When Wartburg College’s new assistant professor of world religions arrived in Iowa this fall, he was ready to believe everything he had heard about Midwesterners. Kunihiko Terasawa quickly discovered not all midwestern stereotypes are true.
“Before I moved here, I was told Midwesterners were quiet and reserved. But in my classes, I find the opposite to be true,” Terasawa said. “Students are talkative and we have good question-answer sessions. I find the students to be like unpolished diamonds.”
After teaching at Temple University and St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, for 15 years, Terasawa was excited to move to a rural setting.
“This year I became a United States citizen and decided I wanted to learn more about America,” Terasawa said. “Waverly, Iowa offered a sense of community, which I liked.”
Terasawa has an interesting religious background from Japan. He said his father and a Buddhist monk brother inspired him to have a deep, lifelong interest in world religions.
“It would seem that religion is in my genes,” Terasawa commented. “Learning about other religions has helped me to rediscover and rearticulate my own beliefs.”
At the forefront of Terasawa’s teaching strategy is educating his students to understanding and respect each other’s beliefs.
“I want to teach students how each religion has a process, an origin, and is filled with a diversity all its own,” Terasawa said. “You need to challenge yourself; know, understand, and respect other religions.”
Terasawa approaches each class with meticulous forethought. He said that in religion there can be no simple assumptions or stereotypes.
“If Wartburg students learn this, I have no doubts that they will be successful peace makers to help solve the clash of civilizations and religions, not only on a local but global level,” he said.
Terasawa said he believes Wartburg students have a unique opportunity to grow in their understanding of world religions. He also said that Wartburg students have great potential because of Wartburg’s emphasis on challenging and nurturing leadership and service.
“As a teacher, I feel a responsibility to my students,” he said. “I only hope to teach them something they will remember for the rest of their lives.”