Spring 2014 Issue

Class Cultivates “Awesomeness” In Students … and Professor

Who do you turn to for advice on living a better life? Aristotle? Maybe Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi or Confucian philosopher Xunzi? How about St. Benedict of Nursia or contemporary Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaley Csikszentmihalyi?

There’s a good chance those weren’t the names on the tip of your tongue. They weren’t rolling off the lips of students when they first walked into Matthew Duperon’s Being Awesome at Life course last fall either. But as the course progressed, the writings of such figures provided valuable guidance as they pondered questions such as What is the best kind of human life? and What habits, skills and virtues contribute to that life?

Duperon, an assistant professor of religious studies, encouraged students to reflect on areas of their lives they wanted to improve and apply concepts from the course to those areas. Katie Taylor ’14, a religious studies major from Waverly, Pa., took that component of the class to heart.

“I’ve definitely already started to apply what we’re learning,” she said before the class had even reached its halfway point. Taylor incorporated Daoist ideas of meditation, reflection and being one with nature into her life.

Beyond personal improvement, Duperon believes studying religion has a broader impact. “Religious studies in general, and comparative religious ethics in particular, should ideally prompt us to think about real ways that the world can be made better,” he says.

One way religious studies can achieve this is by exposing students to similarities across religions. Duperon says selflessness and a need for community are frequently emphasized among many of the world’s religions.

These are just a few of the insights that motivate both students and Duperon to be awesome at life. “I am always inspired by the range of things that students say they want to work on, and it motivates me to try and work on those things myself,” he says. “How embarrassed or hypocritical would I feel if I taught a course like this and did absolutely nothing to try and strengthen my relationships with my students, my wife, my kids, my colleagues, my family or my friends?”

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