Campus News

Understanding Different Worldviews

September 25, 2014

Marvin Krislov

In her wonderful President’s Lecture, “Writing about an Epic that Continues to Speak: Banned Books, Politics, and the Academic Study of Religion," Paula Richman, ’74, Oberlin’s William H. Danforth Professor of South Asian Religions, encouraged the audience to engage in the academic study of religion.

We should do so, she said, not just because we will learn about traditions, beliefs, and practices, but because studying religion can shed light on the sometimes complex relationships between religion, politics, and cultures in other countries and in ours.

For those of you who missed her midday lecture in Finney Chapel on September 19th, Professor Richman proudly pointed to her Religious Studies colleagues and encouraged students to take classes in the many religious traditions of the world.

Her talk suggested another meaning—that studying texts and their various interpretations, even if not always comfortable, can broaden our understanding of worlds and views not our own. Her argument lies at the core of the humanities disciplines, alive and well at Oberlin if not always embraced by critics of liberal education.

Professor Richman is a leading expert on the Ramayana, a Hindu epic, and on Tamil, a language spoken in south India and abroad by more than 75 million people. She spoke about how her study of the Ramayana, which dates back two millennia and has been retold in a variety of ways over the centuries and across South Asia, has caused legal issues with Hindu nationalists who view the idea that there is more than one valid interpretation of the story as defaming their religion. That example provided a fascinating illustration of her broader message which is so important to all of us who believe in robust inquiry.

I think all of us in Finney Chapel were inspired by her lecture. The student questions following Professor Richman’s talk were insightful and interesting.

Last week, an Oberlin alum, a senior, tenured faculty member at University of California, Berkeley, attended my politics class on the mid-term elections. He commented that he had never heard more thoughtful responses in all his years of teaching.

You might argue that I’m basing my observations on only two data points. But to me they illustrate the high level of faculty and student engagement at Oberlin. Students here care deeply about their classes. And our faculty, such as Professor Richman, are passionate scholars, outstanding teachers, and thought-provoking lecturers.


Congratulations to the Oberlin Alumni Association leadership for approving new bylaws this past weekend which will reform the association’s system of governance and strengthen its empowerment of volunteers to become more effective in supporting the College and Oberlin communities. The new bylaws also create a new and expanded governing body, the Alumni Leadership Council, which will include student representatives.


The Oberlin Community Giving Campaign has begun! Every year, employees of Oberlin College, the Oberlin City Schools, and the City of Oberlin work together to raise funds for four organizations which provide vital services in Oberlin and nearby communities.

These beneficiaries provide a variety of services to families and individuals in and around Oberlin. They are: Greater Cleveland Community Shares; Oberlin Community Services; The Oberlin Early Childhood Center; and The United Way of Greater Lorain County.

You have the opportunity to support any or all of these organizations. The pledge form can be accessed online at this webpage.

Your charitable giving can sustain families in difficult circumstances. Throughout its history, the Oberlin community has consistently demonstrated its caring and concern for others through concrete actions. In that spirit, please help make this a great year for the Oberlin Community Giving Campaign.


Tappan Square will be the place to be this coming Saturday when we celebrate the annual Oberlin Community and Culture Festival. This is a wonderful annual celebration of diversity with activities for all ages, featuring free food from around the world, samples from Oberlin’s restaurants, and live performances. Come to Tappan Square between 1 and 4 p.m. for fun, food, dancing, music, culture, and other activities.

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