December 2018 Service-Learning Newsletter

Service-Learning in Christianity and World Religions

By: Ginny Steinkamp

The Catholic Church recognizes the great importance and value of interreligious dialogue. Catholics should recognize the goodness and beauty found in other religions, while also respectfully observing the distinctions between beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church and other religious traditions.

This semester, in Dr. Matthew Ramage’s section of the course, Christianity and World Religions, students are learning about various religions through engaging lectures in the classroom, through observing religious experiences, and through shared service opportunities with members of other faiths. Students can choose to visit religious services within the traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. This unique and immersive opportunity allows students to truly experience the traditions of other religions in a way that a textbook cannot accomplish on its own.

Another engaging component of the class is the option to participate in what the Catholic Church calls “dialogue of action.” Melanie Cozzi, a sophomore Nursing major, was initially interested in this class as a means to be able to better defend her faith. Cozzi says, “I may as well take a class where I learn about other religions. I can’t say my faith is a true faith if I don’t know anything else. It’s a bigger step defending my faith by learning about other religions as well.” As her dialogue of action engagement, Cozzi worked in Kansas City alongside volunteers from J-Lead, a group of Jewish young adults, at a program called Global Gardens, which is under the umbrella of Jewish Vocational Service. Cozzi describes the project as, “a garden for refugees in the area. There are like 3 different tribes that live in the area and the purpose of the garden is so that they can grow and cultivate crops native to them so that they can save money on produce… Having food that is familiar to them is a huge blessing in their eyes… We were there to help the Jewish community uproot everything, put up a new tarp, and clear their garden out for the spring.”

Dr. Ramage, the professor of Christianity and World Religions, recognizes the importance of dialogue of action in the Christian’s life. Ramage says, “The dialogue of action is something the Vatican calls us to do where we aren’t sitting down formally and discussing theological issues, but instead, we are serving alongside them [members of other faiths] in the common good for things that we both hold to be true and necessary.” In their engagement in service, students are able to understand that service isn’t solely a Christian virtue, but it is a value held by many world religions. Cozzi notes, “If I didn’t go into the project knowing they were Jewish, I probably would have assumed they were Christian.” Dr. Ramage hoped that this would be one of the lessons students would experience in the service-learning component of the course. Dr. Ramage says, “We are not going to change the world on our own, like Jesus says, ‘Whoever is not against us is for us.’” Students are able to understand and appreciate the diversity found within the religions of the world while also recognizing their commonalities with Christianity. “They are first able to encounter someone from another tradition and realize God can work through them... and they are able to have conversations with people different from them and get to know them better,” Ramage says. Students in Christianity and World Religions are learning about various cultures and religious traditions, how to overcome communication obstacles, and how to compare and contrast Christianity with different world views. Most of all, students are able to understand that regardless of religious tradition, God is able to work outside the visible boundaries of the Church and call diverse people to Himself. Through these various forms of dialogue, students are coming to a greater understanding of the dignity and membership of the human family that is found in all people.