This edition of the Student Spotlight features Nate Ramsayer. Nate is a senior enrolled in the religious studies major in Track II, Texts and Traditions. The tradition he is most interested in is early Christianity, but more recently he has become completely fascinated by the Hebrew Bible. Nate plans on graduating this spring (2010) and then going immediately to graduate school. He hopes to one day teach at the university level. Eager to start his teaching career, he recently signed up to teach a class at the Experimental College of the Twin Cities, titled Introduction to the Bible: Historical Context of Ancient Israelite Scripture. Nate was also one of the winners of the Harold Anderson Scholarship last year.
When did you decide to enroll in the religious studies major?
"I first decided to enroll in the religious studies program during my last year at North Dakota State University. I took a class at NDSU on the history of Christianity and really became hooked. Unfortunately, NDSU did not offer a religious studies major, only a minor, so I looked into some other options. I already knew the University of Minnesota was a great school, but once I found out more about the religious studies major and the Classical and Near Eastern studies department, I was completely convinced that I wanted to come here.
Why become a religious studies major?
Once I started getting into this stuff, I wanted to spread the knowledge contained within academia about biblical texts and ancient traditions to the general public. I think it's important to break down the barriers between academic religious studies and the general public. There are hundreds of years of great scholarship on the Bible and the ancient Near East that I believe would easily capture the attention of people from all walks of life.
I feel that in contemporary America, a large number of people are basing their lives around a belief system that has been taken out of context and molded to fit modern-day concerns, thus making it inconsistent with its original intention and tradition, and I really feel that these changes are worth bringing to light.
So much of our modern world is both directly and indirectly influenced by religion and it seems that it is only fitting that we take the time to investigate such a powerful phenomenon.
What has been the most challenging part about studying religion?
The intensive language study. I have taken two languages every semester since starting at the U. I am currently on my second year of ancient Greek, have completed two years of German, a year of Latin, and a semester of Italian. Next year I am starting Biblical Hebrew.
What has been the most exciting thing about studying religion?
The most exciting part has been engaging with primary texts and other sources. Reading documents using the historical-critical method (placing them in their own context and not viewing them through a religious viewpoint) brings to light exciting ideas about their nature and use--things you wouldn't be taught in church.
You were recently awarded the Harold Anderson Scholarship; how will this award help you in your studies at the University?
I am so grateful for this opportunity. First and foremost, it will allow me to complete college. I was in dire need of financial aid. It gave me the best peace of mind because I was awarded the scholarship shortly after I found out that I wasn't going to be receiving the aid I was expecting. I really want to thank the religious studies program for such an awesome opportunity.
In a few days you will begin teaching your own class at the experimental college. Tell us a little about this class.
The class is only four weeks long, and I am expecting about 20 students from all different walks of life; some are students, some are members of a church, some are parents.
How has your experience at the U helped you prepare for teaching this class?
I've learned many things from every religious studies faculty member I've had. Each individual contains a wealth of knowledge, and each has their own personal teaching style. It's been great to observe their differences; it's helped me to develop my own classroom demeanor. Many are top scholars in the field, and they lead by incredible example. Professors I have had have pushed me to expand beyond what I thought possible as a student. And the U of M has provided me with great resources.
I followed up with Nate shortly after he finished teaching his class at the Experimental College of the Twin Cities. Here's what he had to say about his experience:
Now that the course is over, tell me about your experience teaching a course on the Hebrew Bible at the Experimental College.
If I had to choose one word to describe my experience it would be validating. I've had the best time helping students and community members begin to understand the unique aspects of biblical texts within their original culture and conventions. I remember coming home one night after class and thinking, "Holy cow . . . someday a university's gonna pay me to do this!" It was quite a moment, realizing that something I've been working so hard on has produced such amazing results. Everyone was completely engaged in the material, and it was neat to see the faces of those who have begun the journey of discovery; it very much reminded me of myself and the joy that I got when I first began exploring this material. The class was quite rewarding.
What has this experience taught you about the study of religion?
As the topic of the class deals with such an intensely personal subject, i.e. interpretation of the Bible, it's not uncommon to have people show up to a class and, rather than engage in what the class is about, seek to advance their own theological agendas. I encountered one such individual at the Experimental College fair several weeks before the class started. It was a fortunate event for me, as it made it clear how important it would be to lay ground rules for my class that would foster critical thinking. Luckily, I encountered no problems in the class, but the experience taught me how important it was to be ready to handle such an event in a professional manner.
This teaching experience also validated my beliefs that there are a number of people in the world who are genuinely curious about religious studies but lack the venue with which to engage in the discipline. I hope to help others bridge the gap and encourage them to take the path toward discovery.