Heather Warren: Using music to bring religious history alive

Historians in the News

f you've ever taken "Religion in America Since 1865," you probably recall religious studies Prof. Heather Warren periodically strumming away at her guitar during class. The reason for Warren's display of guitar skills is not to give her rendition of a John Mayer ballad but to engage her students as she illustrates her main points.

"One of the things I do find within many faiths, particularly in American religious life, [is that] people sing what they believe," Warren said. "I think music is very powerful in that way."

Having spent most of her youth in Nashville, Tenn. as the daughter of a pastor and college professor, religion has always been a prominent part of Warren's life. Growing up, she never thought she would go into the ministry.

Warren graduated from Cornell University in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in literary and religious studies. She went on to The Candler School of Theology at Emory University, a seminary school in preparation for the ministry. After only one year there, Warren received a Rhodes Scholarship, which led to a two-year leave of absence to earn a bachelor's in theology at Oxford University.

Warren returned to Emory and received her Master's of Divinity and then served as a pastor in southern Maryland for two years. While pursuing her doctorate in history at Johns Hopkins University, she ultimately developed a desire to pursue teaching.

Teaching "was actually a lot easier than preaching," Warren said. "You have a much more captive audience."

Coming to the University in 1992, Warren said she was excited to be joining the highly reputable department of religious studies. Here, Warren has crafted her own 400-level seminar course entitled "American Religious Autobiography," in which her students write their own religious autobiography.

In Warren's courses, she said the focus is on ways to make connections, understand where something fits and acknowledge that there is a bit of mystery in life.

"But that doesn't mean that you don't seek to probe the mystery," said Warren....

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