“My job is to walk with students as they understand their own identities and cultural expressions,” Eduardo Pazos said recently.
This is an image Pazos refers back to often: walking alongside those he serves. Pazos is the new director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Bowdoin, taking over the position from Bob Ives, who retired last spring. As director, Pazos said he plans on letting students guide him through the process of serving their needs. He is there not only as an administrator for Bowdoin’s religious groups, but also as a mentor and advocate for students who want to explore their spiritual identity.
Pazos’s own spirituality has been shaped both by his education and his upbringing. He is a graduate of Boston Baptist College, and of Yale Divinity School, where he studied ethics and the New Testament. He focused on the historical context of the Bible, learning Greek, the original language of the Bible, to more fully understand the world from which the text emerged. In conversation, he jumps fluidly from an explanation of the proto-Christian world into a discussion of the interplay between race and religion. Exploring the historical context of religion is important to him, he says, because the study of the New Testament is inseparable from his understanding of ethics. “When you read ancient texts like the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, the best way to fully understand all the nuances found in the text is to also read and understand the intellectual history, archaeology, literature, and politics that surround the text,” he explained.
Continuing, he added: “The foundation for all of my ethics stems from the Sermon on the Mount. You know, ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the role Christianity has in conflict resolution, and peacemaking. A lot of people know Christianity as a religion that is willing to engage in war, but I think the heart of Christianity is about peace. I want to show that side of Christianity to people.” As he said this, he creased his forehead and leaned forward.
Pazos was raised in the Baptist tradition in Chihuahua, Mexico, with his parents and two younger siblings. His family moved a lot when he was growing up, which he says helped him learn how to make friends quickly. For six years, his family lived in a border town in Texas, where the children went to school in Laredo. Pazos left Mexico for the US after high school, when he was 18, to attend college.
Pazos is still a practicing Baptist, and is ordained as a minister. But that is not how he introduces himself at Bowdoin. “I don’t like to put my reverend boots on,” he quipped. “The word pastor carries a weight. It might be familiar to Christian students but alien to say, a Hindu student. It’s not my job to represent my religion.”
Instead, he wants to use his own spirituality to help students explore theirs. “I’m here to be a resource for students who have big questions, about religion, about ethics, or who are just trying to understand where they fit in their own stories,” he said. For some, that story may be about practicing their religion apart from their family for the first time. For others, it may be seeking a new religion, or just trying to understand the spirituality of others.
Right now, that work involves finding spiritual leaders who can help advise specific religious groups. According to Mariama Sowe ’18, president of the Muslim Student Association, her group is “working on getting an Imam from Portland to serve as spiritual counselor for Muslim students and Eduardo has been very open, proactive, and supportive of the idea. More than spiritual support, the office provides communal support to the MSA and helps make sure that the voices of students of faith on campus are heard and taken seriously.”
The Department of Religious and Spiritual Life also works with different cultural affinity groups on campus that may or may not be religiously affiliated. “I have always seen religion as a part of identity. Particularly in America, we have understood religion to be something that you choose. But it can also be a part of your cultural heritage,” Pazos said.
Part of his work, then, is helping students explore how religion and spirituality interact with other aspects of their identity. And while religion may function in a certain way in one student’s life, it is also Pazos’s goal to encourage dialogue between students who understand their spiritualities differently, and to walk with them as they learn about one another.
Pazos has known that he wanted to work in higher education since he was a college student. He describes his college experience as “one of great transformation and growth.”
After graduating from Yale, he returned as a lecturer to Boston Baptist College. From there, he became the minister of an immigrant congregation in Dallas, Texas. But the congregation could not pay him much, and he took a second job at Bank of America so that he could work what he calls his “nights and weekends job.” The work, both at the congregation, and at a K-12 school affiliated with it, was fulfilling. But last year, he and his wife and two daughters moved back to Maine to be near his wife’s family, who live in Topsham. His wife, Nichole, who works as a travel coordinator, also grew up in Topsham.
“I actually moved up here with no job,” Pazos said. As he recalled this, his voice became hushed. The memory, evidently, is still a little frightening. But when the job at Bowdoin opened up, he applied for it immediately. “When I got it, I almost cried,” he said grinning.
“I’m just excited to serve whatever needs our students have to authentically practice their own faith traditions,” Pazos said.