Event Focuses on Religion, Education

Date Posted: 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

THE INTER-MOUNTAIN - College students participated in an all-day event Monday focusing on the relationship between religion and higher education.

Davis & Elkins College invited students and community leaders from across the state to attend the D&E Symposium on Faith, Spirituality and Higher Education, which was hosted at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Hospitality and Tourism.

The public event, attended by about 70 participants, featured keynote speakers Drs. Douglas and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen - nationally renowned authors and scholars on the interaction between religion/spirituality and higher education - and also included lectures and panel discussions with different presenters throughout the day. The symposium concluded with a banquet and closing remarks from the Jacobsens.

The various panel discussions featured presenters from Westminster College; Harless Center, which is a faith-based community for students at West Virginia University; Interfaith Youth Core; the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Thiel College.

Discussion topics included "The Value Historic Religions Bring to the Academy," "Nurturing Positive and Healthy Civic Action Through Religious Expression," "Student Perspective: How College-life and Faith Interact on Campus" and "Next Steps for Campus Communities.

Rev. Kevin Starcher, Benfield-Vick chaplain at Davis & Elkins College, said the symposium was a success and participants were able to take away why it is important for colleges to focus on religion and spirituality.

"This dialogue helps college institutions explore more how they can best nurture the intellectual and spiritual pursuits of students to create well-rounded human beings to make a difference in the world and the pursuit of justice and peace," he said.

Starcher noted participants learned more about the value of higher education in addressing faith and outreach.

"We know that no longer can we keep religion and spirituality off to the side because it is a major component of how human beings interact in society," he said, pointing out that 87 percent of the world's population adheres to some form of religious belief.

"If we are not educating students upon the values those religions have and the positive attributes that religions can contribute to the greater well-being of society, we are doing our students a disservice," he said.

Starcher pointed out that D&E is trying to "be authentic" in its relationship with the Presbyterian Church.

"At D&E we're really trying to value that experience for our students, thus we're hosting this event," he said.

Students from D&E, West Liberty, West Virginia University and West Virginia Wesleyan College presented information about the faith-based ministry on their respective campuses and within their communities.

Michael Savage, president of the WVWC chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was a presenter. He said participating in the symposium helped him to take away a "more holistic approach" to campus ministry.

"Our generation defines spirituality and religion differently," he said. "Those are two completely different things... a lot of people don't like the word religion. I think that if we appeal to people and show them what spirituality is, instead of focusing on the religious aspects - then I think we can grow tremendously."

Dr. Joseph Roidt, D&E vice president for academic affairs, noted higher education is "more and more dealing with questions of inter-faith dialogues."

"Here we are at a small college in Appalachia with a sizable portion of students who are muslims," he said. "This is bringing us into the national conversation about how you address these (dialogues)."

Roidt pointed out these conversations are vital, not just among institutes of higher learning, but also within the community.

"I think it's a commitment to stronger understanding, willingness to engage with different traditions and not put them in a box," he said. "We look at the national political dialogue right now and we see how not to behave."

Roidt said significant grassroots work is what it will take to right the ship.

"If we can begin these conversations in a meaningful fashion on a college campus, when these kids graduate, they'll take these skills and abilities with them and be better prepared to deal with challenges from members of their communities," he said.

The symposium is one of four initiatives the college will implement through a Chaplaincy Grant from NetVUE and the Council of Independent Colleges with support from Lilly Endowment Inc.