Biblical Studies Division embraces faith communities

Students eager to learn about various perspectives and worldviews found learning opportunities on and off campus through the Division of Biblical Studies.

In the Division of Biblical Studies, students can learn about religious diversity inside the classroom. Intro to Hinduism and Buddhism, which the department offers every spring semester, allows students to get out of their comfort zone and experience first-hand how different religions worship.The course is taught by David Vila, professor of biblical studies. His partnership with both the Hindu Association and the Islamic Center of Northwest Arkansas provides a more intimate and realistic exposure by organizing visits to the temples and mosques.

The religious landscape of the United States is becoming increasingly diverse, according to a study released by Pew Research Center. Across the country, 70.6 percent of individuals are Christian, 1.9 percent are Jewish, 0.9 percent are Muslim and 0.7 percent are Hindu. In Arkansas, 79 percent of individuals are Christian, less than one percent are Jewish, two percent are Muslim and less than one percent are Hindu.

Emma James, biblical and theological studies major, is grateful for the opportunity to fully approach her studies with an open mind. James visited the Northwest Arkansas Hindu Temple in Bentonville as a part of the Intro to Hinduism and Buddhism class. “Everyone was reachable and friendly,” James said. “They were open to answer any questions, even though most of us refrained from asking.”

James recognizes that “students are afraid of asking questions because they don’t know the rules.” In order to break down misconceptions, John Brown University continuously provides a safe space for students and faculty members to have those often-avoided conversations.

Swamiji Sri Venugopala Gattu ji, Head Priest of the Hindu Association of Northwest Arkansas, spoke about Vedic religion, commonly knowns as Hinduism, and the growing community in the state. Gattu ji said that over the last few years, Vedic religion has spread around Northwest Arkansas, which provides more receptivity from the people.

As an advocate for religious diversity, Gattu ji said, “Students should never be afraid to ask questions, because that is how they make the difference.”

Gattu ji also recognized the efforts of John Brown University in raising  the awareness of students. “I have been a speaker for several universities in the United States, and it amazes me how Christian higher education continuously works to embrace differences and reach a common ground,” Gattu ji said. “Having the students visit our temple and being intentional about learning more about our community does is the right path to get rid of the misconception that a religion must be isolated to only one country or culture.”