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Common Day of Learning Bridges Faith and Reason

by Michelle Bonja '12

The 20th annual Common Day of Learning, themed “Let Us Reason Together,” inspired reflection on the importance of human reasoning alongside spirituality.

On Wednesday, March 7, classes were suspended to allow students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to choose from more than 75 panel sessions, poster presentations, and round-table discussions being given throughout the day of multidisciplinary learning. Though the sessions were widely varied, presenters from virtually every department on campus focused on the common discussion point of “reasoning together,” a concept drawn from Isaiah 1:18.

“God imbues us with the ability to reason; therefore, I think it delights Him when we use reason to relate to Him and with each other. In fact, our spiritual connection to the Lord is facilitated through our reasoning ability,” said Jennifer E. Walsh, Ph.D., faculty director for Common Day of Learning.

Timothy Dalrymple, M.Div., Ph.D., delivered the keynote chapel address, which focused on Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard’s theology of suffering and the implications for contemporary Christ-followers.

A former world-class gymnast whose career was ended following an accident that left him with a broken neck, Dalrymple’s own story of suffering served as the backdrop to his presentation on the meaning of human affliction amid the context of divine love.

“Suffering is not a popular topic,” said Walsh, “yet he discussed it from a personal perspective that made it accessible to faculty and students alike. Sometimes the greatest intellectual growth occurs when we wrestle with unpleasant ideas or painful experiences.”

Dalrymple also spoke about the anguishing experience of nearly losing his young daughter. Despite these hardships, Dalrymple addressed the purpose of suffering as it shapes the human spirit by drawing individuals closer to God.

“Suffering has to tear down what is sinful before it can build up what is good,” said Dalrymple, a Princeton and Harvard graduate who now serves as director of content for the multifaith website Patheos.com.

Marielle Kipps, a senior English literature major, said Dalrymple’s address was “the best chapel—perhaps the best and most convicting lecture—I have ever heard over my four years here at APU.”

Before and after the keynote chapel address, attendees chose from an array of scholarly seminars that featured individual and group discussion and poster sessions.

One of the morning sessions, “The Unreasonable Characterization of Women in Media: Does it Matter?”, addressed gender stereotypes and the negative influence of media on body image, particularly among young women and girls.

Led by Monica Ganas, Ph.D., co-chair of the Department of Theater, Film, and Television; Elaine Walton, Psy.D., psychologist in the University Counseling Center, and graduate students Katherine Peters and Brittany Van Eck, the panel incorporated clips from the documentary Miss Representation and examined the subconscious impact of media exposure before a packed house in Room 116 of the Duke Academic Complex.

An afternoon session by Associate Professor Thomas Allbaugh, Ph.D., and senior English major Taryn Spink explored the process of writing a memoir. During “Fact, Fiction, and Telling the Truth: How to Write a Memoir,” attendees were given a glimpse of several major works of nonfiction before putting their own pen to paper for some free-writing time.

Allbaugh said the process of compiling a memoir has spiritual value as the writer reasons through life and strikes a balance between perceived memories, corresponding emotions, and verifiable facts. “It really all started with Augustine’s Confessions years ago,” he said, referring to the work by the 4th-century philosopher in which he shared his adolescent sins, his plea to God, and his account of spiritual conversion.

Since 1993, Azusa Pacific University has hosted the annual Common Day of Learning, a campus-wide event dedicated to the advancement of scholarship and the celebration of academic discovery.

“I thought the day went beautifully,” said Walsh. “There was great excitement on the morning of the event that was sustained throughout the day, and presenters and audience members alike seemed to find the ongoing dialogue inspirational and edifying.”

“God imbues us with the ability to reason; therefore, I think it delights Him when we use reason to relate to Him and with each other. In fact, our spiritual connection to the Lord is facilitated through our reasoning ability.” — Jennifer E. Walsh, Ph.D., faculty director for Common Day of Learning