Diving Into Spirituality: Michele Saracino Studies The Link Between Water and Religion

By RikkiLynn Shields, Editor

53640Michele Saracino, professor and chair of the religious studies department was inspired by her minor knee surgery to conduct a study on the connection between swimming and spirituality. Saracino’s research will be published this summer. Along with that, this fall she is also teaching a religious studies majors seminar on “Water and Spirituality.”

The Quadrangle: Where are you from and where did you go to school?

Michele Saracino: I was born and raised on Long Island. After attending 12 years of public school, I did my undergraduate work at Duke University in English, and earned a Master of Religion from Yale Divinity School, and my doctorate in religious studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

TQ: What made you decide to study religion?

MS: I took a class in religious studies my senior year in college and was fascinated by the diversity of perspectives in the field and the many critical approaches to religion, culture, and gender. Professors at Duke encouraged me to apply to graduate school in religious studies. I did and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

TQ: What inspired you to conduct your research on swimming and spirituality?

MS: I began swimming regularly at my local health club several years ago after undergoing minor knee surgery. I was striving to change up my fitness routine and reinvent myself so to speak. The first few times in the lap pool were strange and awkward. I had entered a new community with rules about swim caps, swim times, and lane etiquette. Now, each time I plunge into the water, thankfully, all those distractions fade away. Something spiritual happens. It is not always pleasurable. In fact, most of the time it is unsettling, and that is the frame used in my research for approaching relationships with God and others. These relationships are unsettling because we dwell with others in the middle of things. Like entering a party that is already underway, in which guests already are mingling, the wine is running out, and the inside jokes are established, we are thrust into relationships. We need a strategy to deal with the fluidity and unpredictability of them. The practice of swimming can offer such strategies.

TQ: Can you explain what exactly it was you studied?

MS: I studied by reading a ton on swimming, both in terms of technique and in terms of philosophy. I spoke with friends at health club about what happens to our body with each stroke. And, I paid attention to how it feels to be in the water—submerged in something radically other that can neither be controlled nor avoided. The water summons us to attention and engagement. Weaving these intellectual threads allowed me to develop an essay which will be published this summer, entitled “Into the Blue: Swimming as a Metaphor of Revelation.”

In some ways, even more exciting, my research has overflowed into my teaching. This fall I am teaching the Religious Studies Majors Seminar on Water and Spirituality. I am hoping the students find the topic as exciting as I do!

TQ: How has studying religion shaped you as a person?

MS: Studying religion has allowed me to connect with others, meaning students and colleagues, in deep and challenging ways. Everyone goes through life with burdens. We are all broken in some way or another. Religious studies has given me the grammar and vocabulary to communicate the reality of that brokenness, the pervasiveness of it, and together with my students, we are encouraged to find ways to overcome that brokenness and forge life-giving relationships.

As my colleagues and I say, religion matters. All one has to do is pop on any newsfeed to see that reality. Studying religion from an academic perspective with students, asking the big questions, getting to teach that religion matters has been a tremendous gift for me for almost 14 years now here at MC, for which I am beyond grateful.