I’ve written a number of blog posts over the years about the skills that students in the academic study of religion acquire. It’s worth thinking about because too many people seem focused only on the content of an undergrad degree, assuming that the thing that you study is the thing that you’ll do.
It’s an effect of the longstanding professionalization of the university, of course (whereby specialties once reserved for separate, two-year colleges or tech schools moved into the university and became degree programs, thereby lending undergrad the feel of job training), with a big dollop of the 2008 financial/housing/job market collapse thrown in for good measure. Add to this declining state support for public universities (whereby a significant portion of the costs of higher ed have been transferred from state coffers to individuals’/families’ bank accounts) and you understandably arrive at a situation where many have trouble understanding doing an undergrad degree in some wide or general topic that might not have many obvious or direct paths to a steady pay check.
But this isn’t just a problem for Religious Studies, for one would be naive to think that all those English majors become English teachers, right? And it’s not like History majors all become historians — whether that means going on to graduate studies to become history professors or getting jobs with historical preservation societies or wherever else an historian might work.
This essay (serialized here across 24 separate posts) uses words and numbers to discuss the uses of words and numbers — particularly examining evaluations of university degrees that employ statistical data to substantiate competing claims. Statistical analyses are crudely introduced as the mode du jour of popular logic, but any ratiocinative technique could likely be inserted in this re-fillable space and applied to create and defend categories of meaning with or without quantitative support. Questions posed across the series include: Is the data informing or affirming what we believe? What are the implications of granting this approach broader authority? The author, Melanie Williams, graduated from UA in 2006, with a B.A. in Anthropology and Religious Studies.
What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?
I began using that Joyce line, years ago, as a proof of dreams. I work odd jobs to eke out my living from town to town, so most vertiginous mornings start with my catechism: “What are you thinking? Is it logical?” Yes. “Is it coherent?” Yes. “You were dreaming.” The next few moments I spend drawing up the day’s cosmography. It will only last the day. It takes all the effort of imagination now to divide nature from contrivances. Surely the stars are natural. The streetlamp is not. A peach may grow organically around a counterfeit stone. A tree is rustic from this angle, but the tidy row behind traces an arc of artifice as I pass along the unnatural road. Is my path natural? How else to judge but to measure myself against convention? Which I am also obliged to invent? I resist the gauche urge to victimize my friends, since it’s easy enough to fashion lives for people I don’t know. I tear a few from my perforated templates: CEO. Software Engineer. Marketing Consultant. I plop them into plush deck chairs in St. Barts and place lowball glasses into their pale fingers. I dress them in marvelous chi-chi outfits but their faces are all the same. Or I should say, they are a bank of one impassive face repeating — the bland portrait of a turquoise horizon, merging and vanishing in an oblique line of thermoplastic facsimile across a luminous liquid crystal field. Beyond the offing, their faces hum a hot squall of technical, statistics-based formulas for streamlining my online payment or fielding my search query, “what happened to tootie facts of life?” Most of the time, even when I seem lost in thought, I’m not really thinking about anything — more likely at any given moment I am trying to remember the lyrics to “Informer.” If each of these things is like the other, mine must be the face that has wandered into the dark. It is comforting to imagine, at least, that strange illustrious heads are keeping vigil over the cosmic order, over drinks, under a far-off sun.
Once I’ve exhausted their vague brilliance, my fancies mellow into a general wonder of how people choose their careers. Sometimes I am content to wonder at the speculation surrounding how people choose, or ought to choose, or if they choose. Which is the natural thing? Continue reading →
Zac Parker graduated with a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Alabama in 2011. Here he helps us kick off our new, ongoing series, Grad Tales Extra, in which grads not able to join us on campus, to discuss the relevance of their degree, can drop us a line instead, to update us on what they’ve done since leaving Manly Hall.
During the year following graduation, I spent many months traveling, camping, and backpacking around the country, taking time to explore and reflect on what I wanted to do in my life and figuring out what priorities were most important to me. In the Fall of 2012 I entered the East Carolina University Master’s program for Anthropology, eventually graduating with a concentration in Cultural Anthropology in the Spring of 2014. Upon receiving my M.A., I entered a month-long residential yoga teacher training program at Swami Satchidananda‘s Integral Yoga ashram at Yogaville, VA. Currently, I am living in beautiful Colorado Springs, CO, working as a Life Coach at a blended online\in-person high school for “at-risk” students and teaching yoga on the weekend. I continue to enjoy expanding my understanding of religion in its many forms, with its many aspects.
I cannot fully express the deep and sincere gratitude I have for the Religious Studies department, for what it has given me. I have been shocked when talking to a number of fellow UA alumni since graduation how little others seem to have gotten out of or enjoyed their undergraduate careers. Nothing could be further from the truth for me. Every single Religious Studies class, in addition to the amazingly supportive faculty and fellow majors, was incredibly eye-opening, thought provoking, and (sorry to sound like a Hallmark card) even life changing. It truly, truly was, and I cannot thank the department enough for helping guide me along my own path of inquiry and understanding. I certainly do not mean to take away anything from any of the faculty, but I’d specifically like to thank Dr. Trost, Dr. Jacobs, Dr. Ramey, and the late Dr. Murphy (may he forever rest in peace) for helping instill in me an everlasting thirst for greater understanding and the ability to critically question things in ways I had previously unimagined.
Last night we had the pleasure of hearing from Samantha Bush, an REL grad, about her life after the Capstone and how her REL degree has helped her get her career started. If you missed it last night, here are the highlights thanks to our intrepid team of live tweeters.
Last year the Department of Religious Studies started a new speaker series, Grad Tales: There and Back Again. This Wednesday at 6:30 pm in the Anderson Room of the Ferguson Center (upstairs, in the older part of the Ferg) we will kick off this year’s series with recent grad Samantha Bush as our first speaker.
I came across the above tweet last week and it made me smile. Jack Bauer, the main character in the FOX television show 24, earned his bachelor’s degree in English literature from UCLA. On one level, it became an interesting answer to, “what can you do with a humanities degree?” You can save the free world, that’s what. Continue reading →