Learning to think is more important than learning to know.
Rarely is there a single correct answer when thinking about religion. Some of my favorite classes in the religion department have been about theology, or the study of God. It is basically impossible to answer a question about the existence of God with a simple “yes” or no.” This is exciting! It is so intellectually freeing to know that you can never really be wrong. Learning how to think about a question or issue without one specific end goal has been one of the most useful skills I’ve gained from my time in the religion department.
It’s also worth mentioning that one of the most satisfying things to happen in college is when you leave a class and continue to think about the material for the rest of the day. You might even feel the urge to talk to your roommates or friends about it. I’ve found that this continued interest has kept me coming back to the religion department at Tufts again and again, and ultimately led to my decision to major in it.
Objectivity doesn’t really exist.
This might seem like a shocker, but objectivity doesn’t really exist. And this is not a bad thing either. What I mean by this is, that everyone brings to the table a different background and experience. This shapes how they view the world, and also the material that they study. Even in a non-humanities setting, the way that one might interpret a data set can reflect their hopes and dreams for what they want that data to say. While scientists might find this problematic, I’ve found it useful when reading about religion. Asking yourself, “Where is this author coming from? What are their biases? What are they hoping to accomplish?” is a great way to understand a text.
It has also helped me in my own work. I am currently in the process of writing a senior honors thesis (which is not required by the way). My thesis is on Goddess Worship, a neo-pagan religious movement that started alongside second-wave feminism. Some of the questions that I’ve been asking myself are, “Why am I writing about this particular subject? How does my own background influence my thinking? Why is this important to me?” While I don’t subscribe to Goddess Worship myself, I have still found that my identity as a woman and as a feminist has informed my thinking on this subject. I’ve also found myself gravitating towards some neolithic female figurines that serve as inspiration for the movement. I am also a double-major in Art History and being able to combine all of my different academic and personal interests has been incredibly rewarding and exciting thus far. Asking these questions of myself has helped me immensely in figuring out what I want to study, what I want to say, and how I want to say it.
Understanding this has also made my classroom experience much more rewarding. Being with a group of students with different backgrounds is the best way to learn, and that has always been the case in my classrooms at Tufts. I have realized that even if I don’t agree with someone else’s viewpoint, that does not mean that it isn’t valid. Understanding the importance and influence of someone’s background has helped me both in and out of the classroom.
There’s no such thing as a “useless major.”
Many people shy away from studying what they love because they are worried about finding a job after college. People often think that the next step for religion majors is divinity school, or some other religious vocation, but this is not always the case. Tufts has taught me that it is important to remember that the study of religion is an academic discipline, and that the knowledge gained can be applied to a variety of contexts, not simply personal spiritual growth. Religion majors, at Tufts and elsewhere, have gone on to be journalists and lawyers. They help in peacebuilding efforts across the world. They can be teachers and diplomats and social workers and consultants. Personally, I am hoping to get a museum job after graduation. The possibilities are truly endless. The study of religion is applicable in so many fields because, at the end of the day, the study of religion is really the study of people and what they care about most.