This week marks both the ending of Passover and Easter. From students stuffing their mouths with both chocolate bunnies and matzo to chapels being filled to the brim with churchgoers, it was a week of praying and Peeps.
While the University of Nebraska at Omaha is a secular, public college, students don’t leave their faiths at home. A diverse amount of religions are practiced both on campus and off. In the following two pages, the Gateway takes a glimpse at religion at UNO.
Religious Studies Department allows students to branch out
UNO’s religious studies department, which is well-known for it’s excavation site in Israel, offers a variety of learning opportunities for students. “I think religion is really important to people—even people who are not religious,” said William Blizek, who has been a professor for 44 years. “The same kinds of questions have to be answered whether you believe there’s a God or not. It’s an important set of questions for everyone to consider.”
While these classes offer the chance to study certain religions, students do not have to be of a particular religion in order to take the courses. “There are some students who take courses about their own religion, and they often learn a good deal about their own religion that they would not have learned otherwise,” said Blizek, who teaches courses on Religion & Film and Atheism.
While some students take courses on their own religions, others find it rewarding to take courses on a variety of different religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity or Introduction to World Religions. In fact, the World Religions course provides the chance to learn about a variety of religions, which can benefit students going into areas like education, business, and public administration. “Religion is so pervasive in our culture—not just in our culture but in world cultures,” Blizek said. “It’s important for people to understand that if you’re going to do business in India, you need to know something about the religions in India, and the same thing is true in China, the Middle East and places like that. It’s important to all of us.”
In addition to typical religion courses, there are also classes that provide a different perspective of looking at religion, like looking at it through film. This is the object of the course on Religions and Film. In fact, UNO’s Religions Studies Department, along with the Journal of Religion and Film, co-founded by Blizek, hosted an international Religion and Film conference this last weekend.
By looking at religion from different study points, students get the chance to learn that things aren’t always as they seem. “Everything is more complicated and more subtle and more diverse than we’re used to thinking about religion,” Blizek said. “We’re used to thinking about black and white terms and absolutes and thinking of religion as just this, when in fact it’s all kinds of things and comes in all shapes and sizes and varieties.”
While the religious studies department is currently working on developing opportunities to study abroad, students can visit the excavation site in Israel for a non-credit trip. The department is currently working with an institute in Istanbul, Turkey, to do student exchanges in the future.
The religious studies department also offers support for their students. “I think the religious studies faculty takes good care of their students,” Blizek said. “We try to be student-friendly, so although we do other things, we don’t let those other things interfere with our ability to interact and promote the interests of our students.”