Steve Charles—Last semester Thomas Evans, a student of Professor Cook’s at the State University of New York at Geneseo, did an independent study based on much the same material as the Wabash History of Christianity in Africa course. After graduating in May, Thomas paid his own way to Nairobi to join us, and his welcome presence on the trip not only added a helpful perspective on Africa and Christianity, but also an interesting take on Wabash, as you will read below.
Thomas Evans—I know many of you are visiting this blog as a way to learn how Wabash students are immersing themselves in the culture of Kenya. As a recent graduate of State University of New York at Geneseo, I cannot provide such insight. I can, however, examine how being on this trip with Wabash students has allowed me to make the most of this experience, and how they have directly contributed to it being an enlightening, enriching, and unique experience.
SUNY Geneseo is a public college near Rochester, New York. It is a relatively liberal and extremely secular institution. Religion, and religious identity, is for the most part an unexplored subject at Geneseo, and most people, even if the have a strong religious conviction, keep it to themselves. This may have been just my experience, and I may be vastly misrepresenting Geneseo. However, I can only speak from my experience, and from what I have seen through personal and educational dialogue, religion is a very uncomfortable subject at Geneseo.
With the Wabash men, however, it is a very open dialogue between many different religions and levels of devoutness.
One small event that highlights this dialogue was a conversation led by Dr. Warner. He asked us where in Nairobi we had “seen” God. Or, ”If you believed in God, where do you think you might have seen him in Nairobi thus far.’’ This kind of dialogue, while diplomatically phrased by Dr. Warner in as secular a way as possible, was something I have never engaged in at Geneseo. I think a question posed that way would result in an unenthused, uncomfortable conversation with people unwilling to divulge their true feelings due to a judgment by the other members of the group. With the Wabash men, however, there was a very mature, insightful conversation. I found this extremely refreshing, and while it was a very small event compared to some of the adventures we embarked upon here in Nairobi, it is one I will remember well.
While I never once found a need or desire to express my religious opinion or bring my Catholic identity into a conversation at Geneseo, I realize now that having such a dialogue is very important and refreshing, and I feel like for the first time I am discussing my religious identity without rationalizing having one in the first place. The Wabash men are very aware and open about their religious or non-religious identities, and it made for some very stimulating and educational discussions, and made me more aware of not only my own religion of Catholicism but Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as well.