Ellie Cochran is a senior at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies with a depth study in Environmental Management. She will be graduating this May and plans to pursue a Master of Science in Family Financial Planning & Counseling.
As mentioned in my first blog post, (Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 1, I have spent part of my final semester as an undergraduate sitting in on the Religious Studies honors introductory course (REL 105) that is required of majors. While this course is technically the same introduction material that I received three years ago in my intro class (REL 100), I have noticed some distinguishable differences between the honors and non-honors courses.
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.
On p. 3, near the opening of the late Frits Staal’s classic essay, “The Meaningless of Ritual” (Numen  26: 2-22), he wrote:
Contrary to how most of us see it, for Staal, ritual was not referential, i.e., it’s not that one does this because it means this or represents that. While the meaning surely comes later, in hindsight, often taught to us by others, when one is doing ritual one is instead obsessed with sheer form, not content; one simply works to follow the rules because, well…, they are the rules. Continue reading →