If you attended this year’s Majors Fair on October 21st, you witnessed a festive gathering in the Bryan Center, humming with lively discussions about course offerings, research interests, and plans for the future. Faculty and students from more than 80 departments were represented, and display tables featured zany décor ranging from animal skulls at Evolutionary Anthropology to a plastic brain sprouting lollipops at the Cognitive Neuroscience table.
Representing the Religious Studies Department were faculty members Drs. Hwansoo Kim, Mona Hassan, and Lucas Van Rompay, who energetically accosted visitors with spring course flyers and program information alongside student representatives David Levy, Abdul Latif, and Justin Paley.
Levy, a junior, spends his spare time training as an EMT and speaks hopefully of a future in medicine with a pediatric specialty. As he attests, “understanding various theologies means developing insight into human behavior on every level.” He expects to earn his Paramedic certification by August and to work part-time in the field his senior year before applying to medical school.
Also a junior, Latif anticipates pursuing graduate work in religious studies. "Religious Studies is one of the only fields where I can apply all my academic interests—historical criticism, linguistics, literary criticism, anthropology, and sociology," Abdul relates. Latif put his diverse interests to work last year by participating in the Duke-UNC Religion & Science Symposium.
A sophomore from New Jersey, Paley plans to apply to divinity programs in the Northeast after completing his degree at Duke. On his experience as a major, Justin effuses, "whether it's women in Buddhism or Paul's ethics and its effect on the development of Christianity, there seems to be a course for everything I could possibly be interested in concerning religious studies."
For these three majors, the experience of majoring in Religious Studies Department has been one of participation in a pedagogical culture that values investing time and interest into undergraduate students as much as it demands the investment from students, a culture that fosters meaningful connections between teachers and learners.
It is these unique relationships Beth Fox, Director of Duke’s Academic Advising Center, describes when she explains the choosing of a major as “a process of joining a community of scholars” in her video interview on this year’s Majors Fair with the Office of Undergraduate Education. As Fox attests, “I ask [students] to think of a major, a department as a set of relationships—relationships with faculty, relationships with fellow students, post docs, and administrators.”
The evidence of this relational dynamic at work in the Religious Studies Department showed throughout the Majors Fair, as students and faculty collaborated to explain to visitors the Religious Studies experience and the department’s unique academic contribution at Duke.