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Alumnus Ryan Hanning graduated from SHPRS with his bachelor’s degree in religious studies in 2000.
Hanning answered a few questions about his current position, his time with SHPRS and tips for current students.
Tell us a little bit about your current position and you found yourself there.
Currently I am the assistant vice president for strategic partnerships at the University of Mary and direct the unique academic partnership we have with ASU through which we offer courses and dual degrees in theology and catholic studies here in Tempe. After graduating from ASU I continued onto grad school and completed degrees in educational leadership and ultimately a PhD in historical theology. I taught at various colleges and universities and helped direct various education programs and when the opportunity came to work with my alma mater I could not resist.
Growing up, were you always interested in religious studies?
Yes. Matters of intellect and matters of faith were always integrated in my childhood. You could say that I was fascinated with the big questions of our origin, purpose and destiny and how those answers intersect with how we live and what we do. Religious studies was a natural fit. It was place to study how traditions other than my own answered these fundamental questions.
What attracted you to the undergraduate religious studies program at ASU?
Among all the other options it was the field that I was most passionate about. I found that the professors had a similar passion. Not only did they want to teach but also to create an intellectual culture where diverse religious expressions could be brought into an authentic dialogue. Subsequently my own faith was strengthened.
Tell us about your time with SHPRS
It was an amazing opportunity to be on a large campus with all of its opportunities and still feel like I knew my professors and other students within my degree field. Many of my former professors still teach in the program and now we co-chair academic panels and present at the same conferences.
Did SHPRS and your degree help in preparing you for your current position?
Yes. My religious studies degree prepared me well for the academic rigor of graduate school. It also prepared me to understand the nuances between religious studies and theology which are complementary fields but ultimately distinct in their source and methodology.
Was there a defining moment with your academic career?
There were many defining moments in my academic career. Defending my dissertation in the dining room of the late Cardinal John Henry Newman was a particular highlight, as was studying in the archives of the Jagiellonian in Poland. SHPRS continued to be a big part of my formation with lots of generous help from Prof. Hava Tirosh Samuelson among others. The intellectual community is still very much intact since I attended ASU which is a testament to the quality and commitment of the professors.
What is the most useful thing you learned that you can still apply today?
Writing history well is a craft. It requires a lot of research and enough restraint to let the story speak for itself.
Were there any extracurricular activities you were involved in at ASU?
I was very active at the All Saints Newman Center and nightly sand volleyball in the quads.
Do you have any tips for current students?
Two things. One, if you leave college with a great degree but have not grown in virtue or with a better knowledge of who you are and how you are called to serve this world, you will have failed. Two, ultimately a university education is about pursuing truth. Don’t underestimate the value of the humanities in that pursuit! History, philosophy, religious studies are all an essential part of solving the social, political and technological challenges that every generation faces.