Students study faith's traits
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Students at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College explored religious practices ranging from Islam to Confucianism to the gospel according to Harry Potter this week.
“I think it’s good to learn about new religions even if you’re not searching for one,” student Aaron Hancock Sr. said.
Five religion studies classes, taught by instructor Michelle Lyerly-Wiener, put together projects for the third annual Religious Diversity Exhibit.
“The idea is that we are promoting religious diversity and tolerance,” she said. “We’re not by any means out to convert anybody to anything, it’s more or less to raise awareness that there are these other religions out there.”
Lyerly-Wiener said students pick their own topics and get to work within weeks of starting the class. Displays range from cardboard tri-folds to elaborate structures like the one built by Hancock.
Hancock constructed a temple, similar to the one in Salt Lake City to pay homage to his roots.
“I’m a Latter-day Saint so I wanted to make something that meant something to me,” he said.
Student Tamara Marlowe’s project focused on cults.
“I’ve always been interested in the way people give their whole life to something and give up control of life or death,” she said.
Student Susan Hagee is taking her second religion class at Rowan-Cabarrus. Her project was about religious themes in the fictional world of Star Wars.
This year, she decided to stay in that same vein by focusing on the television series Star Trek.
“People probably don’t realize that although Star Trek is based in the future there are a lot of religious influences because it was made in the ’60s,” she said.
Student Will Wilson did his project on freemasonry after being inspired to learn more after reading the “The Hiram Key” by Chris Knight and Robert Lomas.
“It goes over the basic history of when the fraternity was formed, who they are and dispels some false information,” he said.
Wilson said while working on the project he learned that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Mark Twain are among the notable freemasons.
He said having the opportunity to explore other religions through the exhibit gave him even more insight into religions.
“It’s been very interesting to dispel the misconceptions we have about a certain group of people … it’s truly a shame,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he’s always been interested in finding out more about other cultures and his world religions class has been a kep stepping stone in that learning process.
“The way people worship is really one of the places you have to start to get insight,” he said.
Student Megan Sullivan said she was surprised to find out that many religions have a common thread that runs throughout.
“The basic teachings of Islam go along with Christianity, like being charitable and caring for people,” she said. “The only thing I knew before this project was that Islam was misunderstood because of 9/11.”
Margaret Winters, an adjunct English instructor at Rowan-Cabarrus, brought her Southern literature class to view the exhibit.
“We’re exploring the idea of what exactly is Southern literature and it’s not quite as simple as it may seem,” she said. “I thought it would be a great way to expand their minds.”
Winters said the religion exhibit parallels nicely with the concept of tolerance that is being explored in her classroom.
Lyerly-Wiener said she enjoys teaching religious studies because it gives her the opportunity to “open students’ eyes to other ways of seeing the sacred.”
“So many people grow up in a particular religion and don’t realize so much more is out there,” she said. “This is a good way to open your mind to new religions.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.