Gerjan Altenburg talks about third year

A day in the life

Gerjan Altenburg talks about third year

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I’m very sure it’s what I want to do—I see value in it and I know this degree isn’t going to bring me to a job or place that feels tedious.

An eye-opening experience

Now going into the final year of a combined honours degree in Classics and Religious Studies, Gerjan Altenburg didn’t plan on taking Religious Studies when he started at Dal. “It just pulled me in,” he shrugs, smiling. “In first year, I had a free elective, and a friend recommended I take the Intro to Eastern Religions class.”

Gerjan, originally from Stewiake, Nova Scotia (NS), has always found religions fascinating. “Once I got into the Eastern ones, that fascination was magnified,” he explains. “Especially the different ways Eastern religions have of viewing the world and the self. It was the first time I studied Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism in-depth,” he adds. “They just piqued an interest that never went away.”

In fact, that interest has only become more intense. “I’d love to do field work in India in grad school!” Gerjan says. And though he’s not sure where he’ll end up doing his master’s in Religious Studies, he does know what topic he’d like to explore: “The concept of renunciation in Hinduism—why people choose to leave the world completely, through looking at the tantric traditions around Shiva in Southern India.”

But he admits that an ascetic, cloistered lifestyle isn’t for him: “The lack of productivity would drive me crazy!” he laughs. “I like to keep busy.”

About the whole experience of doing a degree in Religious Studies, Gerjan says, “It’s eye-opening for sure, learning a new way of thinking about things outside your own experience. But we’re not passing judgment or involving our own personal beliefs when learning about those of others.”

This works on a social level, too. “It’s so much easier to make friends with people from other religious groups now— I find they’re more open if you show interest in their traditions. It’s an important skill to have in Canada, as it becomes more and more multicultural.”

And despite his “obsessive” interest in Hinduism, Gerjan was also impressed with a third-year course called Christianity in the Lands of Islam. “When I looked back on how much I’d learned, I thought, ‘Wow, I’m really glad I took this.’ It was another good eye-opening experience.”

You might even say that majoring in Religious Studies has opened Gerjan’s third eye—in Hinduism and Buddhism, a third eye in the middle of the forehead, is a symbol of enlightenment. In the very least, he's started down the path toward knowledge and wisdom.