St. Olaf students create podcast about religion, social justice
There is good news for Oles in search of a new podcast for their feed. Four St. Olaf College students have spent Interim creating Amplifying Justice — a creative new podcast program through The Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice at Vanderbilt University Divinity School.
Under the direction of Ole alumnus and postdoctoral fellow Aaron Stauffer ’10, the students have lent their experiences, passions, and research to difficult questions.
“What I love about the podcast is that the students work hard to translate abstract concepts to their lived reality at St. Olaf,” says Stauffer. “In this way, the podcast is a laboratory for the students to teach and learn from each other.”
Neither wasting time nor mincing words, the first episode Amplifying Justice Episode 001: Welcome to Amplifying Justice! delves into the role of Christians within global systems. The students share their own perceptions of faith and its interactions with capitalism, ecology, and racial justice in a wide-ranging conversation.
When religious communities use guiding principles of love, solidarity, and justice to bring about change in the present, we can see the power of faith in action.Anna Barnard ’21
“Conversations about the role that faith communities can play in advocating for workers is so important in order to get more communities involved and to transform how religion operates in our world,” says English and religion major Anna Barnard ’21. “When religious communities use guiding principles of love, solidarity, and justice to bring about change in the present, we can see the power of faith in action.”
The series will be five parts, including an introduction and one episode led by each student. Amplifying Justice Episode 002: Worker Cooperatives examines worker cooperatives as a potential solution to unfair labor practices. Through research and conversation, this episode points out the power of solidarity for creating equity between the vast majority of American workers who do not reap significant benefits of company earnings and the billionaires that do.
English and political science major Dalton Rains ’22 says labor practices often create market deficiencies. He hopes that “by talking about these issues of economic injustice, we are better able to advocate for the needs of people who are hurt by these efficiencies.”
Amplifying Justice Episode 003: Lutheranism at St. Olaf College with Deanna Thompson and Aaron Stauffer includes an interview with Deanna Thompson — an author, theologian, and the Director of St. Olaf’s Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community. The broader trend of these conversations is how important it is to keep talking about oftentimes difficult topics like religion and social justice.
“Conversations about religion and justice — especially economic justice — are particularly important because both topics are sort of ‘black sheep’ topics in American discourse,” says economics major Zofie Basta ’21. “Talking about the 20th century history between religion and justice is particularly impactful as well, because it reminds us that work-life and faith-life were not always so separate.”
These sorts of conversations are in keeping with the Wendland-Cook Program’s mission of “examining economic and ecological justice through the lens of theological and religious reflection.” The students also made use of the resources and connections offered to students through the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career. In this case, students were able to distill their own experiences in a meaningful format, drawing on a connection with a St. Olaf alumnus to choose a unique vocational experience in addition to their interim coursework.
Amplifying Justice takes a long, hard look at the difficult relationship between faith, culture, capitalism, and the environment.
Amplifying Justice takes a long, hard look at the difficult relationship between faith, culture, capitalism, and the environment. Leah Ramsey ’21 brings her race and ethnic studies, religion, and English majors to bear, detailing the broader impact of this interaction. She says, “Conversations that focus on the intersections of religion and justice are key to supporting and continuing social justice movements. Whether we acknowledge the role of religion in our personal and spiritual lives or not, we cannot deny that religion — particularly Christianity here in the United States — has a major impact on our social structures, our values, and the way we understand our history as a nation.”
Perhaps these values are best summed up in the vocation of Stauffer, who has organized and overseen this program as part of his work at Vanderbilt. Stauffer’s own path has been focused by a broad understanding of religion. His Master of Divinity and subsequent Ph.D. have been focused on a mission of “building relationships of love and liberation” as a way to increase justice and equity everywhere, informed by the Christian faith.
Looking back on his own time on the Hill, he credits St. Olaf with teaching him to engage with any conversation partner. That’s why when he had the opportunity to recruit students for this project, he knew he could count on St. Olaf students to approach these discussions creatively and thoughtfully.
“The complex work of building solidarity requires emotional intelligence and the ability to relate to people who are different from you with curiosity and humility,” Stauffer says. “These Ole students bring that to the table. They are curious, bright, and creative team members.”
In all, this podcast is a tremendous example and application of each part of St. Olaf’s mission statement. These students “excel in the liberal arts” by questioning the intersectionality of social issues and offering approaches to reform unfair systems while “examining faith and values” as they have been applied to oppression and liberation, both inside and outside the Church. They likewise explore their own “meaningful vocation” by designing and discussing their own approach to promoting an “inclusive, globally engaged community” through their commentary, drawing on their own relationships with Lutheranism and broader themes of Christianity, as well as the greater Judeo-Christan culture.
For these students, this pairing of justice and religion is a perfect fit. “Working for deeper economic, political, racial, and gender justice is basic to what it means to me to be a Christian,” Stauffer says. “It means joining a certain line of organizers, activists, and liberationists working for greater justice in this world, empowered by their faith that Jesus did the same in his own time and continues to call us to do so today.”