Senior Sem Journal: The Power to Transform

Of all the chapters they’ve read so far in John Fea’s Why Study History?, perhaps none has resonated more strongly with many of our Senior Seminar students than ch. 7, in which Fea considers “The Power [of History] to Transform” those who study it. In her journal entry for last week, Sarah Herb (’14), a History/Elementary Education double-major, emphasized history’s ability to inculcate two of Fea’s favorite virtues: hospitality and empathy.

Somali girls wearing hijabThese past four years here at Bethel have been a time of immense growth and maturing. The biggest way that I have grown is allowing and forcing myself to encounter ideas that are different from what I was taught growing up. I grew up in a Christian home and school but I did not encounter much diversity of thought or view points. The most significant example of encountering different world views has been in the [Introduction to the] Muslim World class. Before taking this class I had a fairly stereotypical view of Islam and Muslims. Even my world religions class in high school perpetuated my view. Through this class I have come to really respect and in some aspects admire Muslims around the world. Muslims have a similar moral compasses as Christians and I admire their sense of global community. We talked a lot about women wearing hijab, the head scarf, and I came to admire that these women have such a blatant expression of their religion. That is one thing that I have come to desire with Christianity, is that we have an external expression of what we believe so that people around us know instantly. It is hard sometimes to be able to convey to people that I am a Christian without being overt about it. The hijab gives Muslim women an instant connection with a certain religion. I realize that I have grown in giving hospitality to ideas that are different from what I grew up with in something as simple as appreciating the hijab of Muslim women without converting to their religion.

Studying history as whole has paved the way for me to have empathy and give hospitality to people and ideas that are different from myself. I am not always right in my views and many time I need to change my own self, not disregard the other view point. There is always something that we can learn from others even if we don’t agree with them on the whole. Fea puts this so well, “Doing history will require ‘intellectual hospitality,’ or the willingness to engage the ideas of people from the past with humility” (p. 131). I think this can also apply to engaging people in the present. If we start with engaging people and ideas from history, this will encourage us to transfer this capability to the present. The theologian Miroslav Volf said, “At the core of the Christian faith lies the persuasion that… ’others’ need both be perceived as innocent in order to be loved, but ought to be embraced even when they are perceived as wrongdoers… The story of the cross is about God who desires to embrace precisely the ‘sons, and daughters of hell” (Exclusion & Embrace, p. 85). Fea adds, “Our lives should be one of ’embrace’ rather than ‘exclusion’” (p. 130). I struggle with loving people because they are a child of God on a daily basis, but studying history and engaging with people and ideas have strengthened me to look at people differently and not just disregard their ideas and views just because they are not what I have always thought. History has been key in helping me grow as a Christian as well as an intellectual.

– Sarah Herb

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