I began studying Religious Studies because I was broadly interested in religion. It was in Religious Studies 300, known as the method and theory class, with Dr. Erin Darby my interest became a passion. We read/stumbled through Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray, Louis Althusser, and other theorists. At first, I was overwhelmed with new language and concepts I had never considered, but I quickly adapted to the pace. It became my favorite class. When it ended, I decided to do an independent study with Dr. Darby to learn more about method and theory and read more theorists. In another seminar that year, Dr. Tina Shepardson introduced me to the scholarship of Judith Butler, and I began to develop a perspective that has continued to inform my work and worldview.
The perspectives I gained from reading these theorists changed the way I studied religion, but they also affected my other studies. I also study Social Work and will graduate with a bachelor's degree from that college as well. I believe that my study of Social Work is uniquely informed by my passion for studying gender, power, and resistance, which I have cultivated in the department of Religious Studies. Religious Studies has taught me to think critically about the power dynamics established and perpetuated through rhetoric and the performance of identity.
This framework of examining power and social construction has allowed me to research a wide variety of topics. I have researched and written papers on gender construction in early Christianity, the role of ambivalence related to race in William Seymour's Pentecostalism, the performance and fetishization of horror to resist hegemonic beauty standards employed by Alexander McQueen's fashion house, and the appropriation of Native American gender identities by a predominantly non-Native group of people practicing a form of Queer spirituality called the Radical Faeries. In the College of Social Work, I have applied this framework to research an intervention to rehabilitate batterers who perpetrate same-sex intimate partner violence. I am currently researching conversion therapy as a modern form of religious violence. I have presented my research in five conferences including the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion in 2015 and the Nexus 2016 Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference.
I am an active member of the LGBTQ+ community on campus, the UT Diversity Matters Coalition, the Macro Social Work Student Network, and a representative for the department of Religious Studies on the Dean's Student Advisory Council. Many professors including Drs. Shepardson, Darby, and Dees worked with me long after I had completed their classes to continue to develop my research. Their guidance and encouragement have pushed me and helped me to excel and always work harder. They often reminded me that research and writing are processes of editing that are never really finished. The department of Religious Studies has given me the confidence to pursue both my academic and personal goals by pushing me to pursue greater challenges and to be constantly improving. I believe there is no other department like the Religious Studies department at UT. The faculty (including professors I haven't had) made the department a home for me. Many of them are truly my hero(in)es and inspirations.
I am graduating in May of 2016, and in August I will begin an MA program at The New School for Social Research in New York City. Religious Studies provided me with the foundation to continue my interdisciplinary study. I will be studying continental philosophy with a concentration in psychoanalysis. I will also be working towards a certificate in gender and sexuality studies. The Religious Studies department prepared me to study both inside and outside of the discipline. As I think about moving, I am excited to learn more about the theorists I have studied in Religious Studies, but I am also sad because I feel that I am leaving behind some of my biggest inspirations and champions. I know that the knowledge, skills, and confidence they have helped me develop will continue to shape and propel me into new ways of thinking and asking new questions.