Why I Majored in Religious Studies

Haley Kirtland ’24

When I initially came to Pomona, I barely knew what religious studies was. I took a wide range of courses my first year, embracing what it means to be “undeclared.” The more time I spent exploring various fields though, the more my interests broadened. During the fall of my second year, I took my first two religious studies courses: Eye of God: Race and Empire and Religion and American Politics. In my Religion and American Politics course, I studied the relevance of religion in U.S. history and policy, focusing my term research on reproductive rights. Eye of God had a multi-media approach that challenged me to analyze and question texts unlike I ever had before. I was surprised by how different these courses were, and I quickly became hooked on the intellectual opportunities in the religious studies field. While my concentration is in religion and politics, I have taken courses ranging from Children’s Literature to God on Trial: Free Will and Evil.

The religious studies major is by nature interdisciplinary. I have been able to explore the intricacies of how communities are formed and interact with each other through anthropological, philosophical, and historical lenses. The range in my coursework has given me a diverse skillset that will serve me well long after I graduate. I appreciate the ways that nuance is embraced in my courses, and I have found that professors in the department are excellent at facilitating dialogue and teaching complex theories and ideas.

One of my favorite things about the religious studies major is how I have been able to combine my environmental interests with religious studies topics and theories. As a double major with environmental analysis, I have always been curious about human relationalities to the environment. My religious studies major has given me tools to conduct research and ask belief-based questions, solidifying my interest in the intersection of the two. During my semester abroad in Morocco, I focused my independent study on community water politics. In this ethnographic research, I explored how water rituals in rural Morocco were deeply intertwined with agricultural irrigation practices. This year, I have had the opportunity to do thesis research on similar topics in religion and the environment with the support of my professors and the department.

I have been surprised to find that my religious studies major appears in how I approach ideas and conflicts in my personal, professional, and academic experiences. Religion plays a significant role in all our lives–directly or indirectly–and I believe the religious studies major has equipped me well to think critically and creatively of the worlds we live in.

Alyssa Pedicino ’25

I have always had a passion for studying the history of different cultures, and in 7th grade history class, I remember learning about Islam for the first time. From that point on, I fell in love with the study of religion. I came to Pomona College planning to major in religious studies and have only been more certain of my decision the more courses I have taken in the field. There are so many great aspects of the major, one of which is the broadness of study. My fellow religious studies majors have so many diverse research areas that you would hardly believe they are in the same major. My area of concentration is Christian studies, and my research area is Medieval Christianity, with a focus in female saints' lives. This ties in nicely with my minor–late antique medieval studies.

The Religious Studies Department allows me to explore that intersection of religious studies, history, and gender and women's studies, and encourages that interdisciplinary approach. I even participated in a 2023 Summer Undergraduate Research Project at Pomona on hymnology related to Saint Brigit of Kildare, a female late antique medieval Irish saint. Within the flexibility of the department, my major advisor, Professor Kenneth Wolf, is in the adjacent department of Classics. Since his courses and research areas are religion-focused and align well with my interests, I am able to work well with him on my academic journey. Another aspect of the major's interdisciplinary nature is that courses outside of the department that are related to it can count toward your major. In my case, I took "Music in Christian Practice" with Professor YouYoung Kang at Scripps College, and this was one of my favorite courses I have taken in college. In looking at the intersection between music and Christianity, I was able to count the course toward my major and learned about topics that inspired my summer research project.

The major is also personal to me because of my own faith experience. I am Catholic and grew up involved in my church. But I am also very progressive, and finding the relationship between those aspects of my identity is a lifelong journey. My religious studies courses have allowed me to see other religions’ interactions with politics and how different types of Christianity handle politics. The major has even allowed me to have personal discernment of what I believe and expand my understanding of my own faith. The conversations I have inside and outside the classroom about religion not only fulfill me personally but allow me to express my passion to so many individuals. Religion plays such an important role in individuals’ lives and society as a whole, and this fuels my understanding of the importance of studying religion. Whether individuals take one religious studies course or dedicate their lives to the field, it remains an important part of their lives and academic journeys.

One of the best parts of the liberal arts experience is studying a field you are passionate about and turning that passion into action. My passion is religious studies, and I am so grateful I am able to study it at Pomona College.