new sense of gratitude—along with what I can only assume is the continual decline in numbers of the religion department and humanities in general—part of me needed to reexamine that post: Calvin University is truly a great place to study religion.