On Wednesday December 4th, over 50 students and faculty attended a discussion panel hosted by the Student Committee on Instruction. The panel, entitled “The Place of Religion in the St. John’s Program and in Our Community”, was the second hosted by the SCI so far this academic year. It was a more intimate affair than the first panel held in November, which focused on the revisions to the program and reading list. However, just as any great seminar, the discussion was both respectful and insightful.
Bridget Wu (‘20), Chairperson of the SCI, gave opening remarks, setting the tone for an afternoon of measured reflection. “The program demands us to grapple with God and religion, asking us to read and consider these texts regardless of our personal beliefs…. Although we are not affiliated with any creed, wrestling with religion is central to our experience here. What is one’s personal relationship to religion or spirituality in the context of the program?”
From there, the panel – consisting of tutors Seth Applebaum, David Carl, Grant Franks, and Phil LeCuyer – each gave a 4-5 minute opening statement before the question period. Each of the opening statements considered a different, fascinating view on the issue of religion. Mr. Carl’s statement focused on the question of what can be known and believed while Mr. Applebaum considered the role that different religious and philosophical texts have in the program. Both Mr. Franks and Mr. LeCuyer both considered the centrality of religion in their own lives, and how those experiences have shaped their views of St John’s and the broader world respectively. Mr. LeCuyer ended the opening statement portion with a tantalizing quote from Emmanuel Levinas: “…everything depends on the possibility of a signification that would signify in an irreducible disturbance”.
The question period was no less diverse; and, as is often the case in a seminar, the conversation broadens as time moves on. Not only did attendants ask insightful questions, but engaged in lively back and forths. During one exchange, Assistant Dean Michael Golluber pressed Mr. LeCuyer to elaborate on the origins and limits of living out certain religious tenets, and Mr. LeCuyer responded with deep insight.
Ms. Wu ended her opening remarks by saying, “We hope this panel will help facilitate and inspire conversation.” Given the number of participants who continued with spirited discussion after the panel, mission accomplished.
Photos courtesy of The Moon.