Dr. McGrath Discusses Religion... And Frisbees

April 25, 2018

William McGrath, Ph.D. will officially join the Religious Studies Department at Manhattan College in the fall of 2018. 


In his first year, McGrath will teach "Nature and Experience of Religion" along with "Religions of China and East Asia". 



Before arriving to campus, a brief question and answer session was conducted with McGrath. His creative and thoughtful responses to these questions can be found below. 


Q.) If you were stranded on an island, what is the one tool that you would wish for and why? What would you do with this one tool?


A.) A frisbee. Often overlooked as an item of mere leisure, the noble frisbee is rather diverse in its uses. As I type right now, my laptop is resting atop a frisbee to give it a little extra height and allow my wrists to extend comfortably. In addition to the limitless joy brought by sending a frisbee soaring through the air, a frisbee also is excellent for collecting rainwater and could probably be used as a paddle in a stretch. Finally, not unlike Tom Hanks and Wilson in Cast Away, I would be happy to engage Frisbee in philosophical conversation.


Q.) What inspired you to become a teacher at the collegiate level? 


A.) The path that led me to Manhattan College has been a long and winding road. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia my heart was set on attending medical school, so I decided to major in Biochemistry despite more personal interests in Buddhism and Religious Studies. In pursuit of the latter, however, I took classes on Buddhist meditation and started learning Tibetan after my first year, finally studying at Tibet University in Lhasa when I was twenty years old. In graduate school I was able to link my interests in Medical and Religious Studies by examining the intersections of Buddhism and medicine in Tibet. So, in many ways, it was a deep and personal curiosity that led me to study Tibetan Buddhism, and it is an ongoing project in intercultural and interdisciplinary communication and understanding that has led me to teach. 


Q.) How do you feel that you bring your background and past experiences to the classroom setting? 


A.) Well, I touched on my background a bit in the previous answer, but to expand, I've spent over four years learning and living in different parts of China, which have contributed to both my scholastic and pedagogical approaches. There is nothing like a good story to exemplify and emphasize a more abstract point. As the Tibetan saying goes, “A statement without example is hard to follow; tea without salt is hard to swallow” (gdam dpe med shod dka’// ja tshwa med ’thung dka’//). And don't get me started on Tibetan tea… 


Q.) What is your most unique trait as a professor? - That is, what separates you from other professors? 


A.) Let's see, I've already touched on Biochemistry, Tibet, and frisbee. Other than these, I'm pretty much just like all the other professors in the Religious Studies Department. I kid, of course, but my experiences of studying the sciences in addition to the humanities, as well as living in Tibetan and Chinese communities for several years are probably my most unique traits. So, to all of the Pre-Health and International Studies students out there, please come talk to me, especially if you're interested in intercultural and interdisciplinary approaches to Religious Studies (or just want to talk about frisbee)!


Q.) What excites you most about teaching at Manhattan College? 


A.) While I have much to learn about Manhattan College, I must say that the robust Religious Studies course offerings and the shared insight that “Religion Matters” are extremely exciting aspects of MC. More generally speaking, I look forward to exploring one of the world's most dynamic cities, integrating the bountiful resources of institutions like the Rubin Museum and the Latse Library into my teaching and scholarship. Finally, with the small class sizes and 12:1 student-teacher ratio, I look forward to getting to know my students and having intimate conversations about religions that are both familiar and strange.


- Find out more about Dr. McGrath by taking religious studies courses next fall!- 


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