Reimagining Religion and Philosophy to Tackle Complex World

Last year, faculty leaders were asked to consider how their programs were meeting the changing needs of students. The Department of Religion and Philosophy met that challenge by combining two majors and reimagining their curriculum.

The new “philosophy and religion” major will help students better understand a complex landscape of competing worldviews. They will begin to unravel how those worldviews are lived out in practice. Students will tackle big questions about how we should live, how we should organize our communities, how we should pursue justice, and how we make sense of our place in an increasingly polarized society.

“In a globalized planet, being able to navigate challenging conversations is an essential skill — one that the new philosophy and religion major will develop,” said Andrew Mills, chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy.

Three concentrations will be available to students: philosophy, religion, and social justice/ethics.

Professor Stephanie Patridge explained that the combination is built off of the natural affinity between the two content areas, as well as between faculty members.

“We’ve always been a forward-thinking department. The pieces were always there, we just needed to make it happen,” said Patridge.

Senior Drew Wilson saw the combination first-hand with Assistant Professor Alex Rocklin’s class, Yoga: Religion, Philosophy, and Politics. Rocklin took yoga and showed how it is more than just an exercise routine. Wilson liked how the class showed the interdisciplinary nature of concepts you can experience daily.

“It’s really awesome to be able to pull ideas from both philosophy and religion simultaneously. While trying to assess a situation, you recognize ways to facilitate understanding in more meaningful ways,” said Wilson.

This new combination globalizes traditional Euro-centric concentrations, allowing students to expand their worldview. The major pays close attention to historical and contemporary answers to life’s fundamental questions, helping students formulate their own answers while fostering a deeper understanding of the global viewpoints.

“These two areas are designed to help people reflect on the ultimate questions in life,” said Rev. Larry Brown ’80, ordained UMC pastor and Otterbein Board of Trustees member.

Brown remembered how the generations of students before him, including his father, studied both philosophy and religion together.

“In the long term, this will broaden the pool of applicants for faculty and staff, increasing the possibilities for employees to directly impact our student body,” said Brown.

Philosophy and Religion in the Workforce

The wide applicability of philosophy and religion provides a unique combination of communication, reading, analytical, and empathetic skills that make graduates stronger, well-prepared, highly valued employees. According to the Educational Testing Services, philosophy majors have the fourth-highest median earnings in the United States — more than $81,000 per year, which outranks business and chemistry.

“Financial security and doing work that fulfills you are often at odds with each other. The earnings data we see for philosophy graduates nationwide is disproving that notion. This is, in turn, helping potential students see that you don’t have to abandon a passion in order to be successful,” said Mills.

Regarding post-undergraduate test scores, philosophy and religion majors score higher than other cohorts. For the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), they are tied for the highest final test scores across majors. Students score in the top five highest of all majors on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and have the highest composite scores of all majors on the graduate record examination (GRE).

“For the longest time, the old joke to studying philosophy and religion was ‘do you want fries with that?’ That’s no longer the case. Our graduates are going on to be part of the world’s leading industries and companies,” said Patridge.

Test scores and earning potential are testaments to the importance and impact philosophy and religion majors can make in the working world, but there is more to studying in these fields than numbers.

John Posey graduated in 2020 with a degree in philosophy. He came to campus to study criminology and pursue a career with the FBI. Upon hearing from a former FBI agent, his academic focus changed.

“The agent mentioned philosophy as a degree to pursue rather than criminology. I was excited to make that change as it had already piqued my interest,” Posey said. “It amazed me how you could discuss any topic and see how much it applies to your life.”

As a human resources technician for the Ohio National Guard, Posey said he interacts with people from all kinds of backgrounds: ethnically, culturally, and philosophically. The military is based on taking in information and using it to move forward with a plan of action to accomplish an objective. Posey says that is exactly what his philosophy education does for him.

“No one has ever asked me what Socrates said in 400 B.C., but the critical thinking, speaking, writing, and communication skills I learned are used every day. I’m finding commonalities and understanding across differences and I feel that’s drastically missing in society today.”

Will Elkins is the communication and social media manager at Otterbein University and holds a master’s degree in media management from Syracuse University and bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from Michigan State University. He focuses on social media strategy, marketing practices and theory, and internal communications.

National Award Recognizes Professor’s Innovative Teaching

Associate Professor Anna Young, director of the Zoo and Conservation Science program at Otterbein, has long understood the benefits of remote learning. While video chat services are now a common teaching tool, Young began incorporating them into her classes in 2013, when video chats were a novel idea. Due to her innovative teaching methods, she recently received the 2020 Penny Bernstein Distinguished Teaching Award from the Animal Behavior Society. As the recipient of the Penny Bernstein Distinguished Teaching Award, Young will host a workshop in December 2020 on the topic of transitioning to an online learning model.

Class of 2024 is Most Diverse in Otterbein’s History, Exemplifying Mission of Inclusivity

This fall, Otterbein welcomed the first-year students of the Class of 2024, which has the distinction of being the most diverse in the University’s 173-year history. The 133 students of color and of non-Caucasian ethnicity make up nearly 27% of the class — a 98.5% increase from the 67 ethnically diverse students entering class in 2012, when current Vice President for Enrollment Management Jefferson Blackburn-Smith came to Otterbein. He says the growth is about community and not numbers.

“It’s about the environment. We want this to be a home for students, not just a place they go to school. Otterbein is, and always has been, a college of opportunity. We want to meet students and families where they are, see them as a person first, and then help support their journey to where they want to be,” said Blackburn-Smith.

Targeted admission campaigns and scholarship initiatives are key drivers in how Otterbein has been increasing student diversity year after year. Efforts began in Columbus City Schools in 2013, then expanded to other central Ohio urban districts in 2015 and became the Opportunity Scholarship for Ohio residents earning less than $60,000 per year in 2018.

Marginalized Voices

Artwork descriptions by Janice Glowski, Ph.D. and Magda Parasidis

Otterbein Art Exhibitions Put Social Justice Issues on Display

The Otterbein Department of Art and Art History has opened the University’s museum and gallery spaces this year to the issues of labor justice, the poor working-class, immigration and systemic racism with three exhibitions, two during fall semester and one during spring semester. 

According to Museum and Galleries Director Janice Glowski, the Department wants those who see the exhibits to ask where they see themselves in the art, the stories and the exhibition themes. She hopes they will allow themselves to be open to change and being uncomfortable because that, Glowski said, is when the greatest learning occurs. 

“Part of Otterbein’s educational mission is to train students to think critically, clearly and in an informed way about the narratives that dominate our social discourse,” said Glowski. “Importantly, we are asking the viewer to question, to look deeper into their understandings and to ask themselves difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions.”

The three exhibitions — Magda Parasidis: Ghosts in Sunlight, On(c)es Forgotten and Valentino Dixon: Journey to Freedom — are challenging longheld assumptions about poverty, race and our country’s history. These exhibitions are meant to question the single narrative by directly addressing social issues through an aesthetic lens, present new voices and share often untold narratives.

“We are demonstrating that the Otterbein community is willing to commit to doing the hard work of listening, learning, being honest and moving toward shared truths. We are willing to engage in the difficult work of healing, so we can create the possibility of jettisoning the notion that there is a hierarchy of human value,” she said.

All exhibits are free and open to the public. Visit www.otterbein.edu/art/art-exhibit-schedule for more information on hours and location.

Kelly & Kyle Phelps
Grace
28 x 22 x 10 inches
ceramic mixed media
2020

Kelly and Kyle Phelps’ large-scale, wall-mounted art is arresting and relatable. Naturalistic depictions of miners, machinists and welders show poignant moments when weary laborers are on break, at shift’s end or nearly collapsed under the weight of plant closings and layoffs. Grace, like Phelps’ other work, is built of found objects (e.g. metal, bandana, lipstick tube) from abandoned factories across the rural Midwest.

Valentino Dixon
Hummingbird
color pencil on paper
20 x 16 inches
2015

Vibrant drawings of golf courses brought Valentino Dixon’s twenty-seven years of wrongful incarceration, and artistic talents, to the national stage. Since gaining his freedom, the artist has expanded his repertoire to include bucolic landscapes, wild animals in fantastical surroundings and imagery touched by the surreal. In Hummingbird, Dixon depicts a golf ball-headed bird in mid-flight and holding a fencing sword, disarming the viewer with whimsy.

Magda Parasidis
Chasm / The Distance
C-print, ink marker
24 x 36 inches
1993 – 2018

The Distance, inspired by Ta-nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, reads, “this chasm makes itself known to us in all kinds of ways,” referring to the socioeconomic distance between the urban youth of the projects and their more affluent counterparts over the bridge. Parasidis explores what it might look like to use this awareness as a nutrient for the making of art and social consciousness.

Janice Glowski, Ph.D, is the museum and galleries director and teaches art history and museum studies at Otterbein. She is co-founder of the Otterbein and the “Arts: Opening Doors to the World” program.