Since the middle of February, the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life has hosted a Whirlwind Tour of world religions with lecturer LD Russell.
As of March 31, the program reached its half-way point with a class on Taoism. Community members, students, faculty and staff sat in the audience to listen to Russell’s description of the religion.
Junior Hunter Bensen, a religious studies major, was one of several students who attended the class for the first time.
“It’s provocative, but it’s humorous,” she said. “His speeches aren’t intimidating.”
Junior Shelby Lewis agreed.
“It allows you to open your mind,” she said.
Despite cancellations and postponing because of inclement weather, Russell said he has had a strong group with “faithful followers.”
Most of the people who attend Russell’s classes are members of the Elon community. But it has caused him to change his approach to teaching.
Russell usually has to convince his students to take his class or to be interested in religion. According to him, this group has not needed any convincing.
“To stand in a room where there is so much wisdom and life experience is a somewhat different task,” Russell said. “[Students] don’t have that life experience.”
Rod Fox, a resident of the Town of Elon, has attended every class so far. Fox heard about the classes through LIFE@ELON, which offers learning opportunities for people ages 50 and older.
Fox decided to come because of an interest in religion and philosophy.
“It is thoroughly enlightening and entertaining,” he said. “This topic can be dry, but when this class is over, you’re sad.”
But covering these religious topics means taking an outside perspective, Russell said. The Truitt Center has uploaded Russell’s classes to its YouTube page and has received many comments. Some comments from practicing Hindus criticized how Russell explained Hinduism.
“I am surprised to see how little people know about Hinduism,” one viewer commented. “The concept of 330 million gods is a gross mistranslation.”
Russell acknowledged that it is difficult to go in-depth with religions in an hour. But he welcomes what he calls the “insider perspective.”
“Communication in an atmosphere of mutual respect is crucial to fuller understanding,” he said in response to the comments.
Russell said he is grateful for the input from the “insider perspective.” It will allow him to better teach his students and to “build bridges between cultures.”