The PROFile – Dr. Ernest Janzen

Professor in the faculty of religion and culture

Photo by Alana Trachenko

According to Dr. Ernest Janzen, if you’re taking a religions course with him, you’re either curious, religious or you need the credit – and all three are fine with him.

Janzen has been teaching at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) since 1996, where he also received one of his undergraduate degrees before moving on to the University of Manitoba (U of M) and then to a doctorate in Toronto.

“Our department is now called religion and culture, which I’m so happy about,” Janzen says. “As soon as you tell someone you’re in religious studies, they think you’re going to become a minister or pastor or something.”

Like many of his students, Janzen was interested by why religion plays such a big role in our world. He says he’s answered that question for himself many times, and that the answer will keep changing.

“There’s a part of me that’s fascinated by it and part of me that’s a little confused,” he says. “Like why are you still basing your life on something that was written thousands of years ago?”

With American politics on the world’s stage, it might seem like religious animosity is at an all-time high. However, Janzen says that because more and more people are opting for a secular lifestyle, there’s actually more tolerance.

“Xenophobia has always been around and always will be around. We’re always afraid of the other, because we don’t know what it is,” Janzen says.

“(But) if anything, I think people are more tolerant now, and that goes with the increasing secularization of society. Even in the excited states of America, as I like to call them, secularization is increasing rapidly.”

Janzen says these kinds of topics come up often in the classroom, and it’s one of his favourite parts of the job.

“I had a guy last semester that wore a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat to every class … obviously that stuff comes up, whether I bring it up or the students do. That’s what’s nice, is when you can take something ancient and talk about it in the 21st century.”

What was the best book you read lately?: The one that stands out most to me is Farewell to God, because that’s Canada’s version of Billy Graham. So here’s a guy who used to preach to up to 30,000 people a night … and later in life he rejects the Christian life himself.

What is your superpower?: I’m very curious, and I guess that ties into the fact that I consider myself to be a lifelong learner. I can’t stop reading.

What was your worst grade in university?: I have to be honest, I never got a bad grade. In high school I didn’t apply myself, and I did poorly but something flipped when I got into university, and I wouldn’t settle for less than an A.

What’s your pet peeve as a professor?: Students who come to class and don’t want to learn.

Published in Volume 71, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 2, 2017)

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