Wheaton junior wins scholarship for graduate study in religious ethics
Seth Robinson studies the world's religions and imagines how the moral ideals of these traditions could inform contemporary society without excluding people.
A major in religion, Robinson hopes to pursue a career as a college or university professor and an active scholar, promoting respectful, civil and collaborative dialogue among people practicing diverse religions.
The Wheaton junior has received a significant boost toward realizing his goals by winning a Beinecke Scholarship. He is one of 20 undergraduates nationwide to receive the $34,000 award for graduate studies.
A program of the Sperry Fund, the Beinecke Scholarship supports highly motivated students in pursuing graduate study in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Since 1975 the program has selected more than 450 college juniors from more than 100 different undergraduate institutions for support during graduate study at any accredited university.
"'I'm honored to have received the scholarship and will do my best to be a credit to its originating principles and to the many remarkable people who’ve prepared me along the way and inspired my sense of calling to the work I hope to do someday," said Robinson, who expressed appreciation the freedom of choice that he will have in selecting a graduate program.
The Leicester, Mass., native plans to pursue a Ph.D. in religion with a specialization in religious ethics, a relatively new field that studies the moral teachings and practices of the world's religious traditions from critical, comparative, and constructive approaches.
Robinson traces his interest in bridging differences among religious traditions to his own disillusionment with his childhood church's decision to remove a minister because she was a lesbian and to bar people identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual from membership in the church. "It didn’t matter that my sexuality hadn’t been impugned: I was somehow ‘less than’ for my LGBT brothers and sisters being demeaned and excluded," he wrote in his application for the scholarship. "I testified before a gathering of clergy and bishops, but my protest fell on deaf ears. I left the church, deeply shaken."
The experience inspired his decision to study religion at Wheaton. Now, his long-term goal centers on becoming "a scholar–activist whose teaching and advocacy bridge the ivory tower and the public square with interreligious dialogue on contemporary moral and political issues."
“This kind of dialogue isn’t important just for the sake of cultural appreciation,” he says. “Understanding the other on his or her terms—acknowledging our deepest differences as well as our commonality—is indispensible to greater peace among religious groups, itself a crucial and often overlooked precondition for effectively addressing issues like socioeconomic injustice and environmental ruin on a global scale.”
As an undergraduate, he has shown an aptitude for life in academia. Robinson presented a paper at the 4th North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy at Westminster College in March, and his contribution was selected as the best work at the conference. He is slated to present a second paper at the New England Undergraduate Sociology Research Conference at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., at the end of April.
Robinson plans to further his interests this summer by working in Malaysia with the Muslim intellectual Chandra Muzaffar, founder of International Movement for a Just World (JUST). The international NGO seeks to mitigate intercultural conflict by facilitating dialogue among combative religious groups. That experience will provide the foundation for his intended senior honors thesis.
On campus, Robinson has been an active member of the student-run Interfaith Alliance, which seeks to promote an understanding of and appreciation for all religious, faith and spiritual groups. He currently serves as the group's co-director. Robinson also has participated in a variety of community service activities. Most recently, he founded the Worker-Student Solidarity Coalition, a fledgling student group interested in international sweatshop advocacy and committed to building relationships between students and campus workers.