GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — East Carolina University is a huge part of Greenville culture. A professor in religious studies who founded the program has made a big impact in many ways in the academic and political communities.
“I came to East Carolina [University] in 1985, I’m one of those professors who came for a year or two and ended up staying forever,” said Calvin Mercer, a Pitt County native.
Mercer has been a professor of religious studies at ECU since. The religious studies program holds an annual distinguished lecture on religion and culture each fall. Everyone is welcome to attend and listen to the multiple special guests speak.
“We have a diverse faculty and, particularly in our religion majors, we have diversity,” Mercer said. “Some students are students of faith and some are not. Our courses are useful, I think, to all students. They apply them to their own situation.”
When it comes to the hard parts of teaching religion, Mercer has had a lot of experience assisting his students.
“One of the great pleasures of my teaching religion at ECU through the years has been to work with students who are examining their own religious faith and kind of looking at that and grappling with it, learning more about the history of their scriptures, and working with them as they work through sometimes, I call it a crisis of faith,” Mercer said.
Mercer said he still seems to very much enjoy his chosen path in life.
“I grew up in a conservative Protestant church, so I understand where students are coming from,” Mercer said. “To give them the opportunity to explore their religious pilgrimage has been one of the great honors and privileges of my work at ECU.”
Mercer has published nine books, 30 scientific articles and a children’s book. Some of his work is on a special type of research.
“Are you ready for this?” Mercer said with a smile. “The religious and social implications of radical human enhancement technology. By that I mean, radical enhancement of physically, cognitively, affectively, emotionally, even morally and spiritually enhancement using breakthrough therapies and technologies like genetic engineering, robotic, and artificial intelligence.
“If we don’t think through these things they will take us by surprise.”
Not only does Mercer have a doctorate in religious studies, he also has a degree in psychology and has practiced for over a decade. He worked for 10 years, part-time, in a local psychiatry office doing testing and therapy.
“As a faculty member at ECU, many years ago I started taking a course a semester out of interest in clinical psychology,” Mercer said. “After several years my major professor, Thomas Durham, who is retired now, said ‘You know, Calvin you can actually finish this degree.’ so I did, I finished it.”
Mercer holds not one, but two degrees. He also has over a decade of experience in local politics.
“It takes tough skin,” Mercer said. “Greenville is a growing city and in a growing city, development issues are at the heart, zoning, development, land use. I was plunged right in the middle of all of those local controversies.”
Mercer said because of his political background and at the insistence of his friend, he wrote a children’s book titled “There Ought to Be a Law: A Bright Day at the State Capitol.”
When Mercer was asked if he wanted to add anything, he brought up one very important subject.
“I just love my dog. My dog’s name is Shanti which is a Sanskrit word for “peace.” When we got him he was wild … I named him Shanti in the hopes that he would grow into his name, and he has,” Mercer said.