I have always loved space. This love is why I earned an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering. Fittingly, stargazing with friends was one of my favorite, albeit infrequent, diversions from the routine of life. Leaving behind the piles of engineering homework and bright lights of the city, I loved venturing out to a park or field where we could find a decent spot to lay down and look up at the stars. On a cool, brisk night, we would bring blankets to settle into a cozy spot for a few hours. We didn’t bring any music or snacks, we just simply looked at the stars. Sometimes we talked. Sometimes we were silent. Occasionally, someone would excitedly point to a shooting star for others to see before it quickly disappeared.

Our conversations always seemed more meaningful during these excursions. Looking at the stars for a few hours changes one’s perception of pace and time. Even though stars move incredibly fast, from our perspective, they look almost stationary – a welcome contrast to the often-breakneck pace of school and work. This respite offered us a chance to just be in serene silence or talk about things that deeply mattered to each of us – family, relationships, inspirations, goals, and more.

Such conversations were fitting given the response stargazing can elicit. Looking up at the innumerable stars before me, I was often struck with a sense of wonder and smallness. What was my place in relation to this infinite but still expanding universe (yes, it is infinite but still expanding – crazy right?). There were so many stars, planets, and even galaxies, but just one me. Did my work, my education, or my life matter in relation to the vast cosmos? Does our common work to build a just society have meaning? Did any of this make an impact on a universe set into motion 13.7 billion years ago by a literal cosmic explosion?

This was a humanities moment. Looking at the stars had provided me with a set of questions not answerable by the hard sciences. I had been exploring my passion of space through subjects such as orbital mechanics and astronautics, but the questions of meaning that the stars elicited eventually led me to pursue Theological Studies at the graduate level.

In the course of these studies, theology not only provides me with a framework to explore these questions of meaning, but also with a critical lens through which to approach other challenging relational questions: What is my responsibility to others, society, the environment, and the common good? What is our societal obligation to the most vulnerable in light of racial injustice, inequality, and the other pressing challenges of our context? Theology enables critical conversations around these complex questions of relationship. In an infinite, expanding cosmos, there is nothing more meaningful than these questions of relationship.

– Deepan Rajaratnam (Ph.D. Candidate)