“I think…it’s an obligation and a form of worship to steward the gifts God has given us,” stated Kelsey Sivertson (’24) when asked about how faith relates to her academic pursuits. This was a relevant question, as it sums up the basic mission of The Bell Tower, Hope College’s student journal focused on the “intersection between faith and academia,” according to their website. Sivertson was one of three student contributors to The Bell Tower who spoke at the “Faith Informing the Mind” panel discussion on Jan. 22. Aidan Charron (’24), the editor-in-chief of The Bell Tower, served as the moderator for this event–the first of its kind for the student journal founded in 2021.
The panel showcased the pertinence of Christian thought in all areas of academia. The student panelists represented a diverse array of fields such as philosophy and politics, psychology and the arts, and they shared insights informed by their own learning experiences. With questions on how to define the purpose of the state, how mental struggles can impact spirituality and how art can serve as a form of prayer, their discussion was relevant to the current cultural and political moment.
“Faith basically undergirds everything I try to do in academics,” stated Benjamin Vogal (’25), a student studying political science and philosophy. He authored a piece in the upcoming edition of The Bell Tower that explores Aristotle’s ideas about the purpose of the state and how a “Christo-centric” perspective fits into this picture. Vogal pointed out that political science is “ultimately a study of how human society should operate.” He went on to say that because political science raises fundamental questions about who we are and what we are made for, “…the beginning and end of politics has to do with God.”
Throughout the panel, Vogal emphasized the importance of engaging with others in a communal pursuit of the truth–both in academics and in broader society. When asked how a Christian can engage with various claims of truth, he highlighted the importance of small communities and the power of witness and testimony. “Don’t prioritize political factions or ideologies over treating people justly,” said Vogal. Instead, he said that the goal is to “create communities that elevate the human person.”
Erin Moran’s (’24) work shares this goal of helping others and elevating the human person, but through a different route. A senior majoring in psychology with a minor in French, Moran has studied religious scrupulosity, a subset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Her research specifically examines how religious scrupulosity differs across cultures, using both quantitative and qualitative measures. Although research and numbers can “be super impersonal,” Moran shared that she realizes that the cultivation of research has the potential to help someone and that “God’s timing is not our own.”
During the discussion, Moran also commented on the relationship between spirituality and psychology, which is often overlooked. “Mental disorders can have an impact on the spiritual dimension of a person,” said Moran. “Prayer can be twisted by a mental disorder.” Through both the research she did this summer and the devotional she wrote for women struggling with OCD, Moran is confronting this problem and helping those who are suffering.
“I think that sometimes academia urges you to choose between being an intellectual and being a person of faith. And I don’t think you have to. In fact, I think they inform each other,” said Sivertson, who wrote a poem titled “Bone Collector” for the upcoming edition of The Bell Tower. For this piece, Sivertson was inspired by Gjertrud Schnackenberg, a current poet who integrates questions and thoughts on faith into her poetry.
During the panel, Sivertson also mentioned the responsibility of seeing how God can work through others’ art even when the artist does not realize it. She views writing and creating as a way to participate in God’s creation and reflect God to others. It is also a way to contribute “to the continuum of human dialogue.” The Bell Tower itself exemplifies this idea by providing a platform for students to publish thoughts on the intersections between Christian thought and academics.
Sivertson is an enthusiastic advocate for the Bell Tower’s mission and urges everyone to read it, if only for the “pleasure of seeing how Hope is cultivating amazingly bright individuals.” She went on to say, “…Ben and Erin, who, when they were talking about their scholarly research, I was thinking, ‘I cannot wait to read this.’”
“You should cultivate your mind, and you should cultivate your faith, and you should explore that intersection. I don’t think we should segment ourselves,” stated Sivertson. “Are you using the mind that God gave you, are you using intellect, are you using wisdom to connect the dots, are you using the beautiful things that academia gives you and are you combining it with an underpinning of faith to see things in a new way?…The Bell Tower argues that you do not need to choose between a life of the mind and a life of Christ. You can–and should–walk in both, because they both can inform the other.”
The edition of The Bell Tower that contains these students’ works and others will be released later this spring.