Walter Kaelber, professor of religious studies, was named this fall to the new Robinson Family Chair of Comparative Religion.
This named chair — the first in the humanities at Wagner — is a gift of Dr. Maureen L. Robinson ’67 H’03, a longtime supporter and trustee. The chair is supported by an endowment, which will allow the College to fund it in perpetuity.
A Wagner English major, Robinson spent her career teaching English at Curtis High School in Staten Island.
“A great and dedicated faculty is the very heart of important educational institutions,” she says. “When I look back at my undergraduate years, it was my professors who pushed me to keep reading and analyzing the world around me.”
For the past dozen years, Robinson has annually funded a grant to support the scholarly pursuits of junior faculty in the humanities. The new endowed chair in comparative religion, she says, is a logical outgrowth of that program.
Robinson adds that studying religion at Wagner was extremely valuable for her personally. “The required religion class, given by Lutheran ministers, was an eye-opening course on religious diversity,” she says. “It has stayed with me and guided me all my life, enhancing my understanding of history, of cultures, of my students and even in my travels.”
Kaelber, who has taught at Wagner since 1972, emphasizes the value that studying religion has for today’s students.
When he went to graduate school at the University of Chicago in the 1960s to study under the renowned scholar Mircea Eliade, interest in Eastern religions was reaching a cultural peak as a personal quest for many young people. Over the past 50 years, the world has changed greatly, but the need for education in world religions has gained even more importance.
“What enables people to get along with each other and understand each other has nothing to do with technology,” says Kaelber. “How do we understand people with different beliefs? How do you work with people from other cultures? How do we reduce misunderstandings? The world is much smaller. The study of religion is a means of bringing people together in mutual understanding.”
Wagner offers a minor in religious studies, and all students must take courses in the humanities and international perspectives as part of their general education. Kaelber’s courses this fall include Spiritual Quest in Literature, which examines religious questions in fiction; Hinduism and Buddhism; and Death and Beyond, a cross-cultural study of beliefs and practices regarding death and the afterlife.
While the Robinson Family Chair is the first to support the humanities, the Megerle family established the Martha Megerle and Eugen E. Megerle Chairs in the Sciences in 2011. The Megerle Chairs rotate every two years among the faculty in biology, chemistry, microbiology, physics, and anthropology. Faculty in those areas apply for these funded positions in support of their research.