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Quick-Fire Interview with Professor Mark Muesse

Publication Date: 11/27/2012

Dr. Muesse came to Rhodes in 1988 and was appointed chair of the Department of Religious Studies in 2004. His colleagues recognize him as a “master teacher,” one whose “concern for students as developing persons matches his demands on their thinking and concern for others.”


When you were a kid, what did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?

Well, one thing I never thought I would be was a Religious Studies professor. In fact, I never knew there was such a thing until I entered college. My earliest recollection of any ambition was to be a cashier at the Piggy Wiggly, a goal I accomplished at age seventeen.


What do you wish you knew when you were an undergrad?

Nothing. I was incredibly naïve as an undergraduate. I had such little experience of the world, and my mind was extremely thirsty. My very ignorance was what spurred me on, and if I had any success as a student it was because I was so conscious of how little I knew and how much I needed to know. Going to college was a life-changing experience. It showed me that the world was so rich, so full of wonderful things to know and do. College was such splendid experience for me that I decided never to leave. That’s why I became a professor. 


What is your favorite book of all time?

Tough one. The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich completely changed my life, disrupting the dogmatic slumber of my youth. The Bhagavad Gita, the great Indian classic, is continual source of inspiration and spiritual nourishment. But the book that will not let me go is The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky.


Who is your idol (historical or current)? And why?

Confucius. There was a time when I couldn’t stand to teach or even read Confucius. Such a boring, prosaic moralizer I thought. But over the years, I have come to see him as a truly noble and compassionate individual, full of wisdom and humanity.


What was your first job?  What other jobs have you held?

Before taking up the profession of teaching, I was a fence builder, a truck driver, a librarian, and a housecleaner. 


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