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Miranda Rake: All You Need Is Love

Kant discussed God, freedom, aesthetics and morality, but he didn't say a word about love, which puzzled recent graduate Miranda Rake '06. The religious studies major pored over his writings and took a stab at what the German philosopher might have said, had he addressed the topic.

"Kant is so dense," she says. "You think you know it, and you do, but then you forget." In spite of Kant's elusiveness, Rake managed to catch his drift. Her 21-page Kant paper took top student honors at a conference sponsored by the Pacific Northwest region of AAR/SBL/ASOR -- a consortium of academic groups devoted to religious and Oriental research.

Rake's paper, "On Love and Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment," theorizes that we not only live by faith, we love by faith as well. Love, she writes, requires leaps of faith, and romantic love is much more complex, involving a degree of choice and requiring a much greater leap. We need to trust that the other person shares our capacity for love.

Genuine love, Rake writes, cultivates a respect for the other person as a free being and accepts the other person as an end in him or herself, not as a means to an end. When that goal is achieved, love has transformative power. "Love holds within it the ability to illuminate our highest vocation as a human," she writes. In other words, loving and being loved can make you a better person.

Rake wandered into her major serendipitously. "I came to religious studies as an alternative to philosophy's lack of grounding," she says. A religious studies course with Professor Doug McGaughey helped her see that religion is grounded in everyday life. "People live these things out. If you're Buddhist, you go to the temple and burn incense at the shrine."

Rake now heads a youth program with her Episcopalian congregation and has joined a task force that looks at how to attract young people. "The church is aging and shrinking," she says.

She once struggled with her own commitment. "My grandpa died and I kept telling my little sister that grandpa had gone to heaven. And then I thought, 'Gosh, where do I really think grandpa is?'" She ended up taking a short break from the church of her childhood.

Rake's University courses have given her spiritual life new depth. "Religion is first and foremost a personal, spiritual thing, but I feel like the intellectual exploration of religion enhances the emotional side," she says. She combined academic studies with travel through Africa and Asia to see the varieties of cultural and religious expression, and has come to agree with Professor McGaughey. "As far as religious beliefs, we all have more similarities than differences."

You Majored in What?
Now that Rake has graduated, questions of belief have been replaced by a more immediate question: What in the world does one do with a degree in religious studies?

Actually, the larger question is how she will balance her seemingly disparate passions -- writing, food and religion (not to mention the years of ballet and acting).

Rake got a taste of journalism when she interned at Portland Monthly Magazine, writing food, dance and theatre reviews. She edited and wrote for the Collegian, Willamette's student newspaper, and she wants to continue her love affair with words, perhaps as a food writer.

Or as a scholar, looking at connections between food and religion. "Food creates community," she says. "Like religion, it brings people together and provides a way for them to experience their heritage. My grandma baked pumpkin pies, and I bake them two generations later." She also thinks food plays a symbolic role in religion, from the bread and wine of the Christian sacrament to food offerings left for Hindu deities.

Food is personal for Rake. "I love food. I love to cook and bake. When I'm stressed out -- if it's really bad -- I'll make a layer cake." She devours gourmet food magazines and can get lost in the eight shelves of gastronomic books at Powells.

But the details will come later. Rake's immediate plan is not to have a plan. She'll explore Europe this summer, pick up some free-lance writing if possible, bake roast chicken and her grandmother's pumpkin pie, and eventually enroll in divinity school or a food studies program that will allow her to discover and write about the religious, historical and nutritional aspects of food.

Perhaps the path ahead is best described in her award-winning paper. "Ultimately, we're making our own leaps in trying to be true to our own humanity -- reaching for our best selves."