Religion & Philosophy Department

Lebanon Valley College

Professor Reflects on Field Trip to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Undergraduate Research Symposium

FullSizeRenderJim Thorpe is a name synonymous with heroism and athletic prowess, and for those who live in Central Pennsylvania, with a village all decked in holly over the Christmas season. But less known is the dark underside of this Native American’s education at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

Carlisle CemeteryOn November 19, 2015, the Undergraduate Research Symposium in Philosophy and Religion toured what remains of the school on guarded military grounds and attended a lecture at the Carlisle Historical Society. Spanning a forty-year period, over 10,000 children from various tribes across the entire United States were sent to the boarding school in an effort to “civilize” the natives to European ways. Captain Pratt, as he was known, and considered at the time to be one of the more humane reformers, founded the school in the belief that forced assimilation would lead natives to effectively integrate into society, and in this way, the “Indian problem” could be solved, avoiding the costly bloodshed of wars and deportations. “Kill the Indian, save the man” couldn’t have been more literally applied at the school whose founder coined the haunting phrase. Forbidden to speak her native tongue, to return home over her five year boarding period, each child was taught to reject her culture of origin as uncivilized, taught to adopt western ways, taught proper domesticity and the value of the nuclear family, if female, and if male, the skill of a trade and the value of hard labor. But for each, the transformative promise of education delivered the redoubled blow of a “double consciousness.” Once out into the world, most of the Carlisle school graduates were nevertheless still perceived to belong to a lesser race for not being white enough—and could not find proper employment, but upon returning to their native homes, their “whitewashed” ways made of them strangers.

photo[8]Over 180 children died while under care at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Today, we can see stone markers with the lapidary inscriptions of their white names and year of death at the school’s relocated cemetery, which borders the Carlisle military base.

If Jim Thorpe’s story can be (erroneously) touted as one of “success,” the scars of this forty-some year failed “experiment,” as it is euphemistically referred to, are still felt today. But the problem, the ailment, is mostly a kind of blindness—the same kind of blindness that would have a Pratt assume the superiority of his civilization over against another’s he could not even see to see.


Student Reflections on visit to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia


[The following reflection was written by Giovanna Ortiz, ’16]

I have responded to a question I have been getting
from so many others, in one way or another: Was it worth it? The reason I had interest in traveling to the city of Philadelphia and subjecting myself to high security inspection for Pope Francis’ visit to the States was not simply to brag, “Oh! I got to see him with my own eyes.” (image1Although doing so is quite satisfying, omitting the part that I was a dozens of feet away in the midst of a crowded mob.) I could not have been contented with merely watching news coverage from the comfort of my dorm room, especially when the event was happening so close to Annville, PA. However, I must confess -I myself am not a member of the Catholic Church, so I am not familiar with all of its traditions nor am I an expert on its doctrine, but never mind that. I do not think the Pope came solely for the benefit of religious persons anyway. I noted during his tour of U.S. cities, he made a point to acknowledge marginalized populations in our society, including inmates, the homeless, and survivors of sexual abuse. He also met with those in positions of power at the White House, Congress and the United Nations to address pressing issues, advocating for governmenIMG_9831.cropt reform in numerous areas. While listening to the careful words of his speeches, it can be observed how intentionally political his choice of conversation topics are. It is safe to say he left a significant impact on the major American societal institutions. The wise man who many call “Holy Father,” continues to be international leader who inspires countless people, including myself.
As a student of Politics, Spanish, and Global Studies at Lebanon Valley College -I answer that on-the surface value judgement question with an ever confident “Yes.”

Video of Undergraduate Research Symposium on Paul Kahn

Full Class photo with KahnOn Wednesday, April 22nd, five students from the yearlong Undergraduate Research Symposium course had the opportunity to present their work directly to the subject of their research, the constitutional law scholar and political philosopher Paul Kahn.

Professor Kahn is the Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities, and Director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School, where he has taught since 1985. Before beginning his career as a Professor of Law, he first clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court and for a short time practiced law in Washington, DC, and was on the legal team representing Nicaragua in a case against the U.S. government before the International Court of Justice.

He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale in 1977. As he explained to the students in the course during the fall semester, he felt like he was still too young to “do philosophy,” so he went directly from graduate school to Law School, and received his J.D. from Yale in 1980.

So in language that is dear, but still contested, to many of us here at LVC, he is the model of liberal learning: a philosopher who is also a trained lawyer. Even more, he is one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars who brings his interests and expertise in cultural theory and philosophy to bear in developing a distinctive approach to the study of law and politics.

His work offers a comprehensive critique of modern liberalism for failing to provide an adequate theory of “the political.” The student presentations help to explain the full implications of this insight as it applies to questions of revolution/reform, equality, criminality, environmental justice, and civil religion.

The video links for the student presentations and Kahn’s critical responses are below.  You will see each of the students develop a critical and constructive thesis of their own with regard to the significance of Kahn’s work as a political philosopher.  You will also see how they are not shy in raising critical questions about their own reservations with his work and identification of perceived shortcomings to his thought.  In this way, they model the rigor and independence of thought we hope for all of our students.

Part 1 –

Part 2 –

Part 3 –

National Podcast at LVC

DogmaDebateA couple of weeks back there was a live taping of the Dogma Debate podcast on LVC campus. The event was organized my Matt Sayers in conjunction with the work he is doing with the Institute for Interfaith Literacy and Leadership (IILL). The first segment includes an interview with Professor Sayers. The second half includes a debate with Dr. Michael Kitchens of the Psychology department at LVC. It is definitely worth a listen.

You can access the podcast via iTunes, or directly via this link:

Reflections from this year’s Undergraduate Research Award Recipient

The following blog post was written by Hunter Heath.  He is a rising senior in the department who won this year’s Donald Byrne Undergraduate Research Award.

‘This semester I had the opportunity to travel NAUCRGto two undergraduate conferences. With the help of the Religion and Philosophy department at LVC, it was made possible—thank you for your encouragement and assistance.

The first conference was the North American Undergraduate Conference on Religion and Philosophy, and it took place at Westminster College (PA). The conference took place over a whole weekend, but I was only capable of attending the opening ceremony and conference day. My presentation was on non-Western philosophy and the similarities to LVC’s Inclusive Excellence; the presentation was called “Encounter World Philosophies and Reflecting on Inclusive Excellence.” Also attending the conference was twenty other students from array of schools across the Northeastern United States and Canada. Most of the papers had something to do with religion, where my paper was entirely about philosophy. Although I was an outsider to the dialogue, my presentation was well received and sparked a dialogue itself; some professors and students took a real interest to the diversity of liberal education. Most of the dialogue was positive, yet I did receive opposition about equity and open-mindedness; of course, I felt it was possible for people to hold different opinions and still respect others—to which the student responded that he believes “it is problematic” to respect other’s opinions (REVEALING!). After receiving warm comments from Dr. Arvind Mandair, he presented his own presentation that complimented the “encountering” of non-Western philosophy and religion. His presentation was the highlight of the conference [for me], and will be extremely influential in my studies.

The second conference was on the other side of the United States in Portland, Oregon; the conference is called “Pacific University Undergraduate Philosophy Conference.” This conference gathered student presenters representing twenty-six states across the US, several provinces in Canada, and even a student from Mexico. I was one of a hundred presenters, and one of seven presentations on aesthetics. For this conference, my paper “The Authority of Art: Classic, Popular, and the ‘idk.’” was accepted and I presented it to an audience of twenty. The presentation was forty-five minutes long, and twenty of it was for questioning. Although my paper was well received, it did go off topic at a couple of moments; because my project contained models for traditional and non-traditional reception theories, students were more interested in questioning the “intentions of artists.” Of course, I still enjoyed the dialogue, but I have learned that I need to redirect those that stray away from the theories I am presenting. Aside from my presentation, I was able to enjoy a Philosophy Talk episode concerning “free will” that featured Daniel Dennett. I also received a presentation from Daniel Dennett concerning atheism and difference that Darwin made to the question “why?” Although the Dennett talks were amazing, the highlight of this trip was the consistent chatter at lunchtime about art—where I was used as a mediator between conversations. Also, a close second to those lunchtime discussions was a great conversation about Champions League soccer matches with my cab driver—Forza Juve!

Again, thank you Lebanon Valley College and the department of Religion and Philosophy.

Making National and International News



It was exactly five years ago when Professor Jeff Robbins first began his three-year term as a faculty representative on LVC’s Board of Trustees that he brought a message back to his departmental colleagues: Board members of the college want and expect each academic department on campus to be doing work worthy of national attention.

Knowing that they were already internationally active scholars, the departmental faculty were eager to take on this challenge.

Since that time the year-long, team-taught Undergraduate Research Symposium course has been taught for three successive years. It has been lauded by the prominent external scholars from Yale University, Duke University, and Kingston University London who have partnered with the LVC faculty in the teaching and administering of the class.It also led to two of the students from the course winning 1st and 3rd prizes for most outstanding papers at the North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy for two years in a row, and to publication opportunities for all of the students who complete the class.

Since that time, not only has Professor Matthew Sayers IILL_Branding_WithText_Outlineswon the Thomas Rhys Vickroy Award for Teaching Excellence at LVC, but he has also established the Institute for Interfaith Literacy and Leadership. The Institute is being built on principles Professor Sayers learned at the Seminar on Teaching Interfaith Understanding, which was sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges and Interfaith YouthCore, two nationally leading organizations in higher education.

Also since that time, Professor Noel Hubler has received grant funds in order to take a lead in developing an inverted classroom for the teaching and learning of philosophy. The goal of an inverted course is to perform the transfer of information outside the classroom and devote class time to problem solving and application.  This is just one of many examples of the ways by which the faculty within the department have taken advantage of funding opportunities to innovate and to create various high impact learning opportunities for LVC students.

And now, in the last week alone, two of the departmental faculty have been featured by leading national and international news organizations. Building on her ongoing teaching and research on genocide, Professor Noelle Vahanian’s reflections on the significance of the commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide was published in Al Jazeera America (see here: emailsignatureAnd Professor Bob Valgenti’s ongoing E.A.T. project was profiled in a feature story of the Chronicle of Higher Education (see here: As this Chronicle story makes clear, the LVC Department of Religion and Philosophy is challenging convention, leading through collaborative scholarship, and making change through engagement and reflection.

2015 Honor Societies Inductions


2015-04-23 14.56.31


On Thursday, April 23rd, the Department of Religion and Philosophy held its annual induction ceremony for Theta Alpha Kappa (National Honors Society for Religion and Theology) and Phi Sigma Tau (International Honors Society for Philosophy).

A total of 7 individuals were inducted, four of whom are current students, one a recent graduate, and two instructors within the department.

A brief profile of each of the inductees is listed below. Congratulations to them all.

Megan English:
Megan is currently a junior at LVC. She came to LVC from Kingsway Regional High School in New Jersey as an Actuarial Science major in which she has excelled. She studied abroad last semester in New Zealand. She has taken Religion classes since her start here at LVC, first enrolling in Introduction to Religion during the fall semester of her freshmen year. The following year, she was enrolled in the yearlong Symposium on Race and Religion where she distinguished herself by her probing questions regarding the Christian notion of redemptive suffering. She completed an excellent research paper by the title of “Suffering and Redemption: A Christian Mechanism Working in a Racist America” that she presented at two national undergraduate research conferences, the first at Allegheny College and the second at the National Undergraduate Research Conference on Religion and Philosophy where she won 3rd place price for having the most outstanding paper. She is currently enrolled in two upper level, special topic courses on “Suffering and Trauma” and on “Queering God,” and will complete her senior seminar and her remaining major requirements next year. She is actively involved behind the scenes in LVC’s theater troop Wig and Buckle. She is as quirky as she is conscientious, and most deserving of this honor.

Amanda Zelazny Cosnett:
Amanda graduated from LVC in 2011. During her time here she completed one of the most sophisticated theological research papers as her senior seminar project in recent memory. The paper was on the role of eschatology within Pentecostal Christianity. Building on this stellar academic work, she went on to complete an internship at a local Pentecostal congregation under the department’s supervision. She was also active in religious life and service on campus. In her junior year, she took part in the Habitat for Humanity service project over spring break. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with departmental honors with a major in Religion, and a minor in History and Music. After LVC, she spent a year at Asbury Theological Seminary, before transferring the Drew Theological School, where she recently completed her Masters of Divinity degree in December 2014. She is currently a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church, and serves as the Director of Children’s Ministries at Suffern United Methodist Church in New York. It is our pleasure to welcome Amanda back to LVC, and wish the same success through service for our current students as she has enjoyed since her graduation.

Gary Gates:
We have been fortunate to have Gary Gates with us as an Adjunct Instructor of Religion here at LVC since 2008. He is versatile and wide-ranging in his teaching interests and expertise. He regularly teaches classes in the Introduction to Religion, World Religions, Buddhism, and Islam. He also has taken on the upper-level disciplinary perspectives class on “The Search for Jesus”. This interest in the diversity of ways that Jesus has been imagined in theology and culture throughout the ages goes back to his MA Thesis on “The Creation of Christ,” which he completed in the Interdisciplinary Humanities program at Penn State University in 1996. He is a deep and experiential learner who is committed to his students appreciating the fullness of religious life. He is also a model lifelong learner. He has participated in various seminars with leading figures in the study of religion such as John Dominc Crossan, Helmut Koester, Huston Smith, Karen Amstrong and Elaine Pagels. He has also participated in two highly selective National Endowment of the Humanities worksops, and the Red Rose Foundation Scholarship Trip to Turkey in 2007. Locally he is known for his book, How to Speak Dutchified English. Locals might also know him as a Karate sensei or a Yoga instructor. He is a great friend and supporter of the department whom we rely on year after year. And year after year, there is no other single instructor whom I hear more positive reports about from students. He opens students’ eyes. He is beloved.

An Yountae:
Yountae is completing his first year as a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at LVC. He was hired after the department conducted a national search that attracted outstanding candidates from the leading graduate programs in the country. After completing his Bachelor of Arts at Presbyterian College in Seoul, Korea in 2003, he went on to San Francisco Theological Seminary, where he completed his M.Div. in 2008. From San Francisco, he went on to Drew University, where he studied under Professor Catherine Keller. He completed his Ph.D. studies with distinction this fall. His dissertation was entitled, “The Groundless Middle: Reconstructing the Self in the Colonial Abyss.” That work is now the basis of a book monograph entitled “The (De)Colonial Abyss: Negativity and the Cosmopolitical Future”, which is currently under review for publication with Fordham University Press. Professor An already has several articles and book chapters published, and has presented at national and international conferences. His national reputation is evidenced by his appointment to the Steering Committee of the Liberation Theologies Groups of the American Academy of Religion and as an Editorial Board Member of the journal Horizontes Decoloniales. And though he has only been here at LVC for a short time, he has enhanced our curriculum and enriched our students immensely. He is our resident expert in Diaspora Spirituality, Postcoloinal Theory and Decolonial Thought, and in Gender and Sexuality. We are pleased that he will be back with us next year as Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion.

Jarrod Goss
Jarrod began at LVC in 2012 as a Chemistry major. He is now a double major in English and Philosophy. This fall he was named an O’Donnell Scholar in English, which is a new prestigious scholarship presented by the English department. He was recently inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, which is the international English honor society. This fall he was one of only seventeen of the inaugural participants in the highly selective Student Summit on Inclusive Excellence at LVC. He has had several starring roles in Wig and Buckle, including the current production of “Tartuffe”, the earlier production in the spring of “All My Sons”, and a performance in the fall of the musical “Curtains.” Though he added his Philosophy major relatively late, he has thrived within the department, and is expected to conduct significant independent and original research next year in courses on Existentialism, the Undergraduate Research Symposium and the Senior Seminar.

Hunter Heath
Hunter is this year’s recipient of the Don Byrne Award for Undergraduate Research. Like Jarrod, he too is a double major in English and Philosophy. Like Jarrod, he too was a participant in the Student Summit on Inclusive Excellence. And like Jarrod, he too will have his plate full next year while being enrolled in both the Existentialism Seminar and the Undergraduate Research Symposium. But Hunter is no stranger to independent research. This semester, for instance, the college provided financial assistance for him to travel to two separate undergraduate research conferences, one at Pacific University in Portland, Oregon, and the other, the National Undergraduate Research Conference on Religion and Philosophy held at Westminster College in western PA. At both conferences he presented his ongoing research wherein he is exploring aesthetics through philosophy, art and literature. He obviously gets around a lot. And lest I forget, he also found time to study abroad in England during the fall semester of his sophomore year.

Kammi Trout
Kammi is a graduating senior with a major in English and a minor in Philosophy. She has taken advanced level courses in Envioronmental Ethics, Genocide, and the seminar in Women and Philosophy, where she wrote a paper on the notion of the body as the culprit of woman’s oppression. She has been named to the Dean’s List for the last two successive semesters. Her real passion is creative writing. She has been accepted into Chatham University’s MFA program and has a summer teaching internship with Write Local in Latrobe, PA. In conversations with her Communications advisor, I am told that her writing is very much invested in the life of the mind, and that she is able to create compelling, engaging characters with nuanced inner lives. And so, as our last inductee for the afternoon, it is inspiring to see how she, much like Jarrod and Hunter as well, has allowed her studies in philosophy to inform her primary work in English communications, and thus has become the very model of liberal learning we hope to promote here at Lebanon Valley College.

2015-04-23 15.11.51


Leah Schade: Eco-Theologian

In her ministry of environmental advocacy, Leah Schade has become a “fracktivist,” taking on the industry at such places as this drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Park in Lycoming Country, Pa.

In her ministry of environmental advocacy, Leah Schade has become a “fracktivist,” taking on the industry at such places as this drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Park in Lycoming Country, Pa.

For the past year, the Department of Religion and Philosophy at LVC has been privileged to have Dr. Leah Schade teaching for us.  She is a gifted and committed teacher, who is regularly teaching courses in Ethics.  Beginning next fall, she will offer a specialized course in “Religion, Ecology and Gender” that builds on her academic specialization in eco-theology and her ministry as an environmental activist.  The course probes the question about the different ways religion has provided us with both positive and negative models for conceptualizing embodiedness, sexuality, and relationality in terms of both human and biotic communities?  It will take an in-depth look at ecological theology and ecofeminism in the effort to understand the underlying causes of our current environmental crises.

The following is an excerpt from the April 2015 edition of The Lutheran magazine:  It provides an excellent profile of Schade and her work.


While growing up, Leah Schade experienced God’s presence in the forests of Pennsylvania as much as in church. But she couldn’t find a way to express her distress over environmental desecration until called to pastoral ministry.

“It was the arc of my theological awareness and sense of call to ministry that gave language to what I witnessed and the change I wanted to bring about,” she said.

Schade started an eco-ministry committee 10 years ago in her first congregation and more recently became an advocate and activist for environmental issues ranging from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to clean air standards. She was also part of a successful attempt to defeat a proposed tire incinerator in her community of Milton, Pa.

Besides serving as pastor of United in Christ Lutheran Church in West Milton, Pa., she teaches courses and workshops in preaching, ecology and ethics and is an adjunct instructor in religion and philosophy at Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pa.

In her ministry of environmental advocacy, Leah Schade has become a “fracktivist,” taking on the industry at such places as this drill rig in the Tiadaghton State Park in Lycoming Country, Pa.

In her upcoming book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press), her goal is to “show how preaching can help give new life to God’s earth, and that God’s earth can give new life to preaching.” One goal of the book is developing a Lutheran eco-feminist Christology for preaching.

Environmental activism outside of the congregation is important to Schade, such as her service on the Upper Susquehanna Synod’s task force examining justice issues around shale gas drilling. This bipartisan group is made up of pastors, theologians, teachers, lay leaders, scientists and individuals who either worked in the industry or were favorable toward it.

After more than two years, they were able to agree that exemptions from regulations enjoyed by the fracking industry were unjust.

“In 2014 our synod assembly voted to ask our legislators to close the so-called ‘Halliburton Loophole’ and put the industry under the same laws as everyone else,” Schade said. “Fracking threatens water, air, public health and contributes to climate change. It is the ‘perfect storm’ of environmental devastation. Faith is absolutely essential to this work because it can be very depressing facing the devastating realities of ecocide.”

Philosophy Professor named to Menus of Change University Research Collaborative

emailsignatureDr. Robert Valgenti, Associate Professor of Philosophy, has been invited to take part in the Menus of Change Research Collaborative (MCRC), a working group of scholars and food experts whose goal is to engage universities in the advancement of healthier, more sustainable life-long food choices among students.  The MCRC is an outgrowth of the Menus of Change ( initiative launched in 2012 by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr. Valgenti’s invitation to the Research Collaborative is recognition for the E.A.T. (Engage, Analyze, Transform) Research Group he founded in 2013.  This undergraduate research group has two goals: to improve the dining experience for students, and to dissolve the boundaries between the dining and academic spaces on campus.  Specifically, E.A.T. uses data-driven research to promote and assess the goals of ethical reasoning, intercultural competence, healthful living, and environmental sustainability. E.A.T. is comprised of a group of undergraduate student researchers, a faculty advisor, and the director of Metz Culinary Management.

The cooperation between EAT and Metz Culinary Management is in many ways the sort of academic/professional collaboration the MCRC wants to inspire and institute across the country and its college campuses.  In particular, the research project conducted by Ashley Smith ’15 (Experience More, Waste Less) was cited by the MCRC as an example of a successful sustainability initiative that transformed students’ eating behaviors and practices.

Does God Exist? A Conversational Debate

debate posterThe Department of Religion and Philosophy at Lebanon Valley College will host a conversational debate between Dr. Michael Kitchens, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Matthew Sayers, associate professor of religion, on Wednesday, Nov. 19, from 7-8:30 p.m., in Leedy Theater of the Mund College Center. The event is free and open to the public, and will also be streamed via a live webcast available at

In conjunction with the course REL 311: The God Debate, of which Kitchens and Sayers are co-instructors, the informal debate is intended to engage the perennial debate about the existence of God and touch upon the key themes that thinkers have considered in the ongoing effort to understand the big questions of life. Dr. Jeffrey Robbins, professor of religion and chair of the Department, will serve as the moderator.

Kitchens will be arguing from a Christian perspective that the Triune God of the Bible exists, and the only way one can accurately and cohesively make sense of reality is by taking into account God’s existence and God’s covenantal relationship with His creation.

Kitchens has been a member of the LVC faculty for seven years. He teaches introductory courses in psychology, introductory and advanced research courses, specialty-area courses in social psychology and the science of emotion, as well as specialty-courses in the general education program. Kitchens received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mobile, and earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi. His training is in experimental social psychology. His research interests are in processes of the self, emotion, and the application of psychology to faith.

Sayers will be arguing the atheist position. He will be arguing that the concept of God is inherently incoherent, religious expressions of the divine are internally contradictory, and that it is almost always unreasonable to believe in God.

Sayers has been a member of the LVC faculty for six years. He teaches courses on a wide variety of topics including courses on death, evil, God, race and religion, various religious traditions, religious studies methods, courses on scripture, and Sanskrit. Sayers received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and earned his master’s degree at Florida State University and his Ph.D. at The University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on the traditional of ancestral ritual in Hinduism.