Theta Alpha Kappa (TAK) honor society is a group which recognizes the academic achievements of students studying religion and theology. Originally established by Professor Albert Clark in 1976 at Manhattan College, it has currently grown to over 200 chapters nationally.
William Jewell College is home to the Alpha Eta Mu chapter of TAK. The members and faculty had a chance to attend the regional meeting for The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) over spring break. The meeting was held in St. Louis, Mo. March 13 and 14. Jeremiah Smith, senior history, religion and culture and Spanish major; Abby Bland, senior English and religion and culture major; Caroline Wells, senior religion and culture, nonprofit leadership, Spanish and ACT-In major; Rebekah Schaefer, senior religion and culture and international relations major; and Alex Dressman, senior religion and culture and psychology major each presented his or her research at the meeting. Joining them were Dr. Brendan Benz and Dr. Milton Horne, professors of religion.
“We each presented our senior capstone papers which we’ve been writing [and doing research for] since last fall,” said Wells.
Each of their papers was on a different topic, and while they were at the conference, they had to defend their research in front of a panel of judges. For some, this might be nerve wracking, but the TAK students felt well prepared.
“It wasn’t as scary for me, because my evidence is all material evidence that you can’t really refute,” said Smith.
Smith’s research is on the Philistines, and his paper discusses archaeological evidence that shows what time in history they may have immigrated and assimilated in the Palestine area.
Wells wrote her paper about a type of theology called liberation theology.
“It’s all about God having a preferential option for the poor and the oppressed in society… This is saying that there’s poverty because humans are sinful, and it’s our job as humans – or in this sense, as Christians – to help eradicate that poverty,” said Wells.
Bland presented on another very different topic. She chose to look into the role of church in the nonprofit sector.
“I wanted to look into the cultural reasons and ramifications for why [churches] would [choose to be nonprofit]”, said Bland.
Dressman’s research covered a variety of topics, from the Book of Amos to Deuteronomy’s fourth and fifth commandments, the centrality of participation and memory and Israelite social order.
The SBL meeting allowed these students to learn about the research of other academics from the region and learn how to present a paper in front of others. It also provided networking opportunities that they may be able to use in the future.
“Going to [the conference], I learned what it looked like and felt like to effectively and concisely present the main points of extensive biblical research within a time constraint confidently,” said Dressman.
While at the conference, Dr. Horne was re-elected for another three year term as regional coordinator, and Dr. Benz was elected as treasurer of the annual meeting. Dr. Benz also held two presentations of his own.
Dr. Benz’s research focused on the phenomenon that millennials have had a drastic decrease in being able to empathize and take perspective due to their increased use of screens, such as phones, computers and iPads.
“That is the foundation for the idea of moving more toward reducing the amount of note taking, or use of computers in class, and transitioning to taking notes by hand… And something I’ve been working on the past couples years is drawing paradigms for what we’re discussing on the blackboard,” said Benz.
It is Dr. Benz’s belief that using pictorial representations of what is being discussed in class will lead to better comprehension and a deeper understanding of the material being learned.
This meeting proved to be a great opportunity for each of the students and the faculty members.
“I mostly enjoy bringing scholars together for enriching conversation. Those of us at this college who participate in such meetings on a regular basis appreciate those who expend the energy to make them happen,” said Horne.
In his next term as regional coordinator, Dr. Horne expects to see the SBL doing much of the same that it’s already doing. They are planning on expanding the opportunities for students to participate in the activities and on making the meeting more cost efficient.
Most of all, the members of TAK have found that the religion department as a whole has been what’s truly led them to their success.
“I’m really thankful for the religion department in general and the ways that they’ve shaped my education, and going forward, that will probably have the most impact on my future,” said Bland.
A previous version of this article was published incorrectly quoting Caroline Wells. It has since been changed to reflect the correct quote.