Alexander Treiger, assistant professor

A day in the life

Alexander Treiger, assistant professor

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A background in Religious Studies is crucial to a wide range of careers. It gives access to ideas and practices that enrich our understanding of society, politics, history, and human life.

Engaging with meaningful questions

“Religious Studies is a fascinating subject—we’re dealing with the most meaningful questions there are,” says Alexander Treiger. “For centuries, religious thinkers, philosophers, poets, and ordinary human beings have been engaged with these questions, and they still are—those questions aren’t likely to go away.”

Even if those questions seem to go away, they always return. In the late 1980s, as a teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia (then Leningrad, USSR), Dr. Treiger discovered a new journal called Science and Religion. It published translations of the Qur’an, apocryphal gospels, Jewish legends, and Zen koans. His interest was sparked.

“During Perestroika years, people suddenly started talking about religion,” he says. “Before, unless you had a critical or even bashing point of view, it couldn’t be discussed.”

As an assistant professor in the Religious Studies program since 2008, Dr. Treiger teaches the Introduction to Western Religions course, among several others that deal with Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

“Teaching Religious Studies has its challenges,” he admits. “This has to do with the controversial nature of some issues—for example, discussing the religious significance of Jerusalem can potentially be a volatile subject.”

How does Dr. Treiger deal with such controversy? “Be as objective as possible, and don’t seem to favour one particular religious standpoint. As long as you come across as objective, people are less likely to pick a fight,” he smiles.

Dr. Treiger says he loves teaching the intro course. It isn’t just the subject matter—his own research deals with Islam and Middle Eastern Christianity—but watching how students respond. “Many students come with no prior knowledge, but as the semester progresses, you see them develop an understanding of rather complex issues.”

Has he ever worried about how useful his discipline is? “Not really,” he says with a smile, adding that students do often ask him about career opportunities. “A background in Religious Studies is an enormous asset in a wide range of disciplines, from psychology to journalism. Anyone who works with people or has anything to do with politics or human societies will find that religion plays a big role.”

According to Dr. Treiger, the relevance is even wider: “It’s meaningful to engage with those big questions no matter what you do in life. The quest for meaning is part of what makes us human. It can only be enriched by probing into the treasures of humanity’s religious heritage.”