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Experiencing the Unfamiliar


Elizabeth Plant was awarded the Joan Nicoll Riedl Book Award this past year. A transfer student to UT originally from Cookeville, Tennessee, she did not expect to end up majoring in religious studies.

“I was surprised to find that all the classes that I had taken at my previous college for my electives had put me on track to graduate with a degree in religious studies,” Plant said. “It was a pleasant surprise! I had always found religion to be incredibly intriguing and important.”

During her first semester at UT, met Tricia Redeker-Hepner, former director of the Disasters, Displacements, and Human Rights program in the Department of Anthropology. Plant assisted her in a research project on the burials of the displaced in the Acholi region of northern Uganda.

“I was also fortunate to meet Rosalind Hackett, who has conducted many student trips to Gulu, where my father was born,” Plant said. “To me, these 'coincidences' felt like a sign that I should continue to pursue my studies in religion and anthropology.”

As the child of a religious and political refugee, religion has always interested Plant, and she has always grasped at any opportunity to experience religious and cultural traditions with which she is unfamiliar.

“I always wanted to know more. Where did these traditions come from? Have they always been this way? How have they changed over time?”

Plant credits visiting her grandmother for the first time in Kiryandongo as intensifying her desire to understand more about her own culture.

“I know my father must have been dizzy after being peppered with so many questions,” Plant said. “Why did I step on an egg to be welcomed into the village? Why did my grandmother bless me by touching my head, shoulders, and toes? Why did only the elderly women have those distinct piercings? A lot of the times his answer was: 'It’s just been that way'.”

Plant credits the UT Department of Religious Studies for the opportunities it provided to connect with her professors and learn about the academic world. She plants to continue her studies and go on to earn a doctorate in anthropology.

“I hope that throughout my future studies I will be provided opportunities to do research with the Luo population in Uganda and South Sudan,” Plant said. “There is still, and probably always will be, so much I want to learn!”

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