What connects red lipstick, racecars, and health care? The study of religion, of course! (Well, sort of.) Khara Cole, a 2013 graduate with a double major in Religious Studies and Public Relations, has found the skills that she developed in Religious Studies particularly important, as she designs products and their implementation for a health insurance company. She returned to campus last week to talk about her experiences working in the corporate world. The tasks of writing persuasive business proposals and accessible marketing texts clearly draw on her skills that she developed in our classes that emphasized various writing assignments. Solving problems, looking at both the little details and the broader picture as well as the ways different people might respond to the issues, employs the analytical and critical thinking skills that she, like many of our majors, considers a highlight of their work in Religious Studies.
In terms of lipstick and race cars, Khara provided this concrete example of the value of her religious studies major. When Khara began working on her current team implementing new products for her company, she noticed two previous marketing posters, one with a tube of red lipstick dominating the poster and the other with a racecar. Thinking of her first course in the department (Women and Religion with Prof. Simmons), she recognized the gender stereotypes implicit within these posters geared to different audiences and began developing more effective marketing efforts that avoided such gendered stereotypes that would alienate portions of the target audiences. Her story illustrates clearly the relevance of the questions that we often ask in our classes about the ways dominant symbols develop and the groups that those symbols exclude. Looking at those posters with a critical gaze enabled her to consider the ways a range of people might view them rather than accepting the symbolism of dominant stereotypes. In her experience, her skills in critical analysis, therefore, facilitate better marketing and communication strategies. As other graduates have told us, a major in Religious Studies helps students develop skills that provide vital contributions to a range of careers, including business and marketing.
In some of our courses faculty in the department focus on the problem of definition in the study of religion — what counts as a religion (more importantly, for whom) and what are the practical implications of distinguishing a this from a that.
They also often talk about the broad relevance of the skills that students acquire in the Humanities.
So I had all this in mind while listening to a story on National Public Radio this morning, on making sense of a Rutgers University sexual assault survey. It struck me that our students could have been of real help if the designers had conferred with them a bit about the implications of definition prior to designing and administering their survey.
For if you’re trying to lessen the number of such assaults, and increase the likelihood that victims will report them, then the parameters of what counts as a sexual assault are something worth thinking about — and that seems to me to be a pretty good example of how the skills taught in our course have practical impact far outside our classrooms.
Listen to the news story here — the issue of definition becomes more apparent toward its end.
I remember almost two years ago when American historian Edmund Morgan died. I had read Morgan’s Visible Saints as part of my doctoral exams but, not being a historian by training or researching the colonial period, I hadn’t read much else of his work. But after his death I read a lot about Morgan. I read stories from his graduate students, from his colleagues, and from scholars who had come into contact with the man one way or another. It seemed like every historian of a certain generation had some story about him.
As discussions about the relevance of what we do in religious studies, and academia in general, have become more common lately, my own emphases have coalesced around the skills that the humanities help scholars (whether students or faculty or interested blog readers) develop. And that emphasis on skills is not limited to our work in the classroom.
As a follow-up to the other day’s post on whether early career people ought to consider taking on such social media as blogging, in preparation for the job market, I thought it might be worthwhile to reflect a little more explicitly on why I blog.
What I’ve come up with is surely no definitive list but it’s a start at some of the reasons. Continue reading
On the flight home from a visit to Lehigh University this past week I started reading Steven Johnson’s engaging How We Got to Now (2014) — a popularly-written book on the conditions and unanticipated connections that helped to make possible the innovations that many of us now take for granted (e.g., public sanitation or refrigeration). Continue reading
This blog was started in our Department back in May 2012, anticipating the 2012-13 academic year’s lecture series that had four different guests all focus on the relevance of the Humanities — a national debate here in the US for decades but one that was obviously heightened in the face of the 2008 economic collapse both here and abroad. The Department, under then Chair Ted Trost, decided to tackle this head on. And so I started posting periodically on why I think the Humanities (or, more broadly, the Liberal Arts) remain relevant. Continue reading
Did you catch this Forbes online post?
They’re so frustrating for so many different reasons (I commented on one a while back), but for now, just consider the name in the bottom right corner of the photo: Mark Scott is a professional photographer whose stock image was licensed from Getty Images by Forbes for this webpage. Continue reading