Why did you major in Religious Studies?
I chose to major in Religious Studies for a few reasons -- but the most important was probably because out of all of the classes I took in my first few years at Stanford, I found myself enjoying the Religious Studies courses the most. I really appreciated the interdisciplinary nature of the department, the small class size, the passionate faculty, and the opportunity for frequent student-faculty engagement. I also felt that my coursework in Religious Studies really complemented and shaped my interest in American politics and foreign affairs because religion is so intertwined with our country's history.
What was your senior thesis?
I wrote my senior honors thesis on a 1969 controversy over an Alabama law that required all Muslims to register with the state. I really enjoyed writing my thesis, which really demonstrated to me the interdisciplinary nature of Religious Studies because I had the chance to dig into the interconnected nature of race, religion, and politics in the United States. I even received funding from Stanford to conduct archival research in Alabama, which added additional depth to my paper. My paper showed how much the discourse on race, religion, and politics (and Islamophobia in particular) has remained similar over the past 50 years, and recent political events have only emphasized how much the issues in the my thesis remain relevant today.
Where are you today, and how has your degree in Religious Studies shaped your future path?
I think in general, a Religious Studies degree is a great foundation for whatever career you choose -- I used to work in political organizing, and I know RS majors who ended up in working in tech. That said, for my current job, I was actually directly inspired by my thesis research about an unjust "Muslim registration" law and the ensuing litigation to overturn it. Right now, I live in Washington, DC, where I work as a Senior Legal Assistant at Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, a public interest law firm specializing in employment issues. At SHS, I primarily work on race and gender discrimination matters, although I have also worked on a variety of other issues including solitary confinement litigation. This fall, I will attend Harvard Law School and hope to eventually become a public interest lawyer.
Why should students today consider Religious Studies today?
I would encourage everyone to consider taking a course in Religious Studies! There are no prerequisites for taking courses in Religious Studies and so the barrier to entry is very low. When I was a major, a lot of non-majors took courses for the same reason that I became a major -- simply because they enjoyed it! The professors are uniformly excellent lecturers, the students are engaged, and the content is always fascinating. I think you learn a lot about the world by learning more about religion. I also liked the set-up of the classes, which typically meet twice a week for discussion and lecture and the students have the chance to really dig into the reading (and you should certainly expect to have to do the reading).