Ancient ruins! Endless museums! People watching!

Rome has it all, and two professors and 25 students from St. Edward’s University spent two weeks in June in the city that’s a showcase for Western civilization. They had a papal audience in Vatican City (to be fair, there were approximately 7,000 others present). They traveled back in time in the Colosseum. They explored the piazzas and fountains that make Rome a traveler’s paradise. 

For the students, the experience triggered a lot of questions to Associate Professor of Religious and Theological Studies Steve Rodenborn and Associate Professor of Philosophy Jack Musselman. We asked Rodenborn to reflect on how the trip got students thinking about religion, history and culture.

Preserving the Past

“The Houston Astrodome was completed in 1965 and partially demolished in 2013. In 2014, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as an ‘engineering model of its time.’ In contrast, Rome’s Colosseum has stood for 2,000 years. The first full cleaning of the structure is currently underway, and it’s costing $35 million. There’s this interest in preserving the past in Italy, and the students were really struck by the differences between the approaches in Italy and the United States.”

Interpreting Art

“In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, it was clear that our students engaged art differently. Some wanted to know when the work was done and what the artist intended. Others weren’t as interested in the historical context and just wanted to experience the art on their own terms. Is it helpful to know about the past? Is there a single way to look at art and interpret it?”

Learning in Real Time

“We regularly discovered that students didn’t always remember the details of what they learned in our Religious Studies and Philosophy classes, which they all took spring semester. They were learning out of context. But when we were in St. John Lateran in Rome, for example, the location of the official seat of the Pope, students discovered a new interest in the material. There’s no replacement for that context. They cared when we were there. We had one student who said that walking through Rome was like her whole education coming to life.”

Confronting Mortality

“The Capuchin Crypt, which is decorated with the bones of almost 4,000 friars of the Capuchin order, is dramatically different from the powerful baroque style found in much of Rome. It’s essentially an underground graveyard, and our students found it really moving. They were struck by its message of humility and hope. While much of Rome is a show of overwhelming churches that proclaim the triumph of the Catholic Church, the crypt shows the power of simple friars and a profound humility in the face of death.” 

Experiencing the Culture

“Two weeks is perhaps just enough time for the students to start thinking differently about food, culture and religion. They were often free by 4 p.m., and it was their time to explore. They could imbibe in the piazza culture. Stop in the shops. Eat octopus in red sauce. Figure out how to order a charcuterie plate. The big questions they asked matter a lot, but so does experiencing such a wonderful culture.”

By Frannie Schneider


Study Abroad Opportunities Are Numerous and Diverse at St. Edward’s

Trips led by St. Edward’s University faculty members are one of many study abroad options available to students. For more details on our faculty-led programs, watch this video. Learn (and see videos) about all of the study abroad opportunities offered through our Office of International Education.

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