Why did you choose to major in Religious Studies?
I grew up in the United Church of Christ, a small, mainline Protestant denomination with a social justice orientation. When I got to college, knowing what was important to me but not really what I wanted to do with my life, I found myself increasingly interested in understanding how religion and religious communities can be forces for shaping our world. I took a class on religion and nonviolent social movements my freshman year, taught by the Deans of the Office for Religious Life, which got me hooked. The rest is history!
What was your senior thesis, and how did this deepen your understanding and appreciation for Religious Studies?
My senior thesis was an ethnographic study of the Findhorn Foundation, a 50-year-old spiritual community and ecovillage in northern Scotland. Like many who are "spiritual but not religious," Findhorn residents eschew organized religion in favor of a self-directed, individualized spiritual practice, so my thesis examined how, then, they conceive of and participate in spiritual community. I spent over a month at Findhorn, conducting interviews and participating in community life. I loved getting to do original research and learn more hands-on research methodologies to complement the more traditional book- and discussion-based courses.
Where are you today (job, city, etc)? How has your degree shaped your interests and future paths?
I am living in Oakland and working as a Program Officer at the Compton Foundation in San Francisco. Our grants portfolio spans reproductive justice, climate change, and peace and progressive national security. I meet with folks working in those fields, interface with grantees, and help shape the foundation's overall strategy. The skills I learned in my Religious Studies courses and thesis have directly translated into my role at Compton, especially critical thinking, clear communication, and an ongoing curiosity into how human culture and beliefs shape our world.
Why should students today consider taking a course or majoring Religious Studies and what can they expect?
Religious Studies classes offer an intimate environment to ponder some of life's biggest questions and study how humans find and create meaning. They can expect engaged, thoughtful faculty, rigorous texts and writing, and a community of other students who are curious about and compassionate toward the world around them.