“At its heart, a liberal arts education is focused on two salient questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How do I live in the world?’ Likewise, the study of religion explores how humans make meaning in this world and thereby orient themselves. Essentially they are two sides of the same inquiry.”
Paul Jones claims he is an expert in “nerdology” and “boringtology.” If that doesn’t draw students into his classroom, perhaps photos from the many May term travel courses he offers will.
There’s the one of Jones draped across a tree limb in Chorazin on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Or the one of several students floating in the Dead Sea. Or riding a camel.
Of course, there’s also a lot of learning going on when Jones takes students to the Middle East. By traveling in Israel and Egypt, for example, students gain an understanding of the complex confluence of religion, politics, and history, as well as how history and archaeology inform the interpretation of the books of the Bible.
In Turkey and Greece, students learn how Paul the apostle related to the Roman imperial world that surrounded him.
Jones sees himself “learning with students,” daring them to move away from a self-centered world and into the world’s larger community, where he hopes they will pursue “a life of thoughtful action.”
While studying religion at Transylvania, students become adept at critical inquiry. They are then required to use those skills to investigate multiple religious traditions. With that thorough preparation, graduates have successfully attended the finest graduate schools in the country—including Harvard, Yale, Emory, and Vanderbilt—in a variety of disciplines.
Aside from classroom study and travel abroad, how else does Jones engage his students? During one May term course, students read the proof galleys for Jones’s latest book. Each person constructed a grid for each chapter and critiqued the argument. As Jones explains, aside from close examination of contemporary scholarly writing, the students also “learned about the process of publication and the editorial stages”—skills they can take into any postgraduate field of study.
“Nerdy?” Maybe. “Boring?” Never.