The time has come for me to end my twenty-four year career at UCM. Studying religions and understanding the beliefs of others is a strategy to bring peace to the world. For me, it is one of the most important disciplines on earth.
Over the years, many people have asked me, “How did you manage to stay so long, ALONE?” The answer is complicated and yet very simple.
Every year at UCM has been filled with tremendous challenges. From my very first day on campus there was opposition to teaching Religious Studies. It would be impossible in this short piece to detail the assaults that came my way. There was verbal abuse, hate letters, hate email, jealousy, threats, lost reports, sarcastic cartoons and notes placed under my door, political maneuvering, xenophobia, “my religion is the only valid religion attitudes,” technological incompetence, stealing of our posters, and so much more. The student who emailed calling me a “mother-f*****” last year hits the top of the list.
Yet, there has been a solid wave of dedicated and interested students who appreciate what we do and have enrolled in our courses semester after semester. Thank you. Each year we have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars above cost but that money did not come back to Religious Studies. It was used to support others. We remained a one-full-time person for twenty-four years. Religious Studies has also been supported by many, many individuals on campus. I could never name all of the wonderful people who have helped me with their donated hours, creativity, and advice. Thank you so much for your good will and good works.
That support allowed me to create eighteen courses in our on-line minor and individualized major. I have also taught overloads in “Greek,” “Alaska. History and Myth,” and most recently, “Elvis. Memphis Messiah.” Students studied with me as we toured China, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and Alaska. We invited about one hundred people to campus to discuss religions. Many of them I paid out of my own bank account. I conceived of the online minor and recruited four Ph.D. specialists and two others, to teach in their fields. And while devoting most of my time to developing Religious Studies I also wrote at least a dozen books, scores of articles, developed at least two collections of works, and served as President of a regional academic society and Chair of a National section of the American Academy of Religion. I even toured as Kathryn Kuhlman for a year with the Missouri Humanities Council.
How could I do all of the above in the midst of a consistent environment of hostility? The answer to this question is the real reason that I am writing this piece. Instead of caving into abuse, I stood up to it. I argued for Religious Studies to everyone who placed a roadblock in my way. The Buddha would suggest to me that I was wrong. I should just sit still, do nothing, and allow the abuse to pass through me. I did not follow the Buddha’s advice. I felt the abuse and took that tremendous negative energy and aimed it toward something positive and uplifting. I always tried to transform the abuse into a healthy reaction. I let nothing stop me or permanently bring down my spirits.
Everyone can practice this method of re-directing abuse. You don’t have to create curricula or write books. During my first few years at UCM, I came home every night and painted, hammered, and restored an older home. Take that negative energy and use it for your benefit or the benefit of others. Don’t let it weigh you down so that you capture that negative energy and harm yourself.
Phyllis Trible wrote “The Opportunity of Loneliness” long ago when females were just beginning to become ordained. She quotes Jeremiah 15:17, “I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because thy hand was upon me.” These twenty-four years have been my opportunity of loneliness and now I am leaving that loneliness to embrace a new life, a new world.
Many thanks, again, to all of you who made my life rich and varied. It was a fitting way to end my career last Friday when we listened to Matt Lewis sing a tribute to Elvis. In spite of his greatness Elvis would tell you that he was probably the loneliest person on the planet.
Marla J. Selvidge
Founder, Professor, and Director of
The Center for Religious Studies