Working With Both Mind & Heart
While religion was always a part of his life and family upbringing, Richard Rose was not planning to make a career of it. Tragedy changed that.
September 24, 2014
Dr. Richard Rose is a man of global faith. The Professor of Religion and Philosophy’s entire career has revolved around interfaith studies and the understanding of global interfaith exchange.
“It really is my passion,” he said.
It shows. In addition to teaching, Dr. Rose serves as an ordained elder with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, while he is also on the advisory board of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World Religions and serves as chair of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Conference in Irvine.
The courses he teaches are designed to appreciate interfaith understanding and are far reaching, including: World Religions: East; Religion Science and Consciousness; and Power & Oppression, just to name a few. He has presented at countless conferences around the world as an expert in interfaith studies, and despite teaching and his work in the community, he is still able to serve as the advisor for La Verne’s Brothers Forum, the African American male mentoring/support group on campus, for the last 18 years.
And while his religion was always an influential part of his life and family upbringing, years back, Dr. Rose was not planning to make his career out of it. In fact, after high school, he planned to become an architect.
But a tragic event made his life take a turn.
Dr. Rose was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of his childhood friend. Dr. Rose was behind the wheel. The event sparked many emotions and questions in his head: “Because of what I felt was God’s gracious concern for me, there was one question that stuck out in my mind: Would God had loved me as much as God obviously did, if I had been born of a different faith?” he asked. That same question has served as the guiding question in his ministerial and academic career.
“At that point, I believed I was being called to ministry, but I wanted to learn more about the degree to which God moved and connected the lives of people,” he said.
These aspirations led him to Pacific Christian College in Fullerton, Calif. There, he enrolled in the dual program with the Philosophy Department of California State University Fullerton (CSUF). He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Pacific Christian College.
“Taking courses at both institutions really did provide me with a broader understanding of philosophical traditions and worldviews,” he said.
Dr. Rose’s parents raised him and his six siblings in the AME. But as his undergraduate studies were nearly complete, a professor asked him a question.
“He asked me what the difference was between the theology that was taught there (at Pacific Christian College) and what they teach in the AME Church. I told him there was no difference. Both the AME Church and the theology of the school teach Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. He then challenged me to learn more about my heritage.”
That professor’s challenge resulted in Dr. Rose pursuing his master’s degree in divinity from Howard University. Attending when James Cone’s theories on black theology were very well known, Dr. Rose found himself questioning Cone’s notion that God was “exclusively” black because black people were oppressed in the United States. He felt Cone’s argument did have merit due to the idea that God becomes one of the oppressed in order to liberate those who are suffering in a particular social context.
Dr. Rose, however, questioned the exclusivistic notion in liberation theology because, as he says, “I was coming from a white religious institution,” and,“I had seen God working in the lives of white people so why couldn’t God also be white?”
Such questions sparked the research for his thesis at Howard, entitled, “Liberation Themes in The African American Religious Tradition.” His work led him to research the writings of bishops within the AME Church, studying the speeches and sermons of key historical African American figures, uncovering core themes that were consistently deemed as critical. One was the parenthood of God for all humanity. Second was the right of every child to have a first-class education no matter their background. And finally, all people have the right to first class citizenship within the nation.
After graduating from Howard, Dr. Rose moved back to California. He applied and was accepted to pursue his doctorate from Claremont Graduate School. After completing his coursework, he began working at La Verne, where he has taught for more than 20 years. He believes it is the strong relationships he has with his students, as well as the creativity he puts into the courses he teaches, that keep him passionate about the work that he does. He also serves as an associate minister at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, where he serves a congregation of more than 2,000 members.