What are you doing today (professionally) and how did studying Religion prepare you for this?

I’ve done a number of things since graduating from Wake Forest in 2006, and right now I’m the Manager of Grants and Special Projects for Teach For America in Mississippi. I’m responsible for the research, writing, and reporting for all grant funding as well as the more grassroots aspects of our work across the state which includes small gift fundraising campaigns, working with a cohort of teachers who have an interest in community development and organizing, and connecting with the media to share the possibilities and potential of the students in Mississippi. On weekends, I have also occasionally filled the pulpit in several small congregations across the Mississippi Delta.

Studying Religion at Wake Forest prepared me for this work by encouraging me to explore the varieties of lived experiences beyond my own and instilling in me the importance narrative plays in our lives and work – we each have our own stories to tell and our traditions weave stories of who are communities are, how we got here, and where we’re heading. At the end of the day, I’m a professional storyteller whose stories try to share the compelling truth and hope inherent to Mississippi and her people.

I also learned the invaluable skills of research and rhetoric. I’ll take these with me to my grave, and am forever indebted to Drs. Foskett, Boyd, Ford, and Jensen for imparting their knowledge in these areas to me.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of studying Religion?

Studying Religion is inherently an interdisciplinary and practical endeavor. One cannot study Religion without engaging other disciplines including Anthropology, History, Biology, Literature, Economics, and so on. Religion stands at the root of much of contemporary society however veiled it may be at this point. It also stands directly in our midst on a daily basis whether we decide to engage with it or not. Billions of people are adherents to some religious tradition and the tenets or requirements of these traditions drive countless actions every day. If we can better understand what we believe, what our neighbors believe, and why we all believe what we believe, I think we can better address why we choose to do what we do on the local and global levels.

What advice do you have for current Religion students?

I assure you I’m not being paid to offer you this advice though it may sound like someone in the department speaking through me. Soak it up. Even if you go on to graduate school for religious studies or in some other field, you’ll never be in this position again. Take full advantage of the opportunities at your fingertips. Ask questions. Read what you’ve been assigned and then read some more. Ask more questions. Ask for recommendations from your professors of works to read, films to see, and people in Winston-Salem to meet and then go read them, see them, or meet them. Sit in the balcony of Wait Chapel by yourself one afternoon. Take classes that others say are too hard – whether they are in the Religion department or not. You’ll thank me and your professor later. Look for places and spaces where your Religious studies connect to your other coursework. And perhaps most importantly, listen to your advisor. He or she got that title for a reason. The insight and advice I received from Dr. Foskett has carried me well beyond the Reynolda campus.

Oh, and if Dr. Boyd is still coaching youth basketball try to become his assistant. Don’t coach against him. You won’t win. I learned that the hard way.

How have other areas of your life been shaped by studying Religion?

Much of why I am where I am today is because of the relationships I built and experiences I had while studying Religion at Wake Forest. Two of my dearest friends – Matt Imboden and Kyle Layman – decided to take Dr. Jensen’s course on the religious development of the individual and we ultimately ended up studying in Scotland together for a semester. Our friendship was strengthened by the bonds we built in that and other courses in addition to the fun we had beyond the classroom. During my senior year I took a course in religion and public life from Dr. Boyd. This course introduced me to the intersection of these two institutions as well as the role of community organizing and the necessity for community engagement on the part people of faith. As a student of Religion and a person of faith, I regularly draw on this course, my internship, and other readings and people it led me to in my day to day life.

Winona LaDuke – Farrell Hall Room A31

To Honor the Spirit  of the Earth:  Contemporary Indigenous Approaches  to Sustainable Economies

Monday September 23rd at 5:30 pm

Book Signing and Reception to Follow


Founder and Co-Director of Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization dedicated to raise awareness and financial support for Indigenous environmental justice, sustainable development, food systems, and renewable energy.



Alum Mustafa Abdullah (Religion, 2010) has been invited to participate in The Nathan Cummings Foundation’s “2030 Faith in America Challenge”:

On October 7-10, 2013 The Nathan Cummings Foundation will host leaders in their twenties and thirties to explore strategies to create a U.S. society by the year 2030 where our religious diversity leads us to act collaboratively for a more just, fair and compassionate country.   In a time of significant national and global transitions, religious communities, faith leaders and those on a spiritual journey will play a central role in determining the future of our country, with global implications. We believe when individuals and communities articulate and embody their personal religious and spiritual values in the public arena this country is best able to fulfill its promise as a refuge for the outcast, provider of opportunities and mobility for all, and fulfill the promise of a robust democracy where power is held in the hands of the many.

What are you doing today (professionally) and how did studying Religion prepare you for this?

Today I am the Assistant Director of Campus Life and Service and for me there are a myriad of ways that studying religion has shaped what I do but there are two that really stand out for me.  The first is in the way that social justice plays a significant part in my understanding of the work that I do.  My philosophy towards service cannot be separated from my intense desire to create a more just world and my understanding of what this just world should look like comes directly from my study of religion. However, it doesn’t just come from the study of my own religion, which is Christianity.  I came to Wake Forest with a deep knowledge of how my faith related to my personal desire to serve others and create a more just world, but it was through the Religion department and my study of other traditions in the department that my appreciation of other faiths grew and developed and my understanding of justice became more complex.  This is the second way that my study of religion at Wake Forest continues to shape the work that I do, by continuing to inform my appreciation for and engagement with diversity.  The Religion Department was the first place where I was introduced to the truth that a just world is a diverse world.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of studying Religion?

Religion is a multi-faceted and holistic discipline.  It was in my religion courses where I felt that I wasn’t really going to class but instead was learning about myself and about the existential nature of myself and of others.  For me, the study of religion is so central to civilizations.  There are so many interesting intersections.  I found my most stimulating conversations in the intersection of gender, ethics, and tradition but there are so many ways to make your study personal and for me that is what is exciting about religion. The faculty are so eager to make the material relevant and meaningful to the students’ lives that I felt so cared for as a student and relished class time and office hours.

What advice do you have for current Religion students?

First of all: congratulations, you are in for a treat.  Secondly, take full advantage of your experience and the incredible resources at your disposal.  My advice to religion students is similar to my advice to many a Wake Forest student but it is particularly pertinent for religion students.  Take time to immerse yourself in your studies.  Go to lectures.  Meet with your professors.  Do all of the reading and participate in class discussions.  Never turn down an invitation to a professor’s house for dinner.  This is the stuff that dreams are made of.  When I tell my friends now about the personal relationships that I still have with my professors from Wake Forest, they are shocked.  How many of them ask me about my family, still invite me to lunch, came to my wedding. The story of the close intellectual Wake Forest community between faculty and students can be real…but only if you seek it for yourself.

How have other areas of your life been shaped by studying Religion?

Many of my dearest friends are still to this day people I met in religion courses.  One of my best friends, Jessica Devaney, activist extraordinaire, was my glorious debating counterpart in Dr. Simeon Illesanmi’s Christian Ethics and Social Justice course.  The class was incredible and was my first scholarly introduction to the social justice implications of my own tradition.  The course inspired my master’s thesis on the beloved community and just importantly it birthed a life-long friendship.  Seven years out from Wake Forest,  many of my dearest friendships were forged in seminar courses and I still return to readings and books I purchased for my religion courses.  Religion taught me to think more openly about the world around me and I think that’s why the friends I made in those classes have endured.

We are pleased to announce that the 2013 Donald O. Schoonmaker Faculty Prize for Community Service has been awarded to Professor of Religion & American Ethnic Studies, Dr. Ulrike Wiethaus. Dr. Wiethaus’ commitment of service to   Wake Forest and the Winston-Salem community at large is to be commended.

Professor Wiethaus has been deeply involved with students, staff, and faculty colleagues on the campus and with a wide array of partners locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Her exemplary work continually brings members of the campus community into productive and mutually beneficial relationships with those beyond our walls. Dr. Wiethaus will be formally recognized during the Founder’s Day program next spring.

We appreciate the nominations we received this year. They were all very deserving candidates, and the process of reviewing them was both a pleasure and a challenge.

We extend our sincere thanks and a hearty congratulations to Dr. Wiethaus for her outstanding contributions!




On April 7th, Coptic Christian mourners were attacked outside their central Cathedral in Cairo, a holy site on par with the Vatican. They had gathered for a funeral for fellow Copts, who were killed during sectarian fighting a few days earlier. Though it’s unclear who started the violence, it’s a sign of the deep-rooted tension between Egypt’s Christian minority and Muslim majority.

Dr. Van Doorn-Harder gave a great interview on the PRI program “Interfaith Voices.”

Download Podcast here…

The JustVision team has won the prestigious Peabody Award for their film, “My Neighbourhood” for which Jessica Devaney was co-producer. 

Here is the link to the film’s webpage:  http://www.justvision.org/myneighbourhood

And here is the list of winners of the Peabody this year:  http://peabodyawards.com/2013/03/72nd-annual-peabody-awards-complete-list-of-winners/

Religion Major David Inczauskis researches campus religious life. He writes: During the spring semester of 2012, I worked with Dr. Lynn Neal of the Religion Department to carry out an academic study of religious groups at Wake Forest. My goal was to conduct ethnographic research that would reveal the unique differences between specifically Christian organizations on campus. A few of the guiding questions were as follows: Why do students participate in Christian groups? How do the groups’ organizational structures reflect their Christian goals? And what do students take to be the meaning of Christian religion? My methodology for gathering data involved informal interviews, formal interviews, and observations in the field. I attended the group meetings of a wide variety of Christian organizations, spoke with student leaders, questioned campus ministers, and generally immersed myself in mainstream religious culture at Wake Forest. The results were surprising, and I published a few of my conclusions in a series of articles for the school newspaper, The Old Gold and Black. Read the articles here

Kate Masseta, ’11 Religion: Internship:  Summer 2010, Hope for Honduran Children, Honduras

“RPE has expanded my mind by expanding my boundaries; rather than analyzing people’s religious or cultural backgrounds, I experienced them.”