Matthew Palombo, World Religions professor, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, 1501 Hennepin Ave. S.
An MCTC humanities professor for two years now, Matthew Palombo is in his first year of teaching a World Religions class that delves into the touchy subject of discussing the different (and often opposing) religious faiths of the world.
Teaching a class like this at Minnesota's most diverse college campus is an especially challenging task, given the wide range of religious faiths of Palombo students. Palombo says that it is this diversity that makes his class especially fulfilling.
"I love it," he said. "I couldn't be happier with what I am doing at this college."
What is the most interesting aspect of teaching the World Religions class?
Wow. [long pause] I think the most interesting part of teaching the class is that students are very excited about learning about new and very different faiths. Others are quite into seeing their own religion in a new light. I have some students who take the matter of religion very seriously, and some also take it very personally.
What exactly is taught in the class?
It's not just about studying each religion from the get-go. For the first five or six weeks, we do not cover any specifics. Instead, we talk about how a religious person views the world, how they view water or air or a tree. It's about getting into a religious mindset and interpreting that. Then, once students are in the mindset, we spend the next 10 weeks covering different religions, one at a time. Understanding the "why" of how different faiths believe what they believe gives students a whole new perspective.
Do you have to tread lightly at times considering the wide range of faiths of your students?
Yes and no. Yes, in that a lot of students take their religious practices very seriously and want to make sure that their faith is represented well. No, in that the students I've had in class are thoughtful enough of their own religion that they aren't afraid of getting other views about their faith. In my experience, the more devout the person, the more accepting of others they are, they have enough confidence in their beliefs that they want to find out about others.
Have you ever had any "holy wars" in class?
[laughs] No, I have never experienced that. I think the reason is that after the first few weeks, students are able to see many similarities in the religious approach to matters. There are differences, of course, but there are great similarities in how different peoples bring religion into their lives. Through understanding those similarities, it's suddenly like, "they're not the enemy."
Have you reconsidered any of your own stereotypes because of this class?
Well, I have had and still do have stereotypes. But when I have an experience with students in areas that I do have a stereotype, they get overturned. It's a revelation.