Dr. Paul Mosca: Experiencing Religion the Modern Way

Professor Paul Mosca teaches the Hebrew language, the Bible, and archaeology in the Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies.

Some people say religion makes you narrow-minded. Whether they’re right or wrong, Professor Paul Mosca believes that when it comes to understanding expressions of religious thought, it’s often the university experience that is limiting to students.

“I get frustrated sometimes with the departmental boundaries that are imposed in a modern university. People don’t live that way in the real world,” argues Mosca, who teaches the Hebrew language, the Bible, and archaeology in the Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies.

Instead he says, people naturally explore a given theme any way they can, whether it’s in print, on film, or online; in English, or Cantonese; in a play or on TV. And certainly people do this irrespective of how an academy chooses to compartmentalize the topic.

Nowhere is this truer than with the study of religion, says Mosca, who chairs Religion, Literature and the Arts (RGLA), an interdisciplinary program founded by Paul Burns (Religious Studies) and Lee Johnson (English), where students curious about the links between religion and art can cast their nets wide. “The original rationale was that there are a lot of religious images and ideas and forms present in literature,” says Mosca, speaking to the thinking in RGLA’s early days as Religion and Literature.

Now, more than a decade later, the major has expanded even further, meaning students can now investigate the imprint of any of the world’s religious traditions in music and the plastic arts, in addition to examining their impact on writers through the ages. Structured around three core seminars, the steadily growing program lets students build a degree that interests them.To get there, the students get a whopping six pages of courses to choose from, taken from across a wide spectrum of disciplines including art history, music, theatre, and film, as well as Asian and Italian studies. The options are so diverse, in fact, that each student admitted into the RGLA Major is paired with an advisor to help him or her map out a program that meets their interests.

So what are the students in the program like?

“They tend to be people who I would say are interested in pushing the boundaries,” says Mosca. Like their counterparts in other Arts programs, many of these free-thinkers go on to enrol in grad school programs, law, or any of the other infinite options for students with Arts degrees.

That said, Mosca admits having one ulterior motive for helping found RGLA: a lack of stimulating conversation in what he sees as an increasingly specialized academy.

Which is why he has a vested interest in bringing up generations of students who can hold a wide-ranging conversation about one of the world’s most complex (and profound) questions.

By Bryan Zandberg (BA, 2006, in French and Spanish). Bryan is a former editor with The Ubyssey.