Religious Studies Graduation Reception, 2016

Here are some pictures from our Religious Studies graduation reception–on May 14th, 2016 at Larson Park in Arcata, CA. Congratulations to all our wonderful students! And a special mention to our student award winners:

Eric Freed Peace & Justice Award – Andrew Perera

Outstanding Student Award – Zoe Thurman & Cade Strickland



Roy King and Robert Underhill Lecture on DNA Research, Pre-History, and Biblical Studies

On April 13, the Religious Studies department welcomed Drs. Roy King and Peter Underhill (HSU alum) to campus to speak on “Climate Change & Migration, through Genetics and Religious Studies.” Both drove from Stanford, and led over 100 students and communities members through a multi-disciplinary lecture and discussion of topical interest to many of us here on the HSU campus.

Underhill has been working in research that allows us now to understand ancient populations through detailed analysis of DNA typologies, that include many people from pre-historic cultures. He gave an overview of the science behind this, and Roy King followed with a discussion of how this research allows us to understand more about the emergence of ancient Israelite culture and the Hebrew Bible.

The event was a success, and we hope to have one or both of these scholars back for another event in the coming academic year.

Iranian Scholars Give Lecture on Islamic Mysticism

On April 2, 2015 Mohammad Monib and Mohammad Amindin (Professors at the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Tehran, Iran) gave a lecture about the foundations of Islamic Mysticism on the HSU campus. They stressed the importance of compassion and justice as central concepts and practices for all of Islamic life, but also for the elevated consciousness that derives from Sufi practice. Their lectures were informative and filled with excellent examples from their long experience and extensive study of Islam in Iran. We celebrate this magnificent example of intercultural exchange.

Many thanks to Mary Bockover for organizing this event, and for including Religious Studies as partners with the Philosophy Department in sponsoring the lecture.

Memorial for Eric Freed in Arcata

On Sunday, March 1, 2015, from 2:00-5:00 p.m., Humboldt State University’s Religious Studies Department hosted a celebrative commemoration of the life and legacy of Father Eric Freed at the Plaza Grill, at 780 7th Street in Arcata.

It has been a year since the tragic death of Father Eric Freed, and the HSU Religious Studies department has worked during this time to render this unfathomable loss into something positive for our students and community. Eric left us with a strong awareness of how important community is to our individual and collective well-being. It is in this spirit that we invited alumni, friends, and the greater community to an afternoon in celebration of Eric’s life and the ways that we can, and do, work together to foster peace and justice.

Father Freed taught courses for the HSU Religious Studies department for seven years, during which time he influenced countless students as they practiced engaged scholarship, learned deeply of the religious traditions of the world, and applied what they learned to projects, large and small, for human betterment. His positive impact continues to reverberate through our classrooms, congregations, community centers, and through myriad individual hearts and minds.

Students, alumni, friends of Eric, and the community at large gathered to celebrate his legacy of engaged scholarship, social justice, and human kindness through sharing reflections, food, and fellowship.

Josh Rudolph and Willie Schubert Give Career Talk on Campus

Josh Rudolph (RS/International Studies, 2009) and Willie Schubert (GEOG) gave an inspiring presentation on their work since graduation. It shows the sorts of things you can do with a degree from HSU and the passion to follow your dream. Josh found his inspiration in the study of Chinese language and culture while majoring in RS. Willie (who did not major in RS, but worked with us extensively) began his work in social activism during his undergraduate years. For more on their current activities, see the poster for their alumni talk. Thanks to Tony Rossi for organizing this event.

Clergy for Choice Meet on HSU Campus

The Religious Studies Department was proud to join the local Clergy for Choice group in sponsoring the screening of Jon O’Brien’s documentary film, The Secret History of Sex, Choice, and Catholics on campus on the evening of January 29. O’Brien, president of the international non-profit Catholics for Choice, visited campus to introduce the film and to lead a discussion on the relationship between religion and public policy. Over 200 students and community members attended. We thank all who participated in the event, and look forward to seeing you all at future events.

Sean McCann Opens Practice in Chinese Medicine

[Sean McCann gives a brief report on his recent graduation with a degree in Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, and his subsequent opening of a new practice in North Carolina, where he has been seeing patients for the last several months. His report is in the form of a letter to William Herbrechtsmeier (dated 31 Aug 2015). Please enjoy. He’s doing some very interesting work.]

Dear Bill,

How is everything on that side of the country?  What’s new in the Religious Studies Department?  My wife and I are at the start of a whole new chapter of our lives.  To begin, Trang is 30 weeks pregnant!  We are very excited for the new addition.  She is due 11/10.  It’s hard to imagine all of the changes a baby girl will bring, but we’re looking forward to it with great anticipation.  Trang is handling the pregnancy well, and I’ve been able to take care of most of the morning sickness, fatigue, pain, etc using Chinese medicine.  In addition, we moved to North Carolina in April, and I recently started my own clinic.

Grinding HerbsI completed my M.S. in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in April (I know, it’s fairly ridiculous that the word, “oriental” is still being used in some professional circles).  We moved to Asheville on the very day that I completed my courses.  The move was precipitated by an offer of a residency and job at the Alternative Clinic.  The Alternative Clinic is a comprehensive Chinese medicine clinic started by the teachers I’ve been traveling to study with for the past 2 years, Andrew and JulieAnn Nugent-Head.  Andrew spent the last 27 years studying with the old doctors and martial artists in China and moved to Asheville with his family last summer.

I spent my first 3 months in Asheville in their clinic, dividing my time between seeing my own patients, observing and assisting their treatments, filling herbal formulas, and speaking about Chinese medicine with people who walked in off the street.  It was fantastic to be completely immersed in the clinic with them 6 days a week, soaking up everything I could.  At the beginning of August, I decided to start my own clinic.  I continue to study with the Nugent-Heads and spend time in their clinic, but my primary focus is now on building my practice and applying everything I have learned up to this point.

McCann's Clinic

I am simultaneously studying the classic texts of Chinese medicine with them.  We are currently going through the Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lue.  We will cover many others in the coming years, including the Huang Di Nei Jing and Nan Jing.  We go through the texts line by line, the two of them translating the classical Chinese and commentaries relevant to the text, as well as discussing the clinical relevance of the passages.  These times take me back to the RS days and leave me feeling thankful, once again, for my experience at Humboldt State.  Without it, I may not have discovered qigong and taiji, and I would likely never have understood what it takes to study and gain understanding from ancient texts.  I hope that the current students realize how immensely special their time there is.

This has been a thoroughly enjoyable time for my taiji and qigong practice.  I studied with a wonderful Chen taiji teacher, Dave Christophy (a student of Wang Hai Jun), while in Florida.  Since arriving in North Carolina, I have had extended periods of time during which I have been left largely to my own devices in terms of my personal practice, giving me ample time to reflect on what I have learned from Dave, Andrew, and you.  The interplay of the input from each of you leads me to new insights daily.  I have found, however, that freedom and willingness to play are of equal importance to good teaching.  Without these, one can never make an art their own.  I will begin teaching qigong and Wu style taiji here in a couple of weeks and am looking forward to working with a new group of students.  I hope to be able to impart to them the importance of this balance.

Jensen and CaseyTrang and I plan to spend anywhere from 3-5 years here, and then we hope to do some traveling before moving back West to settle somewhere.  I am intrigued by the idea of eventually getting a Ph.D. in something related to classical Chinese texts or Chinese medicine.  The field of study, as well as the practice of the medicine in this country is very young and, unfortunately, immature.  There are some incredibly skilled individuals with an immense amount of experience and knowledge to share, but the field lacks the structure to allow these people to teach what they know to large numbers of people.

The only way I can imagine increasing the ratio of good practitioners and scholars to charlatans is to bring the field into the major universities.  Certainly, these too have their issues, but I believe the difference in quality of education would be significant if this were the case.  I imagine Chinese medicine students with access to anatomy labs and professors who are qualified to discuss the classic texts, as is the case in the RS & philosophy departments at HSU.  This increased level of scholarship and blending with the larger academic community would, inevitably, bring about some magnificent changes for Chinese medicine, and medicine in general, in this country.

That is all quite a ways down the road, however.  There is plenty to focus on right now, but I still like to dream.  Anyway, I hope that this email finds you well.  Write back whenever you have some time.

Take care,

Sean McCann

Mindful Mountain Medicine
(828) 785-2401

Carmen Finken Returns to Iowa after One Year at HSU

[Carmen Finken studied with us in Religious Studies for one year (2012-13) as part of the National Student Exchange Program. She’s now back in Iowa, but credits HSU and the Religious Studies program as a life changing experience. Read on below…]

(August 13, 2015)
I’m now working with AmeriCorp, but I would not be here had I not chosen to attend HSU during the 2012-2013 school year. The AmeriCorps program that I work for is called Green Iowa and there are six sites across the state. Our mission is to make Iowans more energy efficient through low-impact home weatherizations, energy education, and community outreach. As education coordinator, I work specifically with people (mostly children) on how to be more environmentally friendly and enrgy efficient.

Living Myths and Consumerism and Eco-Spirituality were huge wake up calls for me. I had no idea that we were living in the midst of an environmental crisis, nor did I care to look at religion through a phenomenological lens. My year at HSU was very informative, often in a very frightening sense. From Herb’s class concerning terrorism, to Sara’s class about the environmental crisis, and Steve’s class on impermanence, it was an incredibly heavy year. There was no way I would have been able to come back to Iowa and resume living my life as though I had not been to Humboldt.

I finished my religion degree in May 2014 and started working for AmeriCorps this past fall. I will do the program for a second year and then hopefully attend graduate school for environmental sustainability. I’m actually touring Portland State this Wednesday!
I find the work I do for AmeriCorps rewarding, though it becomes difficult to keep the faith that we aren’t spiraling into an environmental apocalypse. In a very long-winded conclusion, studying RS at HSU made me more aware of major environmental, social, and political issues, and has since given me a better understanding of global and theological concerns.
As you can tell I still have a lot of feelings about my year at HSU.

I’ve been doing a lot of volunteer work for the Bernie campaign here in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, like phone banking, canvassing, and holding house parties. When some of us here saw him speak in Waterloo, he said that human beings are not meant to be fighting in such violent wars. It instantly made me think of Living Myths and just violence. I just hope that he doesn’t get taken out for his attempt to bring forth a political revolution like in the past.
I hope that this fall semester’s Living Myths class brings forth a lot of insightful discussion. I wish I had had the courage to speak more when I was an undergraduate, especially at HSU.

The summer here has been pretty mild, at least in Cedar Falls. How is the mystical town of Arcata?

Thanks again for staying in touch. It means a lot to be hearing back from the HSU Religious Studies program.

Emily Rood’s Year of Service to the Cheyenne Nation in Eastern Montana


[Emily Rood gives a fine report about her work among the Northern Cheyenne in the year following her graduation from HSU with a double major in Native American Studies and Religious Studies. She’s now back in Arcata, and has given guest lectures on campus.]

(June 10, 2015)

After graduation in Spring 2014, I ventured off to the Southeast corner of Montana to serve with the Capuchin Volunteer Corps Midwest at St. Labre Indian Catholic School. With a major in Religious Studies and a minor in Native American Studies, my passion lies with bridging the gap between the privileged, and the marginalized and oppressed in our society. I was searching for an organization where I could work with a Native community and live in an intentional community rooted in spirituality and social justice. It was fate when I happened upon the Cap Corps program. This being the organizations first year sending volunteers to St. Labre, it was chalk full of different challenges and adventures.

At the beginning of my year in August, I had a realization that set the theme for the rest of my service year and has provided a context for which I hope everyone can better understand how and why this year has been so transformative for me. And also why I believe that St. Labre is truly a miraculous place.

It started with our first day of orientation. When Father Paschal introduced himself, before he started us off with prayer, he mentioned the things he’s done and places he’s been in his 60 some years as a friar and priest. The thing he said that really stuck with me was how the Northern Cheyenne taught him to survive. Throughout my years in Native American Studies, survival was always the underlying theme no matter the focus of the class. For centuries indigenous peoples in the United States have struggled to survive and are still struggling. But the miracle is that many tribes have survived; they’ve survived genocide, and are rebuilding their populations, relearning their traditional languages, songs and dances. In many areas the indigenous peoples of this country have found ways to thrive amidst oppression and marginalization. After talking with some of the people in the community, It became very clear that I was called here to better understand what it truly means to survive in this world and what it means to thrive.

Jensen and Casey

With this in mind, the first day of school at St. Labre really opened my eyes to an entirely new way of seeing education. I know that education is a powerful tool in the empowerment of an individual’s human dignity and attaining self-sufficiency. Yet, I always struggled with it being controlled by an outside system. I’ve always thought that to help maintain the beauty and wisdom of native tradition the outside needed to stop trying to force its way in. In the beginning I was worried that St. Labre would not contribute to the survival of tradition, but instead only perpetuating the American capitalist system. I see now that St. Labre is doing its best to balance between both. Of course, it’s not a perfect system (what man­-made system is?) but I believe they are a necessary part of the survival of many of these Northern Cheyenne and Crow kids. And in many cases the education and community that St. Labre provides give them the chances to not only survive, but to thrive through cultural learning and a spiritual community.

St. Labre Indian Catholic School ranges from a well-rounded pre-school program to a college aimed High School Academy. However, the non-profit organization is even bigger. St. Labre runs entirely on private donations; they do not have federal, state or church funding. Serving a 98% Native American community, as it is located on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation line, St. Labre also has their own Youth & Family Services department. Here they run a group home for students who do not have another healthy environment to go home to, manage a childcare center, offer community and elderly outreach service, hold the only food pantry available in the area, and facilitate a work incentive program that provides members of the community with an opportunity to take classes and volunteer in exchange for food or gas vouchers.

Emily's studentsOriginally I was chosen to be a reading interventionist at the Middle School Academy. Although I must admit I never expected to be working as academic support in a middle school, the need for assistance in the middle school was real. While implementing and maintaining behavior programs for the students in the reading intervention program, stepping in as a substitute teacher for all grades and subjects, and assisting in the main office with a variety of secretarial duties, I expressed my interest to step outside of the school environment and work with Youth & Family Services (YFS). Not long after I began my work at the school, I began co-coordinating St. Labre’s Food Pantry. I organized volunteers, assisted in management of clients’ paperwork and monthly reports. Once I saw the need for extra supplies and food in the Pantry, I began conducting fundraisers in the Middle and High School. We raised over $700 throughout the entire year for extra food to fill in the gaps from what we get as donations, as well as to stock up on the most sought after item: toilet paper. After one fundraiser, we were able to stock our warehouse full over 400 rolls of toilet paper. My work with the Food Pantry lasted the entire year. The relationships I’ve built with volunteers, staff members and students has been rewarding beyond words.

In January I started to begin plans for a program that is known by many as the “Backpack Program.” It’s a program that is run through Montana Food Bank Network in which they help provide a bag of non-perishable food items for chronically hungry students to take home on the weekends. Attempting to start this program was when I really realized the disconnect between YFS and the school. Before I arrived there was little to no communication between these two departments. Even when we attempted to bridge that gap, the administration and teachers were already struggling to stay above water, adding another program to their plate was challenging. So, I pushed it until they gave me the signatures I needed and managed to set up the whole program so that it should be easily manageable for next year as long as everyone does their part.

Every part of living in the middle of nowhere Montana has been an adventure. I’ve learned so much about myself having been pushed to limits I didn’t even know I had. The most rewarding part of being in Montana for me was getting to know the extraordinary culture and the people. I’ll admit, watching my students dance at the local powwows has almost brought me to tears a few times. They are thriving. Reservation life is different from the injustices experienced by those in marginalized communities in other areas of the United States. The people have a completely different worldview. They have a reverent relationship with their creator and every piece of creation is sacred. Many of the people here are still devoted to the traditional way of life, however, when you are here you can see what the federal policies have done to destroy that relationship and how it’s affected the community. Now native people are trying to live in two separate worlds.

One of the best ways I have come to truly experience connection with the community, that transcends all of actual work I do every day, is my participation in the sweat lodge. There are usually several elders there, and a few other members from the community (some I know, some I don’t). Before the sweat we sit outside and talk about our weeks. We complain and we rejoice about the things that have happened. We share stories about our lives and our culture to better understand each other. In the sweat lodge everyone has a chance to share their prayers. We pray together as one people, as God’s people. It is the closest I have ever felt with a group of people, and many of them I have never met. Afterwards, it is traditional to share a meal together. Listening to the elders share their stories, old and new, has been the most uplifting experience. A woman at one of the sweats I went to said that being Northern Cheyenne means living in a good way. “You have to be a really good person,” she said. I have never felt closer to God, so well connected with my fellow man, than during a sweat. After a sweat, I feel prepared to walk through the next week in a good way, in community with every person I meet.

There are so many things I could talk about, but I did my best to sum up what this place means to me and the things I have been doing here. So what does it mean to survive in this world? And to thrive? It means to never stop fighting for what you believe in, for what you know in your heart to be right. To survive means to get back up when you’ve been beaten down; getting back up because there are other people in this world that need you, because you have something to contribute. Thriving means to be connected, to not expect to do everything on your own, to ask for help, and to take care of one another. Thriving is a balance between self-care and caring for others. Thriving is knowing who you are and where you came from. Thriving is being grateful.

In closing, I want to take a moment to express my admiration for the will of indigenous peoples in this country. They have resisted and survived. Each and every one of them deserves the utmost honor for that alone. These men and women are fighters and today some of them make up many different important social and environmental activist groups that will continue to fight for just legislation to improve the lives of their people. May we remember and honor those that have developed the strength to resist and those that have not yet healed and still suffer from historical trauma. Also I’d like to acknowledge those non-indigenous folk who are almost equally connected to this land and equally dedicated to St. Labre and the empowerment of the Native communities in Montana. I am honored and grateful to have worked with and learned from all of them.

Alexis Dorsey Completing Her Graduate Studies in Neolithic Archaeology

[Alexis Dorsey is working on paleolithic archaeology in Malta. Even though she also majored in Anthropology, she considers Religious Studies her family at HSU. And a late note: since she wrote us this message in May, her Master’s Thesis has been approved with distinction. She’ll receive her degree later in 2015..]

(May 8, 2015)]

Greetings from an old student!! I was just going over my HSU email account and found a few messages about the RS website and your collective wish to keep up to date with former students. I saw a few students listed who are currently enrolled in graduate programs, but noticed mine missing. So I would like to inform you of my life since Arcata as well as my current academic standing.

Alexis DorseyAfter graduation I became an Au pair and moved to Ireland. I minded three young children there for a year and a half; some of the happiest times I’ve had to date. I applied to the University of York and the University of Edinburgh for archaeology programs. (I was a double major, and archaeology was my primary focus) I was accepted to both programs, but chose the University of Edinburgh. My program title is MSc of Mediterranean Archaeology. I’ve had two semesters of classes so far, and now am on a trimester of independent study to finish my dissertation. I will be focussing on the Neolithic temples of Malta, a fascinating topic! While I have chosen archaeology as my field of study, I have always loved religious studies and tried to incorporate it into my archaeological work. I will be travelling to Malta for some fieldwork the first two weeks of June. I am more than excited to see these prehistoric monuments of spirituality and religion that pre-date any other free-standing structure in the world, revelling in the beauty of man’s creative abilities from five thousand years ago.

Anyway… I digress. I just wanted to update the department on my whereabouts and hopefully start a habit of keeping in touch with HSU. I miss Arcata and the fantastic collection of people in the Religious Studies department. While I was an Anthropology student, I did choose to walk with RS during graduation.. I found that group much more of a family than Anthropology ever was. I hope all is well with all the RS faculty, and that you are illuminating the world’s problems and potentials for your current students and future academics.

All the best,
Alexis Dorsey

Dorsey's Dig

Alexis Dorsey taking notes while her colleague measures the opening of a Punic tomb on Malta.