Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Discussion on the Nature of Religion

By Riley Wingert

On February 25, 2008, Dr. Louis Hammann, Professor of religion at Gettysburg College, gave a presentation in WSC. The presentation was supposed to be a dialogue on world religions featuring Native American beliefs, between Dr. Hammann and his colleague, Dr. Kenneth Lokensgard, Assistant Professor of Religion at Gettysburg College. However, Dr. Lokensgard was sick and could not participate.

Dr. Hammann instead addressed the question; What is religion?

The answer is so much more complex than a mathematical equation like 3 + 6 = 9. So many things come in to play when discussing religion.

Dr. Hammann established that to an individual, religion is based on personal experience, whether that experience was good, bad, or otherwise. Nearly everyone has experienced religion somehow in life. In today’s growing media, humans are increasingly exposed to the public discourse which defines religion the way it perceives it: religion is just an organization or movement to which people are loyal.

As humans we tend to be habitual beings. Religion can become a habit, a cultural reflex in a human being’s life. How does that habit beneficial? What more is religion? Dr. Hammann says in essence, true religion is a chain of memory. That is we reenact the origin of our religion, trying to have the same experiences as those of the founders of the religion. He used two examples one of Catholicism and the practice of mass, and Buddhism and the practice of meditation.

The presentation was not intended to provide absolute truth or resolution to the question of the ages, it was a challenge for each of us to look into our own lives and analyze what our experience with religion has been. We must each wrestle with what religion means in our own lives and ultimately how it affects the way we live in the world.

Thank you Dr. Hammann for leading the discussion and challenging our thoughts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake -- Author visits Mont Alto

Although this wasn't strictly an Honors event there were several Honors students in attendance, so it's worth mentioning here.

Yesterday, Stephen Whitman spoke to an intimate group at the Mont Alto Library on his book Challenging Slavery in the Chesapeake. The book covers the institution of slavery in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware from the Revolution to the Civil War.

Whitman asked the question "What did African Americas do to challenge slavery and gain freedom?"

Surprisingly, there was a legal mechanism, called manumission for slaves to buy their freedom. Many worked in their free time to save up enough money to negotiate for their freedom with their masters. This could be a long and tedious process. Yet enough people were able to do this that the States started to limit the procedure.

Whitman argues that the efforts of the slaves helped change how people thought about slavery. Northerners, especially in Pennsylvania, lived with increasing numbers of free blacks. They began to resent the efforts of Southerners to reclaim their lost property. Southerners resented the refusal of the Northerners to help them retain their property. They began to think increasingly in terms of secession from the Union.

Whitman's book challenges us to think about history in a new way. The slaves weren't passive. They worked hard to be free. Actions on the local level had a cumulative effect that changed public opinion against slavery and led eventually to the Civil War. The book is a worthwhile read!

Thanks to the Penn State Mont Alto Library for hosting this book discussion.