Introduction: A New Series: Discussions of Faculty Writing by Department Alumni Jared Morningstar (’18) & Oakley Clark (’18) (Part 1)

Posted on March 23rd, 2021 by

I’m Oakley. Hello.

I graduated in 2018 with political science and religion degrees. Like many, I never intended to major in religion. My FTS, the Gospel of John, sucked me into the department and off I went. While at GAC, I loved my classes—one independent study on theology comes to mind—and, like most GAC students, indulged in the vibrant social community.

Since graduating, I’ve been couped up in the DC area working for The Institute for Humane Studies, a nonprofit academic institute supporting scholars in history, law, philosophy, political science, and economics. To simplify, I work with faculty for a living. I’ve had a blast interacting with professors from all over the place—economic historians, analytical philosophers, political theorists, you name it.

Religious scholarship and thinkers pop up more than you think within these fields. While I’ve continued to engage with religious scholarship in my free time, religious thought tends to turn up most often in social situations. DC think tank and nonprofit circles contain unbelievably well-educated and intelligent folks. You meet a wide array of people, from integralists to Bahais. My religion degree has proven its use in these situations by having the tools to ask questions and engage with that I do not know.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t had many religious discussions over drinks over the past year. Right as COVID disrupted our lives, I recall extreme boredom before adapting to our uncertain moment. A good friend of mine Jared Morningstar and I hatched a plan. We live in different parts of the country, so why don’t we take on staying at home with a casual weekly reading group? Over the past couple of years since graduating Gustavus in 2018, we’ve been exploring ideas of interest—might as well start sharing what we’ve found over digital coffee compared to walls of text in a chat.

We took turns picking readings. Jared chose more esoteric philosophers and metaphysicians. I stuck to classical economists and a handful of theologians. Regardless, the readings were good fun. A problem arose: those thinkers tended to reside in a graveyard somewhere. We hatched a plan. Let’s read a work by a Gustavus professor and pester them about it. I’ve done my fair share of pestering via email since graduation so might as well at least bother professors about their work.

Jared then dug up a piece by Prof. Kessler. He joined the faculty a year after our graduating, sparking some curiosity. We picked up his article “The Sacredness of Secular Literature.” As with all readings, questions without answers arose, so we asked Prof. Kessler if he would join us to discuss the piece.

Graciously, he accepted the invitation of two former religion majors, thus sparking this project. Jared and I plan on engaging with some of Gustavus’ own great thinkers and sharing our thoughts. A fun stretch goal may be to read retired professors’ works as well but that may be putting the cart before the horse right now. Regardless, we hope to share our exploration of the department’s work.

I’m still craving engaged dives into religious ideas, and my alma mater remains a place to satisfy those cravings.

I hope you’ll join Jared, the Department, and me throughout this journey.



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