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Dartmouth Experience: Faith and Politics with Nathan Empsall ’09

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"For me, the big thing is the intersection of faith and politics," says Nathan Empsall '09, a government and Native American studies double major from Conroe, Texas, and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. "Faith guides my life; policy is a tool to change people's lives for the better. I believe in separation of church and state, but I am called to policy work because of my faith."


Nathan Empsall ’09 shares his thoughts on faith, politics, and more at his blog, the Wayward Episcopalian. (Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

At Dartmouth, Empsall has had no shortage of spiritual fellowship. He spent fall term 2006 on a Tucker Foundation Fellowship, interning in New Orleans with the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response. He returned to New Orleans twice for spring break service trips-first with Navigators Christian Fellowship in 2006 and then with Edgerton House Episcopal Student Center the following year. "The Edge is home for me at Dartmouth," he says, noting that the house is open to students 24 hours a day.

When he graduates this June, Empsall hopes to work for a nonprofit for a few years before entering an Episcopal seminary. Though he had first thought of becoming a priest at the tender age of twelve, his senior year of high school found him thinking of leaving the church to join the Quakers. But when he was asked to serve on the discernment committee for a potential deacon, he felt "a kick in [his] pants saying 'No, Nathan, this is your home, you can't leave-you should consider ordination.'"

Empsall's faith-driven interest in social justice led him to take a class on Native American law, since he wanted to learn more about tribal sovereignty and poverty. One class became several more and soon he had a second major.

He calls the Native American Studies Program (NAS) a "crown jewel" for Dartmouth, saying, "It's one of the best NAS departments in the country. It's vital." He cites Professor of Native American Studies Bruce Duthu's "Native American Law" class as one of his two favorite courses at Dartmouth (the other: Associate Professor of Music Bill Summers's "Beethoven in Context").

On the policy side, Empsall took an active role during the presidential primary election (Dartmouth hosted a Democratic presidential candidates debate in September 2007), founding Dartmouth Students for Biden and serving on then-Senator Joe Biden's New Hampshire Steering Committee. He also interned twice in Washington, D.C., with backing from Dartmouth's Rockefeller Center and the Department of Government.

Empsall has managed to find time for additional activities, from intramural sports to the Glee Club to WDCR radio, as well as writing for the Dartmouth Free Press and his own blog, the Wayward Episcopalian.

He says, "My overall approach is, where can I learn about faith and politics? Where can I learn about social justice? Where can I grow as a person? It's through weaving extracurriculars and academics together."



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Last Updated: 1/14/10