Meeting Religous Studies Major Tim Gress

by JACK MELANSONSenior Writer

The Religion Department at Manhattan College is chaired by David Shefferman, Ph.D., while Robert Geraci, Ph.D remains on sabbatical for a final semester.

The program continues to be a journey through the liberal arts that encompasses much more than just the Catholic tradition, despite the College’s Lasallian heritage.

Currently housing four students who have taken religious studies as a major, the department also teaches each student at MC at least three courses before earning a diploma.

One of the four majors is senior Tim Gress. 

Religion may not have been Gress’ first choice, but one major just wasn’t enough for the young scholar.

“Studying religion was not something that I had intended on doing before I came to Manhattan College,” said Gress. “I was already studying philosophy before I decided to add religious studies as my second major.”

This was seemingly a perfect fit as the program promises to combine philosophy, literature, history, sociology and fine arts, according to Manhattan College’s official website.

It was a seminar course that kick-started the additional major for Gress.

“A seminar course on the Bible in American Culture with Dr. Claudia Setzer [stands out] in particular,” he said. “This class made me realize the vast and ever changing role that religion and the Bible plays in everyday American life, whether or not we realize it.”

Once this foundation was built, Gress found a unique niche to erect his interests.

“I was interested in the intersection of philosophy in late-antiquity and how those philosophical teachings were interpreted and received by the early Church Fathers,” Gress said.

Gress is now working alongside Tom Ferguson, Ph.D, of the Religious Studies Department to button-up his honors thesis.

“My focus in the major is how Greek and Roman ethical and moral teachings influenced the doctrines and belief systems of the early Church Fathers. At the moment, I am completing my honors thesis on St. Augustine’s use of attitude toward the Stoic teachings of Cicero and Seneca in his work City of God.”

In larger context, studying religion has been eye-opening for Gress.

“[The major] has made me aware of the variety of religious expression that takes place both in the United States and around the world,” he said. “I believe that having students in the major take a global non-Western course was especially helpful in experiencing religious cultures that I otherwise would not have been exposed to.”

According to Gress, MC’s Lasallian identity aids this very idea.

“As a Lasallian Catholic institution with the goal of providing an inclusive community, I feel as though the Religious Studies Department is committed to teaching about the full range of religious denominations and experiences,” said Gress. “Both in the United States and abroad.”   

  After graduation, it’s more school for Gress.

“I plan to continue my graduate studies in the field of English literature. However, being a Religious Studies major has helped me to develop into a well-rounded student of the Liberal Arts,” he said. “Literature is full of religious references and allusions – both obvious and not – and being a Religious Studies major has allowed me to make more sense of these important connections.”

With that said, religion is more than just a major.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that religion has always been an influential part of my life. I grew up Roman Catholic and, after not going for a long time, now attend mass every Sunday,” he said. “You could say that I am more of a ‘pray to God, but keep rowing toward the shore’ kind of guy.”

Gress admires some specific symbols within his individual religion, too.

“Being a Catholic, the crucifix has always been been an important symbol to me because it represents, among many others, the beliefs of an entire faith,” said Gress. “I have always been drawn to the religious symbols and motifs contained in stained glass windows because of the power that they convey through such an interesting medium.”

Gress’ hobbies still revolve around expanding knowledge.

“I’ve been using my free time to study how early twentieth-century book collectors have influenced how literature is studied in academia, specifically the treatment and reception of the English and American novel.”