Unexpected Paths to Intended Outcomes: Using Digital Tools in Religious Studies

young man in crimson white Alabama band uniform, standing in formation in football stadium

What happens when a Criminology and Criminal Justice major takes a Religious Studies class? Well, for
Drake Jones, a new major and new perspectives were in store.

Drake, one of our majors expecting to graduate this fall (and a trombone player in the Million Dollar Band), came to REL for Dr. Richard Newton’s African Diaspora class in the Spring of 2023. With this class, he contributed significantly to the ongoing effort to digitize and analyze data related to the Decoding Diaspora project. He specifically worked on the historical limits of identity and race classifications. The next semester, Drake took Dr. Newton’s Comparative Scriptures class, where he used digital tools to analyze Biblezines—Bibles published by Thomas Nelson in the early/mid 2000’s.

In these classes, Drake was encouraged to use a variety of digital tools including Omeka, Voyant Tools,
Scalar, and the WayBack Machine to conduct his analysis. But, Drake saw potential in other tools too. He
had experience with Excel and Google Sheets from his time in Criminology and Criminal Justice, thus he
mainly used these to formulate his data—effectively bringing a unique facet to the projects.

But what does this have to do with a degree in Religious Studies?

In doing these projects, Drake was able to use some familiar tools and discover additional applications of
them. He gained a new perspective when it comes to using digital tools—realizing that digital
humanities is a field with ample room for creativity.

In learning more about creative uses of seemingly mundane digital tools, Drake thought differently
about identity, religion, and the classification of data. His creative process allowed Drake to expand on
his prior knowledge of how data works while integrating a new understanding of religion. Thus, he made
a unique contribution to ongoing projects, and he refined his ability to apply tools and skills creatively.

This post is part of a series that highlights the range of accomplishments that students in
Religious Studies achieve while at the Capstone and in their lives after graduation. We all hear
questions like, “What are you going to do with a Religious Studies degree?” As this series makes
clear, the skills that students develop in Religious Studies, including critical thinking, interacting
with diverse viewpoints, social analysis, and the ability to communicate to multiple audiences,
contribute to a broad range of activities and careers.