New class to appraise value of money

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    Money is the central theme of a new spring course that challenges students to ponder the value of the dollar and religious views concerning wealth.

    The class, titled Religion, Money and Value(s), delves into various religious beliefs about monetary wealth and its accumulation, said Associate Professor of East Asian Religions Mark Dennis.

    “I’ve always been interested in economics and how money works and how people create wealth,” he said. “Money and wealth and stuff is something that interests people. It’s buy, buy, buy. If you have this you’ll be happy.”

    Dennis, a Buddhist, spent about eight years in Asia studying Buddhism and Hinduism, he said. He said he will share some of those beliefs regarding money with the class.

    “Buddhism has a very uneasy relationship with money. In terms of business and marketing it is antithetical.” he said. “Basic ideas of Buddhism are, life is, to be alive is, to suffer in some way and suffering is caused by desire. One of the greatest desires people have is for money and stuff.”

    Christian, Jainism and Islamic views about things like tithing, almsgiving and usury will also be discussed, Dennis said. Plus, the class will consider whether those who amass wealth should give it away.

    Additionally, students will study the micro finance movement, which provides small-scale, local solutions to aid those who are marginalized in becoming self-sufficient. At the end of the course, students can enter the Values and Ventures Business Plan Competition, which promotes doing something socially positive while turning a profit.

    “Religion, Money and Value(s) sounded so interesting,” said senior modern dance and religion major Alexandra Masi, who has taken several of Dennis’ classes.

    Masi describes Dennis as a kind, influential professor whose courses speak to universal themes.

    Dennis said the course took about a year to fine tune, with a stipend from the Neeley Entrepreneurship Center providing motivation.

    Each year, Neely matches a $15,000 grant by the Coleman Foundation said Michael Sherrod, William M. Dickey Entrepreneur in Residence. That money is then given out to professors applying for funding.

    Professors from all departments can apply for funds by creating a new course or modifying an existing one, to incorporate entrepreneurship.

    “Over four years, we have gone from zero to 26 professors who are now in the program,” he said. “A professor can get a grant up to $5,000.”

    Everything considered, there is no right or wrong way to have money, Dennis said, and there is no way to determine how much is enough.

    “No one can say that,” he said. “It is very easy to get sucked into wanting more and more and more.”