Howard EbertAssociate Professor of Religious Studies
Director of Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
Director of Master of Theological Studies
B.A., St. Norbert College
M.A., St. John University
Ph.D., Marquette University
Programs: Religious Studies, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Master of Theological Studies
It was my first class as a student at St. Norbert and there we were, right out of the gate, identifying some key human questions ¬– and one of them was “Is there a God?” I was shocked. Coming from seminary to a Catholic college, I think I had assumed we would be taught what the Magisterium said, and that it would be that to which we would be held accountable.
But this was Intro to Philosophy, taught by Bob Vanden Burgt (Philosophy, Emeritus), where we talked about Plato but also about Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. It was a genuine, free discussion and there was no heavy-handedness about it. As a student in the 1970s, I learned here that the classroom was a special haven. As I got to learn about academic freedom, I came to understand that this college, and other colleges, are special places where we have an unusual opportunity to talk freely together; where we can let our imaginations run; where we have the privilege of thinking out loud and testing out ideas. I felt almost like an eagle, soaring. It made me want to listen more, to try and understand.
I remember being surprised and impressed by how non-judgmental professors were in their presentations of perspectives that were often not considered “orthodox.” They wanted us to understand diverse views and appreciate both the strengths and limitations of them. They encouraged understanding before criticizing or dismissing ideas that were different. It was essentially an experience of Norbertine hospitality: not only of the classroom through the professors’ friendliness and concern – and many of them were, in fact, Norbertine priests – but of seeing how diverse perspectives and views were welcomed, presented and discussed.
In the Classroom
As a scholar, I have had the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the academic context of my own student experience and, as a teacher, to this day, I continue to live in that tradition. I try to avoid caricature of positions and strive to have students understand the nuances of diverse perspectives. In my discipline of religious studies, that means welcome discussion of, for instance, fundamentalism, evangelicalism, main-line religious perspectives or atheism.
As for my own faith, I think that, at one time, I found God more in the answers. Now, I find God in the questions – in the probing and the challenging. Our best moments of asking the toughest questions are buoyed up by the spirit of God. I’ve really become aware of the mystery of a living God who surprises us – sometimes uncomfortably.
RELS 114 Introduction to Theology
RELS 245 Contemporary Catholicism
RELS 268 Sexuality, Intimacy and God
RELS 316 Who Is Jesus?
RELS 325 Providence, Suffering and Freedom
RELS 350 Christianity and Cultural Diversity
RELS 460 Advanced Seminar
GS 413 Toward a Global Society: Buddhist and Christian Paradigms
HONR 114 Intro to Honors
THEO 501 Systematic Theology
THEO 505 Christology
THEO 510 Integrative Colloquium
LIST 501 Introduction to Liberal Studies
LIST 588 Capstone