Sass with Sasson: An Interview with a World Class Theologian and Scholar

By Simon Kidd 

Since I am part of the Liberal Arts program, I had the pleasure of taking a course on Judaism, Christianity and Islam (JCI) taught by Professor Vanessa Sasson. The course changed my worldviews and preconceptions regarding religion. Most students here at Marianopolis do not get the chance to take one of her courses, so I thought an interview could give the PaperCut readers a chance to see what she’s about.

Can you give me a brief overview of your background and specialties as a Professor of Religious studies?

I trained as a scholar of comparative religion at McGill. I have published three academic books, and an assortment of peer-reviewed articles. Right now I’m working on a novel, too!

E/N: If you are ever sitting in the library stacks in the basement, you might find books written by her!

I took your class, so I already know the answer, but I feel like this question bears repeating for our readers at the PaperCut…Why is the study of religion important?

Sigh. Because it makes you less of an ass. When you understand more about fellow human beings and understand that they are, well, human–you become less of a bigot.

What projects are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working on a brown belt in karate, and on the novel I mentioned. Then there’s Nepal, which I’m really excited about…

Right, I wanted to ask you about that! I’ve heard that you have been working on a fully-accredited course in Nepal. How would that work?

Just like any other summer course. It’s fully accredited, and means you have one less course in your workload. It’s vacation and a chance to get out of our respective comfort zones, while also learning about another culture, religion and history!

Would participants be working on the coursework in Nepal, or when they come back?

We would have a few preparatory lectures before we left for Nepal. Participants will also probably write a paper when they come back from the trip. There’s still work in Nepal, but the workload will be light.

What would students do in Nepal?

There would be less of a focus on paperwork and more work on ethnographies, site visits, and studying the culture and living space within Nepal as an anthropologist (observing culture, behavior, and forms of religious rituals). It’s going to be great.

I heard that you lived in Nepal for two years. Can you briefly tell me why you lived there?

Actually, it was only one year. I would have stayed longer, but the government of Nepal actually kicked me out.


Yeah, I kept leaving and coming back with new visas, and at the time foreigners like myself weren’t encouraged to keep coming back like that.

When were you in Nepal?

Twenty years ago.

I heard you learned how to speak Nepali?

I know some Nepali. It’s been a while, so it is kind of rusty now!

How did living in Nepal impact the trip?

It’s hard to see a country as it is, in the realest possible way. I’ll try my best to reveal as much as possible about Nepal, with visits of tourist sites… But with more nuance. I want my students to see it with their own eyes, because there’s no other way to understand a country. And yes, living in Nepal really did give me a love for the country…

What are the pros and the cons of the trip?

The Pros:

You can fall in love with another country. When we go, the experience will open your eyes to another perspective. It’s seeing through a different lens.

During my last trip, one of my students actually fell in love with Nepal. We were still there, but he was asking me if he could stay. Whew. That student ended up returning to Nepal after CEGEP to attend Kathmandu University. He’s now studying Nepali, Tibetan and Newari.

After the Ladakhi trip, another student of mine actually did her Master’s on Ladakhi Buddhism. The point is, the trip always has an impact on the way you live your life and on your academic pursuits. You just can’t predict what kind of impact the trip will have. So you have to be open to your life, to see what comes next…

The Cons:

Well, the price. It’s expensive, which is rough, but unavoidable when travelling around the world. Then there’s stomach flu–everyone can get it if they aren’t careful.

Is it worth it?

Hell yes!

What do we do to get more information about this trip?

If you are interested, the info session will be this Thursday, the 7th of September. You can send a Mio to Selena Liss or to me if you have any questions!

E/N: The info session is from 12:45-2PM in room A-401.

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