My humanities moment came with my conversion from Islam to Christianity. It opened a wide world for me and enabled me to see that my new faith was distinct, but shared some of its humanistic values which we find in religious traditions around the world. I began to see areas of difference and convergence with my African roots, my former religious community, Islam and decided that I will do graduate work in the human sciences.
Ideas communicate the vision and often inspire people in ways that one did not expect. One of those ideas was the slogan of Rice University that talked about “unconventional wisdom,” which in the Department of Religion at Rice University invites a robust conversation about religions around the world. The quest for unconventional wisdom suit my goals, and the School of Humanities offers several opportunities for critical interdisciplinary research that will prepare me as a scholar of global Christianity in a multi-religion world. Christianity is rooted in Judaism and first developed as a Mediterranean religion which later spread to Africa, Europe, and rapidly became a world religion.
I find studying religion within a global context meaningful because the Christian tradition’s emphasis on the humanity of Jesus humanizes religion. What Jesus did was to work with the community around him. Indeed, scholars describe his followers and their humanistic message as the Jesus movement which started within the Jewish community, but by the time of Jesus death, it had grown to a multi-ethnic humanistic program centered beliefs about God. This movement later developed into what is known as Christianity around 40 AD when the so-called pagans or gentiles coined this name in Antioch, nowadays Turkey.
Christianity remains for me a humanistic journey and studying the humanities today will prepare me to research some of the issues people around the world face. For me, specifically, it means that I should strive to understand the relation between Christianity and economic development. The economy is not merely a dismal science because it is a necessary component of human development and well being. Studying in the school of humanities will strengthen my research as I examine what faith communities have done and what they can do for individuals and humanity as a whole, not only they are targets of conversion, but because the Christian tradition follows in the footsteps of Jesus who taught his followers to care about other human beings.
However, I am in no denial of the negative role that religion played and continues to play in human relations with destructive wars, all forms of violence, and its corollary of human subjugation. But it is worthy to notice that studying the human dimensions of the movement, demonstrates that Christianity is indeed a humanistic journey. For me, religion in general is part of our humanity, and Christianity gives those who follow its path an opportunity to prioritize the human so that people can build a humane world. This is what humanities as a scholarly pursuit means to me.