Julian Kane Rivers
Religion Major, Class of 2020
While taking REL 140: Religion, Race, and Discrimination in America, Julian Kane Rivers discovered they were deeply invested in the role that religion plays in both oppression and liberation. The academic study of religion deepened Julian's understanding of the values and perspectives of different religious groups, while also providing "a dynamic understanding of how people network and the historical context behind various communities."
While at CMU, Julian participated in a number of student organizations and extra-curricular groups, including the Student Government Association, Dogma Free Society, Spectrum, and Student's Advocating Gender Equality (SAGE). "All of these groups opened me up to figuring out my own beliefs and values while cultivating leadership skills," writes Julian, "I enjoyed being a part of such a rich community and making breakthroughs in those groups." For future students, Julian says, "My advice to anyone starting at CMU is to connect with your professors immediately. Get to know them, memorize their office hours, and keep in contact with them." And for those who pursue a Religion Major or Minor? "We have a wonderful roster of professors in the Religion Area. If you find yourself having a riveting conversation with a professor about a compelling subject, try one of their courses! Don't be afraid to experiment either. This major is full of opportunities to learn and acquire new information." At present, Julian is working with several activist organizations and hopes to continue to work as a canvasser for social justice causes in the future.
Religion Minor, Class of 2020
Ellaree Wachter decided to pursue a Religion Minor in her sophomore year at Central Michigan University while enrolled in Dr. Laurel Zwissler’s REL 207: Women in Religion course. She recalls how she had been seeking a minor that would complement her English Literature Major, and notes that she “found the anthropological, thought-provoking nature of the academic study of religion” to be a good fit, especially in how it helped her to understand diverse cultures from different perspectives.
For Ellaree, one major takeaway from her experiences in Religion courses at Central was in how she "gained perspective, respect, and appreciation for people, religions, and cultures that I never would have learned about otherwise." Ellaree is confident that "the valuable knowledge, insight, and resources I gained at CMU" will help her move forward in a career in editing or publishing.
Erik Reynold Fritzen
Religion Minor, Class of 2019
Erik Reynold Fritzen initially became interested in the academic study of religion when he was enrolled in REL 304: Religion and Psychology. The religion faculty at CMU, Erik writes, are "inclusive, understanding, and knowledgeable." As he prepares to start a master's program in Public Health at Grand Valley State University in the fall of 2020, he writes that courses in religion provided him with a more nuanced "understanding of different belief systems." He knows that this will help him to succeed in public health work because he now has the necessary tools to "more effectively and compassionately manage concerns with the public."
What is Erik's advice for new CMU students? "Approach everything with an open mind," and "don't be afraid to challenge your own beliefs." By doing so, students who study religion at CMU will be prepared for a number of career paths that require critical thinking, empathy, and rigor.
Religion Minor, Class of 2019
Like many first-year students at Central Michigan University, Victoria's first semester schedule was largely designed by her academic advisor based on her intended program's (psychology) degree requirements. That first semester, she noticed that she had been assigned an elective course titled "Women in Religion," taught by Dr. Laurel Zwissler. While she had never formally studied religion in an academic environment, it quickly proved to be one of the most interesting and thought-provoking subjects during her time at CMU, with her signing a Religion minor shortly thereafter.
Of the many stellar Religion courses taken at CMU, Victoria particularly recalls those of "Lost Books of the Bible" by Dr. Kelly Murphy, "Islam" by Dr. Talat Halman, and "Seminar in Study of Religion" by Dr. Laurel Zwissler due to their emphasis on the importance of historiography and the societal power relations that influence how groups understand and modify historical narratives. Victoria would like to especially thank Dr. Laurel Zwissler for her phenomenal guidance both as her Religion minor advisor and personal ally throughout her degree at CMU. Dr. Zwissler's extraordinary teaching and mentoring continue to shape Victoria's graduate studies, from recognizing key scholars like Clifford Geertz to identifying safe spaces and allies in her community.
During her time at CMU, Victoria served as a Writing Center Consultant, Ronald E. McNair Scholar, and French tutor, in addition to contributing to several organizations and research endeavors. Having graduated with a Bachelor of Science in French and Psychology with a minor in Religion, she is currently an MA/Ph.D. student in Penn State University's Francophone Studies program, with her research focusing on the colonial legacy of France in Northern Africa. For those interested in Religion, Victoria emphasizes that Religion can serve as a springboard for pursuing many other interconnected fields and concepts; it can help one more clearly recognize and investigate the connections of a variety of fields such as: Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, and, in her case, even Francophone Studies. For Victoria, the academic study of religion introduced her to the practice of interdisciplinary research, a skill that remains critical to her graduate studies today.
Religion Minor, Class of 2019
"Taking multiple courses in religious studies at CMU deepened my compassion for people with worldviews outside of my own and gifted me with a new understanding of the beauty in the complexity of the human experience," writes Makaela Grinzinger.
While Makaela was initially interested in Religion courses to learn more about the Bible, she discovered that the academic study of religion went far beyond learning about particular religions or specific texts. In particular, she appreciates the way her Religion minor helped her to analyze the intersections of power, which for her is especially important for thinking about gender: "Studying religion at CMU helped empower me to begin believing that my gender can't keep me from succeeding anywhere that I choose. Being a young female that works in leadership in my church isn't a common occurrence. I owe so much to the faculty in the religion department at CMU that emboldened me to step into my calling, believing I was equipped and that I had what it took."
After graduation, Makaela took a position as a church connections coordinator. She describes how her time studying religion helped her "develop skills that I use every single day" in her career, particularly emphasizing that "the academic study of religion taught me how to step outside of my own perspective in order to gain a deeper understanding of other people and the worlds around those people." For future students interested in pursuing religion at CMU, Makaela says, "The department is producing a powerful generation of curious, hungry, world-changing scholars. Go sign up for Religion classes now!"