Brian Vander Heiden

Brian was an active participant in CSB/SJU's Theology on Tap programming and was accepted into the Benedictine Volunteer Corps after graduation. Brian's senior capstone project was titled, "Female Sexual Assault Survivors and the Christian Faith:  Grounding a Theology of Healing in Resurrection and Transformation" and a brief description:  I will critique and analyze two common, Christian theological responses to female sexual assault and will then argue for a more middle ground response that seeks to help survivors conceptualize their experience of sexual assault in relation to the resurrected and transformed Christ.

Why would one choose to be a theology major or minor here at CSB/SJU?

When I entered CSB/SJU, I started as a political science major with a minor in economics. Thus, although there are wonderful individuals who enter CSB/SJU with a passion for theology, I was not one of them. My faith was not central to the person I was, and if someone told me theology could help people conceptualize complex social issues, or more importantly, turn it into a career, I would not have believed them.

However, after attending the first class session of my lower division theology course with Dr. Charles Bobertz, I could not stop thinking about theology. During our first class, Dr. Bobertz showed us famous paintings of biblical scenes and explained that these artists sought to convey certain theological notions and were attempting to influence how Christians conceived of God. For some reason, the notion that artists had theological agendas and formed our images of the divine was earth-shattering.

This one class forever stimulated my curiosity about theology. I began to wonder: if theology was even present in artwork, where else could it be found? Unable to cease thinking about this, I switched my major to theology during the second semester of my first year and asked Dr. Bobertz to be my advisor.

Four years later, I can, without any doubt, say that switching to a theology major was the best decision I have ever made. The theology major continually stimulates my curiosity, and I find myself applying what I have learned in the classroom to everyday situations.

Thus, I would recommend the theology major for anyone who has heard anything about the Christian religion and wants to know more about it. The theology major is not reserved for the religious elite, and I am living proof of this. And yet, the theology department at CSB/SJU is one of the best in the Midwest, and thus, anyone who decides to pursue a major or minor, will have access to both an incredible theological education and an amazing amount of career opportunities.

What impact has your theology major or minor had on you as a person?

In addition to making me an exponentially better writer, the theology major at CSB/SJU does an incredible job of empowering its students, fostering discernment, and cultivating empathy. The professors are incredibly supportive, and they are phenomenal at recognizing our strengths and recommending opportunities based on our strengths. Because of their encouragement and guidance, I have become a much more confident person. The theology major empowered me to lead service trips, become a counselor at a theology camp, conduct research on sexual ethics with professors, construct my own independent study focusing on Eucahristic theology, and take classes in St. John's graduate School of Theology (to name a few).

With regard to fostering discernment, I have taken classes on pastoral ministry, the Hebrew language, Benedicting spirituality, the history of the Christian Church, scriptural interpretation, and countless other subjects. In taking these courses, I found that I was interested in many of these areas of theology, and therefore, I had to begin thinking about which ones I wanted to pursue. Thus, I learned to become open to concepts and employment opportunities that I would have never considered in order to fully realize my passion.

With regard to empathy, I learned to seek to understand how others are experiencing the world. In the classroom, I continually encounter individuals who do not share the same viewpoints, and therefore, though I may disagree with them, I learned to respect people with different beliefs and experiences. Furthermore, I have learned to look at multiple viewpoints with regard to a variety of issues. From researching the theological implications of sex trafficking to reading about the declining rates of people attending mass in Catholic churches in the United States to studying medieval theologians, theology classes have made me understand and recongnize the incredible worth present within the insights of others.

What do you love about being a theology major or minor?

Although the classes and academic opportunities are extensive and stimulating, the community is still my favorite aspect of the CSB/SJU theology major. First of all, the faculty provides a phenomenal model of what it means to be a community of individuals who, despite having vastly different viewpoints, work with one another in order to cultivate growth, learning, and empowerment within the students. Professors are willing to eat lunch, grab coffee, and even host student gatherings at their homes. Secondly, the students also learn to support and care for one another. From the professor and students in my moral theology class eating dinner together on Fridays to the department's blessing of the senior majors at the end of the year, the theology community forms meaningful relationships that go beyond merely studying together.