Where Are They Now?

From the July 2015 Desktop News | What can you do with a degree in religious studies? That’s what an informal lecture series in the Department of Religious Studies seeks to answer.

The biannual discussion series, dubbed “There and Back Again: A Grad’s Tale,” was created in 2013 to help students answer, both to themselves and others, what they can do with a degree in religious studies. The series brings religious studies graduates back to UA to give current students a glimpse of the work that could await them after they graduate.

“The series is important because it dispels assumptions about what a degree in religious studies prepares you to do,” said Eleanor Finnegan, assistant professor and events coordinator in the Department of Religious Studies. “The academic study of religion does not require that students be religious. We study the ways in which the category of religion, and other categories associated with it, are created, contested, and deployed rather than train students in a particular faith. The degree provides skills—critical thinking, careful listening and reading, creative problem solving—that are useful in almost any career.”

A 2013 graduate of the department, Hannah Hicks, confirmed this as a guest speaker for the series in spring 2015.

“She spoke about the importance of critical thinking and thinking analytically about systemic racism and poverty, which she understands to be ‘structural violences’ in her study of public interest law,” Finnegan said. “Her advice to freshmen, now that she’s in her second year of law school at UA, was to worry less about the future and more about the ideas they find interesting, because the skills she learned were more important than the field of study listed on her degree.”

Finnegan said she has been surprised that, no matter their careers, each guest speaker has had many things to say about the continuing relevance of the skills they gained from majoring in religious studies. Guest speakers have included a high school teacher, lawyer, small business owner, medical student, non-profit worker, and law student.

Finnegan has also been surprised at the growth of the series.

“We thought the event would be popular with religious studies majors,” she said. “However, it has been most popular with students in lower-level religious studies classes, students who may not be religious studies majors.”

The fall 2015 speaker, Susanna Payton, will discuss how religious studies can be applied to nursing.

For more information, visit www.religion.ua.edu/gradtales.html.