Christina Paoli is excited about her major. The junior Religion major from Maumelle recently returned from a weekend in Dallas attending the 2012 Southwest Commission on Religious Studies Conference, and she had a lot to say about it.
"A lot of the people there were actually scholars and professors from different universities," she said, "but also just people pursing their own interests in the religious sphere."
Paoli said for her the best part of the conference was the wide diversity of subject matter. "The panels and presentations were categorized by different emphases," she said. "One section was ‘Hebrew Bible and New Testament,’ but others included ‘Comparative and Asian Studies,’ ‘Ethics and Society,’ ‘History of Christianity,’ and so forth."
Because of her interest in some of the fields which intersect Religion, particularly Sociology and History, Paoli finds religious/sociological studies deeply interesting. "Getting to hear people discuss their specializations was great," she said. "I had two favorite presentations, both by undergraduates: one was ‘Leaders of New Religious Movements,’ about new Religions, cult leaders, and what makes them tick. Another was called ‘The Spirituality of Rap Music.’ It was so very interesting! Christian rap has gotten really big in just the last few years. The presentation covered not only Christian rap but also rap devoted to other forms of spiritualism, for example Lupe Fiasco, a Muslim who explores his faith in his music."
Another example of presentations Paoli enjoyed was one on the passage in Luke 2 where Christ is a child, titled "The Boy Jesus in the Temple: Reading Luke 2:41-52 in the Context of the Role of Children in Roman Religion."
"She had done her research on Roman religious cults and discussed how those people would’ve received the story of the boy Christ meeting with the elders in the temple," she said. "A lot of the elements from the story would have made a lot of sense to the ancient Romans in terms of their own culture, for example the idea of the divine wisdom of the child. It’s interesting how it all fit together."
Paoli says although she chose her Religion major her second semester at Ozarks, she feels she was uncertain at first what she wanted to do with it, but that in choosing Religion as her major, she has strengthened her own faith. "People always assume I’m going to some sort of Bible college, and once they find out I’m not, they ask if I’m not afraid I’ll somehow lose my faith by studying Religion in a secular college, being called to analyze and question how Religion works. They say, ‘Won’t that weaken your relationship with God?’ My answer is that I feel like if it weren’t for my Religion major, I probably would have walked away from faith altogether, to be honest. Lots of people go into it and think, ‘This isn’t as awesome as I thought it was going to be,’ but it was the opposite for me. I quickly got into the major, and that actually strengthened my desire to be a person of faith, wanting to explore it and wanting to deepen this, to appreciate it."
Paoli says that studying Religion as a person of faith if anything has convinced her more than ever that her faith is something she wants to hold onto forever. "There’s so much I don’t know," she says, "and I think that’s the thing I love about Religion, ideas I had never come across before and that I know I would never have come across if I hadn’t done this. I never would’ve explored these ideas if I hadn’t chosen this course of study."
Asked whether she had considered pursuing her major academically post-grad, Paoli replied, "After this weekend I am! Before now I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but just being there at this conference, listening to these people and realizing these are people who years and years ago started thinking the things I’m just now starting to think, seeing where they’re at in their life and their faith, I have a strong feeling this is where I want to be for the rest of my life. I’d be glad to give up my weekend to do something like this anytime!"