St. Olaf is grounded in its Lutheran tradition, but you’ll find students and faculty from all of the world’s great religions, as well as people who may not claim any faith tradition. About a third of our students identify themselves as Lutheran. We all share a commitment to respect others’ beliefs, and a willingness to explore the role religion and faith play in all cultures. Those conversations take many forms and lead in many directions in and out of the classroom. They set St. Olaf apart from most of the other excellent colleges in America today.
The flags in Boe Memorial Chapel represent the home countries of our international students and U.S. citizens who grew up abroad. That’s 86 countries this year. Those flags represent a community that respects and celebrates the experiences and beliefs of all its members. An important element of our Lutheran tradition is an emphasis on helping students find their vocation. A “vocation” in the Lutheran sense is not simply about a job, but a deeper sense of calling to your life’s work. From academic courses that explore theology and ethics, to career exploration through the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, we’ll help you discover your purpose and shape your education around it.
Religion as a source of intellectual growth
Martine Appel – Leader of the Jewish Student Organization and the Interfaith Coalition
Martine Appel surprised her friends and family by choosing St. Olaf. “Growing up Jewish in Princeton, there’s a certain amount of cultural pressure to go to a school with a strong Jewish identity, like Brandeis, or to at least stay in the East. There’s also an ‘Ivy or die’ mentality, as if that was the only measure of success.” Her college criteria included easy access to a city, a small campus community, approachable professors, and strong social sciences. St. Olaf checked all of the boxes.
Community is important to Martine. As a first-year student in the Great Conversation, she found both intellectual challenges and a strong cohort of friends. “This is a thoroughly collaborative place,” she observes. “The campus culture is very affirming.”
As a leader in both the Jewish Student Organization and the Interfaith Coalition — a group that includes a diverse range of students from the world’s major religions — Martine has taken ownership of her religious identity. “Religion here is as much a source of deep intellectual growth as it is a particular set of beliefs,” she says. “Sometimes I get a little frustrated when people don’t know very much about my faith or when little attention is paid to Jewish holidays and observances, but that’s balanced by being part of the Interfaith Coalition, where everyone shares the conviction that all religions are worth taking seriously.”
“People here usually don’t get my Yiddish jokes,” she says with a laugh, “but the bigger difference is living with Midwesterners. Sometimes that cultural divide is wider than religion.”