Introduction: A New Series: Discussions of Faculty Writing by Department Alumni Jared Morningstar (’18) & Oakley Clark (’18) (Part 2)

Posted on April 12th, 2021 by


Hi Gustavus Religion Blog,

I’m Jared Morningstar, 2018 graduate and alumnus of the Religion Department.

 Though I did not anticipate studying religion when I first arrived at Gustavus, I ended up living in Old Main for much of my four years of college. When I wasn’t eating at the caf or playing French horn in Björling, you’d probably find me in a religion class, listening attentively to one of my favorite professors. Though Gustavus is known for its ELCA affiliation, most of my studies in the department focused on non-Christian religions – Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. I have the department to thank for kindling my passion for religious studies – a passion which has kept me grounded and inspired in the years since graduating.

 Something which I did not fully appreciate while I was studying religion at Gustavus was the extent to which this is a topic that is very alive in the culture at large in our moment of history. So congratulations – you are studying a subject which the public is particularly eager to learn about. In pursuing a degree in religious studies, you are equipping yourself to grapple with deep questions of meaning in life, navigate a pluralistic world, and speak with wisdom to issues of heart and soul.

In my effort to continue pursuing religious studies these past few years, I have commenced a number of independent projects which have proven very fruitful. In 2019 I founded an online publication dedicated to releasing content which deals with interesting philosophical issues drawing on sources from both Islamic intellectual history and Western thought. ‘Alif: Traditional Wisdom in Review has been publishing articles and podcasts for nearly a year and a half and I am incredibly proud of the growing impact and positive response this publication has generated. My studies of Islamic thought at Gustavus cultivated a strong appreciation for the cultural, intellectual, and artistic contributions of Muslims through history, so with ‘Alif I hope to bring this same appreciation to a larger audience. We now have an international, interfaith team of writers working on the publication – something I certainly could not have arranged without the training in interfaith dialogue and cooperation which was part of my education at Gustavus.

If you are currently taking classes on Islam at Gustavus and would like to write something for ‘Alif, we would be thrilled to work with you. Reach out to me at to connect.

In addition to publishing content with ‘Alif, I have been hosting reading groups centered around important texts in 20th century philosophy of religion. At first this just started as a casual project with friends, but it has since blossomed into a serious intellectual endeavor and allowed me to connect with some incredibly smart and soulful people who share this passion for the study of religion. Through this project I’ve also had the opportunity to connect with a number of prominent scholars by hosting Q&A discussions on the texts the reading group has completed – you can see some of these discussions here on YouTube. The close relationships I was able to develop with professors at Gustavus and in the religion department in particular helped me realize how accessible academics can be, and how excited they often are to share their time and expertise with students who take interest in their work.

 A final project I have been pursuing with my fellow religion department alumnus, Oakley Clark (‘18), is reading academic articles discussing these publications together. In 2020 we read Professor Kessler’s 2012 work published in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory vol. 12 no. 1 titled “The Sacredness of ‘Secular’ Literature: A Case Study in Walter Benjamin.” Recently we had a chance to catch up with Dr. Kessler to talk about this article and discuss other topics under the broad umbrella of religious studies. This chat was so fruitful that we decided to make this an on-going project, where we will read publications written by Gustavus religion professors and share our thoughts right here, on the department blog.

We will be reading an article on the poetry in the book of Isaiah by Professor Blake Couey next, so keep your eyes out for our post!

Take care, and best of luck with your studies!


Comments are closed.