“Is that enough of a reference for you?”

Bad magician performing a trick at a job interview

Justin Dearborn is a 2007 UA graduate of New College, with a Depth Study in “Religion, Social Structure, and Culture Studies,” who was a frequent member of REL seminars. He currently lives in Los Angeles and is the US National Sales Manager for an Icelandic Craft Brewery.

As I sit here on a Saturday afternoon, warm coffee in hand and enjoying the weekend, I find myself feeling both nostalgic and lucky. Nostalgic considering Dr. McCutcheon’s request for REL Grads to contribute to the REL Blog concerning Job Interview Questions that REL Grads may face after leaving the university and me remembering my time spent in Manly Hall. Lucky because after almost a decade removed from graduation and several years of hard work I’m finally getting to enjoy weekends these days vs. having to work them in years past. I’ve promised Dr. McCutcheon and tried to bang out one of these posts multiple times since serendipitously running into him at Dreamland in 2015 while in Tuscaloosa for work, and I always hit a wall considering what I want my message to be. Given this directive is more specific I should be able to stay on message.

To begin, I am not a true REL Grad in that I attended the University of Alabama as a New College major learning how the different disciplines of Anthropology, Sociology, Philosophy, History and Religious Studies approach the study of Culture, Power, and specifically Religion in Culture as it relates to Power. It was fascinating to perceive the distinct differences in the traditional disciplines paradigmatic approach to the topic, while the REL Dept relied on source material from all of those disciplines to convey that Religion isn’t just dogmatic source texts, beliefs and actions as codified by participants nor is it the hierarchies assigned by colonialist scholars as outside observers. Instead, REL taught me specifically that through discourse meaning is collectively created and is directly relational to power and economies of power.

Without further elaborating on my theoretical takeaways (saving for a future blog post, of course) and sticking to the topic at hand, I wanted to provide some anecdotal examples of what I’ve personally experienced in the job market while listing “Religion, Social Structure, and Culture Studies” as my depth study on my resume. Of course there are always the typical questions related to participating in a particular faith, but in those oversimplified questions that contain preconceived notions of the value and applications of an REL degree there is an opportunity to express what I did learn in REL, how it’s applicable to the job world outside of academia, and why my degree specifically has prepared me to be a better candidate for open positions considering the remaining applicant field.

So were you going to be a preacher?

It’s the South, right? Your potential interviewer (if you choose to stay in the region) will likely be of an age where “Religion” specifically means Protestant Christianity, and to “study religion” means to them an academic track undergone by one who intends to be in a leadership position of a faith organization. There are two great silver linings to this question!

First, you get to explain the skills that you specifically learned in REL and how it applies to the position. In this interview for an inside sales position I was able to explain that I learned that people’s behavior can be influenced by language when you learn what motivates them. This likely did not come out as cerebral as I’ve typed here, but I was able to connect how a religious adherent like a preacher can get an entire congregation to behave a certain way by leveraging the language of that group and how in a sales position I could achieve the desired outcome (a sale) by speaking in and leveraging the language of potential customers. I explained I would use: sports metaphors for football fans, technical product knowledge for the gearheads, and aspirational affiliation (e.g. press, blogs, “influencers,” etc.) for those looking to connect the product and their potential purchase to their identity and concept of self (e.g. their personal or online “brand”).

The second great silver lining for this question is your opportunity to explain what a Religious Studies degree is in the 21st century. The hope is that collectively through a discursive process we can adapt the colloquial understanding of Religious Studies in the South to have a new meaning that furthers the idea that Manly Hall is not training preachers.

I see that you studied Religion, but this job is for Sales. How is your education relevant?

I love this one because it’s as if the Interviewer just walked into our trap. As an REL Major or Minor you will have the opportunity to explain that Religious Studies is first and foremost Interdisciplinary and has made you a well-rounded critical thinker. You could convey that in Religious Studies you learned that all questions and problems are nuanced, that direct causal relationships in human behavior are rarely provable, and to answer a question or solve a problem you’ve learned to dig deeper than what’s on the surface. I’ve touched on how that can be relative to sales above, and it will be your goal in the interview to relay what you’ve taken from your time in Manly from some of the best educators in the field and how it relates to the position you’re seeking. 

You “Liked” Siddhartha on Facebook and have a Religion degree, so I knew you had to be cool.

(Footnote: Before we go any further, if your Facebook account doesn’t have any type of Privacy Settings then everything is visible to all. Just remember that before you go applying for jobs.)

Not a question, I know, but an example of the 21st century job market. My current superior made this statement in an interview in 2014 for the position I hold today. I was able to tell her a tale of reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf in the late Dr. Murphy’s Existentialism class in college the same semester as I was taking a course on the narratives of the Bodhisattva with Dr. Schaeffer (who now works at UVa but who taught courses on Tibetan Buddhism when I was at UA), so the following summer I read Hesse’s Siddhartha. (Check transcript for continuity; dates may be off) Sometimes this quest for knowledge is admired in the non-academic world where so many applicants took a more calculated “career path” that never garnered true critical thinking.

A lot of Interview Questions can be a gauge of your personality. Employers aren’t always looking for specific competencies or skills you’ve learned in undergrad. They want to see those skills in action in a competent, manageable candidate that’s got a great personality. I know this because I’ve hired multiple employees and interviewed numerous candidates since graduating in 2007. I’m always looking for specific examples from the past and how they relate to future scenarios in the position for which I’m hiring. Below are some examples from recent Interviews, in July, that reference the undergrad experience:

I see here you have [XYZ Degree/Certificate/Qualification], what made you decide to achieve this qualification/degree?

What’s an example of your Lateral Thinking either in your current/past position, in college, or in your personal life? (Lateral Thinking is a problem solving skill that uses imaginative and creative ways to approaching problems, ideas, or outcomes. Think of it as a resourcefulness indicator.) 

How do you manage your time and/or prioritize tasks? (This can be either in your job, university, or personal life. Wherever it’s hectic, how do you manage multiple situations?)

Hopefully this helps in preparing you to A) expect certain questions relative to preconceived notions of Religious Studies, B) explain how Religious Studies can apply to the job world outside of academia, and C) be another successful student of the University of Alabama that chose to pursue an education in the Liberal Arts and Religious Studies, even though you may not have long-term goals in academia, because you understand that the job market is accepting of all types of degree earners with strong critical thinking skills.

On Beginnings: Part 1

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

Showing Our Stuff

relephanttextcitedWhat do you get from a degree in Religious Studies? Throughout this semester, our students in the Capstone Senior Seminar have been applying questions that develop in the academic study of religion to a variety of issues, using social media from Twitter to Tumblr to illustrates the issues to a broad audience. Now it is time for posts to our class blog to roll out, starting later today and throughout next week. So, look for those posts at the class blog, and check back over the class’s social media activity on Twitter (@RelephantUA), Continue reading

The Teacher Who Went on to Facebook and Came Back with an Insight

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By Kim Davis
Kim earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and French from
the University of Alabama in 2003. She went on to earn her
Masters in French Linguistics and Literature in 2007 and
a Masters in Secondary Language Pedagogy in 2010,
both from UA. Kim now teaches French and Mythology
at Tuscaloosa County High School.

The other morning I logged onto Facebook for some mindless scrolling while I drank my morning coffee. A post by Craig Martin from Culture on the Edge caught my attention.

The following conversation then ensued. Continue reading

Thanks, Religious Studies

Culture on the Edge Blog Photo

By Lexi Poston

Lexi Poston graduated from UA in 2015 with a triple major in International Studies, Religious Studies, and Criminal Justice and a triple minor in Italian, Judaic Studies, and the Blount Minor. She is currently a graduate student in UA’s Criminal Justice Department where her research interests include prejudice, hate groups, hate crimes, human trafficking, genocide, and how perpetrators of such crimes are prosecuted.

“Are you going to seminary?”

At one point during undergrad, religious studies majors have probably been asked this infamous question by an inquiring relative: I know I was. My family could never really understand how religious studies would correlate with my other degrees in international studies and criminal justice. Compounding this problem, I was also minoring in Judaic Studies which included several classes on prejudice, interfaith relations, and genocide (which sparked my current research interests). While it may not have seemed relevant to outsiders as an undergraduate, there are many skills that I acquired during my time in the Department of Religious Studies that I now use in my Criminal Justice graduate program. The abilities you gain from a humanities degree are therefore invaluable despite the fact that they are often overlooked by relatives expecting young college graduates to focus on “practical” job competencies.

Critical thinking is defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment, a skill that many lack. In Criminal Justice, students now have to take the information they have learned during and after our Introduction to Criminal Justice class to further our knowledge; we then evaluate and apply it to real world situations in order to provide swift and fair justice. It is not uncommon for emotions to run high in the criminal justice system, particularly with shocking and emotionally trying cases. Many become so wrapped up in the case they form biased opinions regarding a crime, making it difficult to approach it from the objective angle required of us, as unbiased opinions are something that criminologists and other persons involved in the criminal justice system just cannot do without. We have to look at the broader picture and the nitty gritty details and try and find just how they fit together, much like a puzzle. In this way, the critical thinking skills gained in programs like religious studies are crucial in effectively doing our jobs.

I have been told that I have a gift with writing and I’ve earned many writing awards between elementary school and high school. I also feel confident enough in my writing because of the writing skills that I had from my high school’s International Baccalaureate program. However, as a college student, I learned pretty quickly that there were many areas of writing that I still needed to improve. I was surprised to discover that writing involves more than regurgitating information found in sources. Religious Studies (partnered with Alabama’s Blount Program) taught me how to critically evaluate sources, formulate an argument, and then make that argument through analysis. The ability to form a coherent and logical argument in my writing is something that I have used quite often with criminal justice, something I’ve seen my peers struggle with greatly. In fact, many have decided to not write a thesis because they believe that it will be some daunting task; however, the prospect of a thesis does not trouble me, no matter how close it is looming.

With the end of my first semester of graduate school, I have only thing to say: Thanks Religious Studies!

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

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Khara Cole graduated from The University of Alabama in 2013 with a double major in Religious Studies and Public Relations. She currently lives in Chattanooga, TN working as an Associate Product Manager in Marketing/New Product Strategy for BlueCross BlueShield of TN.

If you’ve been on social media at all recently, you might have come across the image pictured above originally posted by a far right conservative group that’s been shared countless times across Facebook and other social media sites. When I first came across this terrible comparison, my critical thinking senses immediately kicked in and I thought why in the world would anyone ever compare these two figures, and what are they trying to say? Not only is this image devastatingly offensive to several communities, it was blatantly obvious that there were major political and totally uneducated implications behind this comparison as well, and I wanted to think it through.

Continue reading

What You Missed at This Week’s Grad’s Tale

gradtaleshannah

Wednesday saw the semester’s first installment of “There and Back Again: A Grad’s Tale,” an event that brings back alumni who graduated from UA with a degree in Religious Studies to talk about life-after-diploma. This time, Prof. Mike Altman talked to Hannah Hicks, now a second-year law student here at UA. A double major in Religious Studies and Philosophy who graduated in 2013, Hannah talked about the ways in which her degrees in the liberal arts helped prepare her for her post-graduate studies. Specifically, she related the importance of the critical thinking skills she gained from her majors. Hannah’s interested in “public interest law”—an area of legal studies focused on advocating for or meeting the needs of specific communities (often, this happens through working with nonprofit organizations or specialized groups). With this in mind, she talked about how her work in the Religious Studies Department has helped her to think analytically—and not just in terms of statistical description—about what she deems to be “structural violences” like systemic racism and poverty.

Continue reading

Critical Thinking with Izzy, Episode 1: Structure and Agency

IzzyAnyone who is a virtual or actual friend of mine knows that we have a dog, Izzy — a 7 year old boxer that we’ve had for 6 years. (Ok, let’s just be honest: she has us.) Why? Coz I’ve posted a pick or two of her over the years.

She’s cute, what can I say?

Last night, seated in the living room, it occurred to me what a great illustration she provides of how we can talk about structure — as in social structure — and agency, and doing so in a way that doesn’t emphasize the one to the exclusion of the other, as if we are all mindlessly determined by forces larger than ourselves, on the one hand, or, on the other, as if we are all following our bliss and freely inventing ourselves every moment of the day. For it is surely somewhere in the middle, no? As I’ve said on plenty of other occasions, none of us invented the grammar that was pounded into us as children but, in the midst of using it, we can tweak it too — ain’t that right? And if we’re successful in the tweaking, then those who come after us will think that’s just one more of the rules they ought to be following.

But back to Izzy…

Continue reading

Self-Help Jesus in America

Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel

By Allie Rash
Allie Rash is a rising senior double majoring in Mathematics and Religious Studies. She hails from Franklin, TN, but calls North Carolina and Kansas home as well.  This Spring Allie completed an independent study with Prof. Mike Altman on ideas of self-help in American Protestantism. In this post she reviews the final book they read together, Kate Bowler’s Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. This post originally appeared on Allie’s independent study blog, Self-Help Jesus.

The final book we read for this semester is called Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel by Kate Bowler. And, as the title assures, it made for a beautiful finish to my quest. In my first post I laid out three questions I would try to keep in mind during this semester and they were: Continue reading