When Erik Seebach (’15 BA) returned from a two-year mission in west Africa, the self-described devout Mormon was determined to “prove his religion true” by studying ancient religious texts and civilizations of antiquity. For Seebach, Mormonism wasn’t just some “whimsical passion” but a subject worthy of dedicated study.
Soon after enrolling in the Religious Studies program at the University of Alberta, that same ferocious curiosity that had fueled thousands of hours of personal research now posed new questions that Seebach applied to his faith, which in time lead to a more nuanced, inclusive world view.
“I came into the university believing I had the truth; I came out knowing it’s not as black and white as I thought.” -Erik Seebach
Initially offered a hockey scholarship to Brigham Young University in Utah, Seebach chose to stay in Edmonton for personal reasons, and now credits the Religious Studies program and in particular a liberal arts education with changing his life. “I came into the university believing I had the truth; I came out knowing it’s not as black and white as I thought,” he says. “I learned how to think critically and apply it to my own life.”
According to Seebach, because religious studies draws from fields across the humanities and social sciences, it is the program that most perfectly embodies the fundamental intent of a university education — the pursuit of knowledge.
“A lot of people look at religious studies and think you’re studying what people believe,” he explains. “But belief is just an extension of the values that the group holds. You don’t study Catholicism and just study the trinity. You have to study what the group is doing and what their influences were.”
Confounded by university-wide funding cuts that would see the Hebrew Bible course discontinued following the retirement of Hebrew scripture scholar Francis Landy, Seebach made a generous donation to the Religious Studies program. “I felt the program would be irrevocably harmed if we lost the course,” he says. “You can’t offer a degree in Religious Studies without studying the Hebrew Bible; it’s imperative to a study of western religion as Christianity is an extension of Judaism. It would be like studying biology without Darwin.”
Now the founder and president of Capitol Security in Edmonton, an alarm system and home automation company (which will soon branch off into solar panel energy), Seebach believes his liberal arts education gave him the best possible foundation for a successful entrepreneurial career — adding that a MBA or a finance degree would not have served him nearly as well. “You don’t learn how to communicate with people [with a business degree],” he says. “You’ve just learned a bunch of information that can be replicated with a computer. [So many] people come to the university looking for very linear, traditional career paths, and that’s not how life works.”
“You can’t offer a degree in Religious Studies without studying the Hebrew Bible. It would be like studying biology without Darwin.”
Seebach hopes to return to academia at some point in the future to pursue a PhD, but for now is content to apply his intellectual rigour and curiosity to building a happy life and career. Key to all is an engaged mind and a passion for learning.
“It’s very easy to create fear,” he says. “Religion is so intertwined with human sociology and society, especially country to country. People need to learn how to understand it and address it objectively. Whether it’s English or sociology or anthropology, it’s the study of human beings. No matter what job you’re going into, you have to deal with people. It affects everything from how we treat Syrian refugees to our position on Islamic terrorism. If you want to be a citizen of the world, study the world.”