Alumni Profile: Michael Franks

LinkedInpicWhy did you go into religious studies in the first place?

I was originally drawn to Religious Studies because I wanted to go into the ministry to work as a pastor. During the course of my studies, however, I shifted my focus because I could not reconcile my academic work with the silence and lack of dialogue in the evangelical movement on pressing ‘earthly’ issues like violence, poverty, and equality. I began to take an interest in the work of John Howard Yoder and my pursuit of ministerial work was replaced with a desire to pursue PhD studies.

Who has been the single most influential person in your preparation for this career? Why?

The most influential person throughout my time at UF and beyond has been Dr. Anna Peterson. In many ways, she acted as a guide; she introduced me to such great thinkers as John Howard Yoder and Paul Tillich, and she oversaw my honors thesis where she provided critical feedback and encouragement. She also helped me tease out and understand the crucial issues surrounding Just War Theory and the various pacifist approaches to violence. Finally, one of the most important and useful lessons I learned at the University of Florida was in one of her classes. Through reading David Carrasco’s City of Sacrifice, she helped me understand that there’s a difference between understanding the motives/conditions for why people have certain practices and accepting those practices as normative. In short, do not conflate what ‘is’ with what ‘ought’ to be. This lesson has been extremely useful to me in the work I do on a day to day basis and in my interactions with people more generally. It has helped me to be more understanding, thoughtful, and critical of the world in which I inhabit. I am forever grateful to my work with her, and my life today would be radically different had I not had these opportunities and experiences.

When did you graduate and what have you been doing since graduation?

I graduated from the University of Florida in 2004. Since graduating I attended the University of Chicago Divinity School where I earned a Master of Arts in Divinity in 2008. Currently, I work as an instructor at Year Up Chicago which is a non-profit that helps young adults 18-24 earn college credit and gain full-time employment in the tech industry in Chicago and many other cities around the country.

What are your plans or current work?

In the course of working with young people who come from disfranchised communities in and around the Chicagoland area, I have developed a passion for Public Interest Law. At some point, I would like to explore this option more seriously by leveraging my education and professional work experience to attend law school.

What challenges have you faced, and what do you consider to be the most significant challenges facing the academic study of religion?

One perpetual challenge for me is in making sure that my practices inform my theoretical approaches toward the world in which I live and vice versa. I have found that some of my theoretical perspectives have changed as a result of lived experience. For example, as much as I love Marx, my experience working with young adults from disfranchised neighborhoods in Chicago has taught me that not all problems can be reduced to a strictly economic understanding of history. This reduction alienates potential allies in the fight for a more just world. In short, while class issues are certainly important, they can’t dominate the discussion of and take precedence over the particular issues facing women, LGBTQIA+, people of color, etc. Coincidentally, I think this is one of the central issues facing not only the academic study of religion specifically but the humanities in general. There’s a particular temptation to keep theory separated from practice. If theory is an end itself, then of what use is it other than to simply act as a rarified discourse amongst specialists who are disconnected from their object of study?

What is one book you would recommend to anyone interested in religious studies?

The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich

What do you miss about Gainesville life?

Gator football and Satchels Pizza!

**Thank you so much for your responses Mr. Franks…we’d send you some Satchels, but it may go bad on its way to Chicagoland. Plus, we hear you have pretty good pizza up there anyway.**