Gossai’s view of teaching emphasizes the partnership between teacher and student. “Teaching must go both ways,” he says. “Teachers must be willing to learn from their students.” As proven by his unusual career move, Gossai believes that teaching is not about making a living. “To me, it’s about how this affects a person’s life,” he says. “Ideally, the teaching/learning partnership shapes a person—like a work of art.” To illustrate his philosophy, Gossai explains how he would view a student who comes back to visit the College perhaps with a spouse and children in tow. “I will remember who you are,” he says. “I will not likely remember your grade!”
Throughout the years, the religion department has suffered under a couple of popular misconceptions: one is that its curriculum is primarily Lutheran-based. Muhlenberg’s Lutheran heritage, though celebrated by the College, does not dominate the religion curriculum. Just as Muhlenberg’s highly diverse religious community allows students of all faiths to worship within their own tradition, the religion department is not affiliated with any particular religious group. Case in point: unless they know him personally, students may not realize that Gossai is an Episcopal priest. “I’m certainly not trying to hide it,” he says, “but as significant as that is to me, and it is, it is not what fundamentally informs my teaching.” Courses in the department also have been taught by adjuncts with a variety of religious affiliations.
Another common misconception, Gossai points out, is that religion majors must enter religious vocations. “Some students do go on to seminary or rabbinical school, but many double major and go to med school, law school and other graduate programs,” he says. “Religion is also a great major for a journalist because it prepares a person to think about the world in a wide sense. Also, for those interested in government, knowledge of religious traditions is extremely important in today’s political climate.”
For Gossai, one of the most important aspects of studying religion is how it molds us as people. “The religion major examines the principal aspect of human life: how we live in this world,” he says. “It encourages us to discover ourselves, to find ourselves, shape our humanity and to understand what others believe and do not believe.”
Looking ahead, Gossai is pleased that the department is getting settled after several years of transition. “We’re creating a sense of continuity,” he says. “We’ve seen a lot of new faces in the last five years—including mine! And soon we will be adding a new person in Jewish studies.” In terms of his own future, Gossai is delighted to work in a field he loves: teaching. “Not to use the gifts we have as human beings would be a real shame,” he says. “People can be quite competent at a variety of skills, but it’s our gifts that we approach with true passion.
I ask myself: ’Can what I do make a difference in someone’s life?’” Though his question may be rhetorical, the Muhlenberg community would respond with a resounding, “Yes!”