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Students get out of the classroom for answers

St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Rock Island.
Students at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Rock Island.

Dr. Brandon Bruning began winter term 2016 with the question: “What’s a (or the) Bible, and how do we imagine people using it?”

To look for answers, he and the students in his Jewish and Christian Scriptures classes embarked on field trips, beginning with a visit to the Rare Books collection at Augustana’s Thomas Tredway Library. Students examined (and, in some cases, even handled) rare and ancient manuscripts, facsimiles of ancient manuscripts, and early print editions.

They then went to the University of Iowa for a seminar in the "Cultural and Textual Exchanges: The Manuscript across Pre-Modern Eurasia" series. The trip was made possible by the Humanities Fund and the Institute for Leadership and Service, and the experience “helped students get inside ‘the world of the book’ between the composition of the biblical texts themselves and the collection and printing of those texts as Bibles,” Bruning said. “It's something we all take for granted but didn't exist in what we often, ironically, call the ‘biblical’ world.”

One of the major learning objectives for the Jewish and Christian Scriptures course is the development of intercultural competence across historic and contemporary communities, and “reading the Bible is an intensely intercultural experience," said Bruning, a fellow in religion.

"Learning about papyrus scrolls, early codices, and the many other technologies for writing and transmitting texts in antiquity — from Egypt to China — helps us recognize the vastly different cultural worlds from which the texts in the Bible emerged, and through which they have traveled to get to ‘us.’”

Bruning’s Encountering Religion students visited St. George Greek Orthodox Church and the Congregation Beth Israel at the Tri-City Jewish Center in Rock Island, and the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities in Moline.

These visits are some of the most memorable and eye-opening parts of the class, Bruning said, and “a wonderful way for Augie to nurture ties with the broader community, and… curiosity and goodwill among religious communities as well.”

Such trips are a staple of the 155 experience for students, and are supported by the Office of Curriculum and Enrichment.

“They contribute to Augustana's mission to serve a diverse student body for service in a diverse world because of — and not in spite of — its commitment to a Lutheran understanding of vocation, human value, liberal education,” Bruning said.

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The Augustana Chamber Singers presents Lessons and Carols, the story of Christ's birth conducted through readings and songs.