When Associate Professor of Religion Lyn Miller teaches her course on the New Testament, she typically draws what she terms a "fascinating mix" of evangelicals, liberals, agnostics, atheists and those from non-Christian faith traditions to her classroom.
"They all start with their own understanding of things, but everyone has to make a case to one another for their own stance," says Miller. "I have to meet students where they are and then help them articulate their own hermeneutic to others in light of the text."
As she endeavors to connect with such a diverse group of students, Miller has a wide range of personal experience on which to draw. She grew up in a non-religious family in Minnesota, but after discovering the mystical tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, she spent three years in formation to become a nun and lived in a convent for a year, though she never took formal vows.
She did her undergraduate work at the College of Saint Catherine in Minnesota, and was surprised when one of her professors - a gruff old nun who specialized in Chaucer - recommended her for a Mellon Fellowship. She used that funding to complete her master's and doctoral work at Harvard. "I owe it all to the nuns," she quips.
Well, not quite all. She also studied Zen meditation practice in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Buddhist practice remains an important part of her personal spirituality. She has also studied religious traditions in Japan and India.
"I ask students to enter into the world of a given religion with their imaginations," she says, adding that she helps her classes imagine diverse traditions by including music, videos and storytelling that relate to various traditions. "I think the only way for students to understand a religion is for students to enter into its drama."
Reflecting on the ways that she encourages students from a myriad of backgrounds to confront difference, Miller underscores a central challenge facing the College.
"Students need more guidance in communicating across their differences," says Miller. "When the whole world can't solve these problems, we can't expect the students to without our help."
Lyn Miller, Associate Professor of Religion and Associate Academic Dean
Th.D., Harvard Divinity School
Interests: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Comparative Religion