Faith Perspectives: Take Rel-243; it will make you a better person


Graphic by Yolanda Chow

Education isn’t just an intellectual activity; at least it isn’t for professor Laura Smit. For Smit, education, particularly in Religion 243: Historical Theology I, is a shaping of moral identity. The course presumed that theology is the pursuit of knowledge of God, which changes who we are and therefore our actions.

Technically, the course goes by Historical Theology I, and takes students on a tour of historic Christian theology starting with the Sermon on the Mount and Paul, continuing through the patristic period with the likes of Augustine and Irenaeus, the medieval theologians, and finally ending with a reformer. Throughout each theologian studied, students are presented with the idea that theology, and the study of theology, is meant to make us better people and better Christians. Of course, each theologian has a different idea of what this looks like, some of which you will disagree with, but the principle remains the same: theology should make you a better person.

Yooyoung Kwon, who took the course in fall of 2018, said the course “[transformed] my mind to see truths I couldn’t see before.” She continued, “With studying these different ideas of different theologians from a different context of time and space in history, my own thoughts were tested, and some thoughts were declared erroneous and I found a necessity to renew and transform my mind.”

For Kwon, “[Thomas] Aquinas made me realize that in front of a question, one should not doubt but seek answers.” After taking the course, she now consults Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” and other commentaries.

Kwon wasn’t the only one; this approach worked for me as well. At least I hope it did. I found myself spending more time in the Gospels, praying the rosary and reevaluating my responsibilities as a friend and family member. Yet, I never felt as if it fell into an individualized spirituality class; we encountered selfless Christian saints. Likewise, the course wasn’t a walk-in-the-park high school Bible class; it engages vigorously on intellectual grounds.

Professor Smit said, “Christians in the early and medieval periods thought it was obvious that the study of theology should be rooted in worship and should result in a more virtuous life. This approach to theology is worth retrieving.”

I must say, as a religion major this isn’t something I’ve encountered in every religion class, but I hope to have another opportunity like Rel-243. I think all students should take this praxis-oriented course, or one like it.

At the bare minimum, check out the course’s book from last time it was taught, “By the Renewing of Your Mind,” by Ellen T. Charry.

This article is based off of my own experience in the course and subsequent conversations with professor Smit. The course, since it hasn’t begun, is of course subject to change — although I doubt the thesis of the course will.