Religion and the Environment

William Secrest, head of the Religious Studies program at Henry Ford Community College, is entering his fourth decade of teaching at the school, and currently teaches several Religious Studies courses, including Introduction to the Study of Religion (WR 130), Comparative Religion (WR 131), and Eastern Religions (WR 233).

According to Secrest, HFCC is one of the first community colleges in the world to offer a degree in Religious Studies. In fact, the college has more than 10 instructors—including a second full-time instructor, Tracy Marshall, who has previously taught online classes—teaching Religious Studies courses. While this may seem like a lot, Secrest insists that each instructor has his or her own unique experiences and perspectives that allow for different views and styles of teaching, yielding enriching experiences for students.

In addition to the courses specified above, HFCC offers Supplement to World Religion (WR 90), Western Religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam (WR 232), Myths and Symbols: Deciphering the Messages of Sacred Traditions (WR 240), and The Bible as Literature (ENG 245). The Religious Studies department also offers a new online-only class that will present an in-depth look at Judaism beginning in the winter semester. A course on Islam is forthcoming.

Time after time, people who take one of Secrest’s classes, or any one of the other religious courses, walk away with a whole new perspective on people and other cultures, mainly because of Secrest’s unique approach and the fact that they get an opportunity to interact first-hand with other students in the class, students who may be from different religions and diverse backgrounds. It is common to hear a Secrest student remark about how fascinating it is that we, as a people from a wide variety of cultures and religions, can all sit in the same classroom and get along with mutual respect for each other, and also have a strong desire to learn from each other.

Kerry Wilson, an HFCC student working toward a degree in Religious Studies, said that she is taking Religious Studies courses because she has always been fascinated by the different types of religions. “It’s my belief,” Wilson said, “that if people from different religions, different backgrounds, and different cultures would get together and learn about each other, and could just understand one another and what their perspectives are and where they come from, everyone would get along a lot easier. This could even cut down on some of the hatred and bigotry.”

Wilson said that she sees herself eventually being a professor teaching Religious Studies at a community college.

In regard to teaching religion at HFCC, Secrest said, “These courses are in big demand here: whether it be for the minister who wants to learn about other religions so he can adapt his teachings to his people, to reach out to more people in a more open way; or maybe it’s for the open-minded philosopher who just wants to understand what life is all about.

“They’re interested in exploring religion because they’re interested in exploring reality.”

Secrest pointed specifically to Buddhism as an example of this exploration because it is “all about knowing yourself, and if you know yourself then you learn how to manage your affairs in such a manner that you can hopefully avoid violence at all costs. Buddhism is an integration of the mind, body and spirit.”

Secrest’s own exploration redefines the teacher/student relationship in a sense—his spiritual understanding continues to grow by studying under others—and often goes far beyond the HFCC campus. In fact, he is thinking of taking the winter semester off from teaching and “traveling to the Holy Land, and walking through Lebanon, and visiting Palestine; and visiting some of the universities that Michael Daher is exploring for our study abroad program.” Daher is the director of the Arab Cultural Studies program at HFCC.

Secrest continued, “I love to travel because it‘s a way to expand my scope, to deepen my understanding of the situation, to see the facts on the ground, to talk to the people in the middle of whatever it is I am talking about.

“If you want to talk about Hinduism,” he said, “then go to India; whatever religion you want to learn about, the best way to learn about it is to go to that country where they practice and teach it on an everyday basis and it’s a way of life.”

Secrest is also working to establish the third international conference on “Religion Conflict and Peace: Walking the Talk to Compassion and Harmony,” which he describes as “a multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural conference where official partners of the Parliament of World Religions and the Charter for Compassion all meet together in harmony to find ways to unite our differences.” He said he hopes to sponsor it again on the HFCC campus this winter semester.

In addition, Bill Secrest is big on preserving our environment and the world we live in, and plays a major role in an activist group on campus, the Student Environmental Association, that tries to do exactly that. The group works toward keeping our land beautiful and developing ways to improve our surroundings, and meets every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

“This is a great opportunity for those of us here in America,” said Secrest. “The freedom…the education…the relative prosperity. Each of us can make a difference. We can save the planet if we want to, but we must work with others to do this. Join a club. Make it happen.”

You can make a difference!