February 20, 2013 by Marguerite
Ann Herbert graduated in 2006 with a major in Religion and minors in Spanish and Business Administration. She worked as a Health Extension Agent in Morocco with the Peace Corps from 2007-2009. She recently completed a Master in Public Policy from The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy in 2012 and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
by Ann Herbert
The decision to major in Religion was not an easy one. I was worried that studying religion wouldn’t lead to a job and that everyone I met would think I was a religious fanatic of some sort. Frankly, the decision came down to going through the course bulletin and highlighting all the courses I wanted to take. It was clear once the religion section was completely yellow that I would go this route. Still, I was uncertain about this decision so I handled it with humor. I remember standing up at a Religion/Philosophy Department dinner to explain to a group of fellow students that I chose to major in Religion in order to start a cult. Something I have yet to accomplish. But, my decision to study religion at Butler has turned out to be good one and one that I would suggest to others considering it.
While attending Butler, I was heavily involved with the Center For Faith and Vocation, which, among other things, afforded me the opportunity to participate in a Field Seminar to Nicaragua. This seminar included a trip to Nicaragua over spring break where we met with various religious leaders who were representing diverse roles in the country and who held divergent religious views. This trip was my first trip abroad and played a significant role in my decision to study abroad in Ecuador. Since then I have lived in Morocco and Germany and will likely have an international career. My studies in religion were the first exposure I had to learning about other people in different cultures and is one thing I took away from this major.
At Butler, I took courses that ranged from a broad overview of the world’s major religions to a micro-view of an Islamic mystic poet, Rumi. I did walking meditation in Asian Philosophy. I wore a headscarf for a day and wrote about the experience for Muslim Women in the Middle East. I wrote a paper using various theories of religion to prove that my sorority was in fact a religion. Coming from a small town in rural Indiana where I was only exposed to Christianity this was an eye opening experience to say the least. Studying religion opened my eyes to other ways of thinking and living in the world. I became a more well-rounded and open person having learned about diverse belief systems which is something I think is crucial in todays increasingly diverse world.
Because I was interested in different ways of thinking and living due to my exposure to different religions through my course work, I applied to Peace Corps. I was open to going to Morocco when many others were frightened at the prospect of living in a Muslim Country in the post-9/11 era. I wanted to see how Islam was practiced on an everyday basis. Not only did my background in religious studies lead me to Morocco, but also my experience in Morocco was much richer having studied the religion, as it is a major component of the average Moroccan’s worldview.
Following my Peace Corps experience, I could have done many things and the basic skills I gained as a religious studies major at Butler would have been enough preparation for most jobs I would have applied for. As a religion major I gained competence in reading, writing and critical thinking. These are the basic skills necessary for any job. Jobs are basically seeking applicants that can do these three things well, learn quickly and are motivated to work, all of which a religious studies major at Butler is more than capable of.
I, however, chose to go to graduate school because I wanted to supplement my training in the humanities with a more quantitative base in the social sciences. Paired with my Peace Corps experience, my excellent undergraduate performance afforded me a choice of top graduate schools offering a range of support. The fact that the religion department at Butler is small and is willing to work closely with students, advising them both academically and professionally, has been a huge advantage. I was able to thrive and grow in that supportive environment, which played a significant role in how well I did during my studies and subsequently what other opportunities became possible. The faculty was available both during my time at Butler and after. I have repeatedly returned to them for advice, contacts and other support. I actually applied to the University of Chicago where I just completed a Master of Public Policy Program because a Butler Religion Professor, Chad Bauman, directed me to this school. Finding a department where the professors believe in you and are willing to work with you is one of the most important aspects of an undergraduate education, and I am thankful to have experienced this at an optimal level in the Religion Department at Butler.
Additionally, having studied religion makes me unique and allows me to stand out from the crowd. It is a rare major that allows me to contribute a unique perspective. Through my courses I gained the ability to talk intelligently and respectfully about a controversial subject and to approach problems in a more creative, holistic way. Religion happens to be a part of most people’s lives all over the world in one way or another and therefore having studied it allows me to provide a pertinent and important perspective.
Lastly, for me, taking time to think about what I believed and finding out more about what others believed was a crucial step in my personal development. Knowing where I stood on fundamental things such as whether or not I believed in God has influenced most decisions I’ve made since. I had the luxury to think about big questions such as, “what is religion?” and “what role should it play in a democracy?” These are topics that most people consider to be a luxury to think about and I got to dive deep into them for four consecutive years.
Now if asked, “Why Study Religion at Butler?” by someone who is interested in the subject I would reply by saying you learn basic skills that are necessary for any job, you gain competence in a field that applies to anyone anywhere, you will get exceptional support from the department that will allow you to thrive academically and professionally, and you will stand out and provide a unique perspective. Needless to say, I am very happy I chose to study Religion at Butler. In fact, I am very proud of my decision to major in religion. It has led me to where I am today, a place that I am very happy with.