Religion professor Dr. Roy Hammerling often uses an analogy on the first day of his classes.
He says that one of his favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, had a deeply respected mentor he called “The Great Knock.”
The Great Knock was so interested in students and what they had to say that he did not allow them “intellectual laziness.” If a student made a statement, they had to be prepared to defend it and answer why they thought that way. The Great Knock pushed his pupils to be clear with their thoughts and knowledgeable in their arguments to foster an intellectually rigorous environment.
Hammerling tells this story in the hope that he can do for his students what The Great Knock did for Lewis. This kind of intellectual rigor is necessary for many of the classes he has taught at Concordia in the last 26 years, especially Religion 200 – a requirement for all students.
“You’re kind of introducing people to a new way of thinking,” Hammerling said.
The Religion 200 course focuses on religious diversity and fostering conversation about religious topics. He believes studying religion is important no matter what your major is or what you hope to have as a career.
“If you think about the situation we’re in with the world today, there’s lots of misunderstanding between political and religious groups, especially the importance of religion in everyday news and the need for interfaith dialogue and people getting along,” he said.
Certainly having knowledge of different religions and how they come into play in world events is important, but many students don’t know what to expect of Concordia’s required religion courses and often come in with a preconceived bias toward the classes. Hammerling says he recognizes two main issues that students have when starting Religion 200.
“One is ‘Oh, I know this already, I’ve been in my church all my life.’ But that’s the idea of being religious as opposed to studying religion,” he said.
Concordia’s religion courses aren’t just a recap of everything students may have learned in Sunday school. They aim to cover the vast amount of diversity and traditions across both Christianity and other religions.
“The other side is the person who comes with no religious background, and they’re afraid we’re going to indoctrinate them and convert them to being Lutheran or whatever their worst fears are,” he said.
Hammerling often finds that these students are surprised after taking the course. They realize the course focuses less on the convictions and values of others, but more on the students as individuals and what they can take away from studying religion.
“That’s the goal of 200, to teach people about others but also to know yourself better,” Hammerling said.
He always sees a positive sense of discovery and awareness, and says that is why he loves teaching Religion 200.
“Hammerling is difficult, but the work is worth it because it's meaningful,” said Claire Petersen ’20, who is currently taking Religion 200. “His goal is to challenge us to think more critically about our own beliefs.”
Once students complete Religion 200, they have one additional religion course requirement to fulfill before graduation. This class, however, allows students a bit more freedom.
“The second course, a religion 300-level course, is intended to have a student go into their area of passion,” Hammerling said.
The department offers religion courses on science, history, world religions, Bible classes, ethics courses, and courses on Luther, among many others.
When Hammerling reflects back on his own college experience, he remembers finding his passion for studying religion at Pacific Lutheran College in Washington. He triple majored in religion, philosophy, and classical languages.
“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, just like any other college student,” he said. “I joke that the reason I got three B.A.s is because I couldn’t make up my mind.”
He went on to continue his study of religion at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Iowa, where he received his master’s in divinity and later became a pastor in Williston, N.D. He enjoyed his time in Williston but always felt like something was missing. And that was the ability to keep learning and studying the things he was truly passionate about – something he needed for his “own personal renewal.”
So, Hammerling decided to do just that.
“If I was going to go back to graduate school, it was now or never,” he said.
He went on to receive his master’s and doctorate at the University of Notre Dame in medieval history, a topic that always fascinated him during his studies. This certainly helped when he heard about an opening at Concordia College for a religion professor specializing in history.
“A friend of mine heard there was a job opening here at Concordia and they said I should apply, but I didn’t have much done on my dissertation, so I applied reluctantly. To my surprise, I got the job,” he said.
Hammerling finished his dissertation while teaching at Concordia and has been here ever since. He continues to teach religion courses and always keeps C.S. Lewis and The Great Knock in the back of his mind when interacting with students.
“I want to start as being really interested in students as people and, then, they happen to also be students,” he said. “I hope I do that.”
Bailey Tillman '18 studies multimedia journalism, Spanish and film studies at Concordia.