One of the two classes Temple requires all students to take happens to be its most valuable: intellectual heritage I (51/91).
That’s not to say IH II (52/92) isn’t important, but getting a better perspective on other religious and ethnic cultures is paramount toward building one’s character, mental growth and maturity.
Yet with Syria and Egypt still celebrating the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict known as the October or Yom Kippur War, it’s clear we have a long way to go. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak touts that war as a success despite Israel’s recovery before the cease fire – the American equivalent of President Bush praising the Vietnam War.
IH 51 educates about the world by introducing students to the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Quran and sometimes the Bhagavad-Gita – four of the most influential and important texts constructed in world history. The second IH focuses primarily on great thinkers like Mohandas Gandhi and John Locke, which does not provide a cultural education as rich as the first IH course.
Whether a student is religious or not is irrelevant because even though students learn about various cultures in IH 51, the class does not impose religious beliefs.
With the university ranked second in diversity in the nation by the Princeton Review, learning about other religious traditions feels much more authentic than it would on a homogenous campus.
Intellectual heritage professor Michael Neff noted that people at the United Nations can hardly cooperate in a peaceful and respectful matter, but the fact that students can do that in IH class is “progress for the world.”
Despite 9/11 and attacks on Madrid and London, the U.N. has still failed to agree on a definition for terrorism, which British Prime Minister Tony Blair said is a hesitation terrorists are exploiting. The terrorists “play on our divisions,” Blair said. “This is our weakness and they know it, and we must unite against this ghastly game with our conscience.”
IH 51 brings students together to discuss and reflect on issues of international significance, which is especially important in this age of terrorism.
Additionally, the course allows for students to see the world in a different light – realizing the religions of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism are peaceful religions of tolerance, rather than being hateful, ruthless or backward.
Yet, it is easy to see why some people say these religions are designed to advocate violence. Zionist organizations like Gush Emunim have denounced Israel’s concessions toward bridging peace with Palestinians. Furthermore, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden said, “Those who claim they are the leaders of Arabs and are still in the United Nations have renounced the message of [Islam founder Prophet] Muhammad,” the Associated Press reported.
People need to realize that religious extremists do not speak for or represent all members of their respective faiths – a misconception IH 51 seeks to rectify.
Students not interested in religion might initially be unenthusiastic toward having to take the first IH course, but it would be foolish to write the course off as pointless or a waste of time because it has so many connections to important events that presently affect our world.
Even junior Jeremy Seglem, a self-described atheist majoring in sports and recreation management, appreciates IH 51. “I think it’s great,” Seglem said when asked how he felt about the religious aspects of the course. “It exposed me to things I would have otherwise not bothered to learn about.”
Religion aside, reading parables from the world’s greatest spiritual texts strictly as literature proves to be educational in its own right.
“You can find good human values and spiritual values in these different traditions,” Neff said.
Living in an age defined by social and economic globalism, Temple mandating that students pass a course that prioritizes the teaching of worldwide cultures is a welcome policy and a no-brainer.
Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.