What are your research interests, and how have these interests led you to UF’s graduate program?
I’m interested in several issues, some falling more clearly within the realm of religious studies, and others being more interdisciplinary. American religious history, lived religion, mysticism and the occult, and paranormal phenomena are topics I plan to address as a religion scholar. That said, I’m also looking forward to exploring the relationship(s) between academia (specifically the humanities and social sciences) and artistic expression, particularly through literature and the performing arts. Lastly, the role of comedy in American culture is a fascinating and at present vastly underexplored area of inquiry.
I chose to return to UF (after earning my bachelor’s degree in Religion here) because the faculty in the department is superb. Not only are they experts in their respective fields, they are incredibly supportive. For anyone with experimental or interdisciplinary interests, this is especially crucial. During my studies, I hope to draw on my prior connections to other departments, including Fine Arts and Mass Communications, and I know that my faculty advisors in the Religion Department will encourage my aspirations at every turn.
How has your time in UF’s program so far facilitated or enabled you to pursue these interests?
Since I arrived at UF, the faculty in the Religion Department have encouraged me to think both critically and creatively and to pursue the research areas that ignite my passions. My mentor, Dr. David Hackett, has been particularly instrumental in my metamorphosis as a scholar and as a person. His attitude toward graduate work—that it has everything to do with being true to one’s own ambitions, rather than contorting to external pressures—has had a major impact on how I approach my research. It’s helped give me the confidence to explore my writing style, develop my voice, and trust my instincts.
What do you see yourself doing in the future following graduation, and how do you see your time at UF as contributing to these goals?
After completing my graduate studies, I intend to pursue a career both within academia as a professor and outside it as a writer, speaker, and advocate for making humanities and social science research more accessible and applicable to the general public.
There is a vibrancy—an aliveness—to this campus that resonates with the enthusiasm I bring to my own work, and which has also made it the ideal environment for me to explore my interests in lived culture and lived religion. Moreover, I know that, in my time at UF, I will be given the freedom and support to develop my skills as a writer and scholar and to find answers to the questions that led me to religious studies in the first place.
How do you understand the importance of academic studies in religion and/or in the humanities in general?
Something I’ve encountered since my freshman year of college, when sharing with people that I was studying religion, was the question, “So, what are you going to do with that?” While often well-intentioned, this question speaks to a larger issue in our society—where higher education is increasingly measured as a means to material success, at the expense of cultural literacy and self-actualization. The importance of exposure to the humanities in shaping mature, independent, well-rounded individuals has been obscured by our collective anxieties over economic security and technological progress. In reality, however, unless our lives have a sense of context—unless we truly come to know ourselves and the world around us—we cannot hope to be more than mere cogs in a machine regardless of our future careers. Context is what leads to real innovation and progress because it allows us to develop empathy and understanding and prepares us to meet the demands of a globalizing society. More importantly, context allows us to examine ourselves more holistically and thus find greater meaning and satisfaction in our lives. So, what we’re doing in studying the humanities is that we’re finding answers to the questions that matter to us, we’re applying our understanding of human nature in order to make deeper, more rewarding connections, and ultimately, we’re opening ourselves up to life by discovering our place in it.
Caroline Reed is a first-year PhD student in Religion at UF