Editorial: An open letter to Franciscan University’s theology department

By Mia Brounstein

To whom it may concern:

As a senior theology major, I’ve taken a number of genuinely fascinating and memorable classes here at Franciscan. Principles of Biblical Studies, Human and Spiritual Integration, and Christian Spirituality are just a few that stand out in my memory as truly transformative for me.

I believe it’s safe to say that this university’s theology department lives up to the slogan, “Academically Excellent, Passionately Catholic.” However, as I registered for classes a few weeks ago, I once again found myself wondering why I have never known any theology major to take a world religions class here.

I became aware of this lack a few months ago when I saw on an old Franciscan course catalogue a class called “Comparative Religion,” which covered different religions of the world. A brief investigation on the Port shows that, as far as I can see, this class has not been offered in two years.

I can’t help wondering why.

In my opinion, a class on world religions should not only be frequently offered as an elective, but should be a required course for theology majors.

After all, without understanding the root of another individual’s beliefs, it is difficult or even impossible to help guide them to the truth. This is especially relevant considering the number of theology majors who graduate from Franciscan and go on to be missionaries, youth ministers and educators.

Individuals in these professions are brought into direct contact with people, especially young people, who are either hostile toward the faith or who are searching for spiritual truth in different places.

Beyond the importance of understanding other religions for evangelization, I believe that it is absolutely crucial for people of all kinds to be able to understand those who are different from them without any eye for conversion.

In an age where Catholics are regularly accused (often rightfully) of failing to love those who disagree with them, simply being able to respectfully dialogue with those whose minds we will never change is invaluable. As Catholics and as young people entering professional spheres, we should be educated on the beliefs of the people we will be working with and witnessing to.

In addition, I believe it is deeply valuable for us as theology students to recognize that grains of the truth of the Catholic faith exist in nearly every religion. This is not to say that every religion is true, but that God does not allow any soul to be far from Him.

For all of human history, civilizations across the world have been attracted to the Divine. Though this frequently took the form of idolatry, there is something powerful about recognizing humanity’s universal search for God and studying how this search manifests itself for different peoples.

In addition, I think that the “separateness” of Franciscan calls for a class like Comparative Religion.

Franciscan’s Catholic community is undoubtedly one of its greatest strengths. However, it can be easy while we are here to surround ourselves with like-minded people to the extent that we forget that the world is a much wider place full of people with very different beliefs.

The solitude and separation of our hill cannot be an excuse for ignorance or a refusal to put effort into understanding those who are different from us.

Finally, to those who would argue that studying other religions could weaken one’s own faith, I say this: if we as a university have confidence in the soundness of our theology program, as I think we have reason to, we have nothing to fear from encouraging students to examine other faiths.

I would invite the theology department of this university to seriously examine the value of more frequently offering a world religions class and even of making such a class required for theology majors. I believe that doing so would form students and prepare them to be well-rounded professionals and knowledgeable witnesses within the world.