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Spotlight: First-year graduate students

February 29, 2024


Our first-year religious studies graduate students are diverse in their backgrounds and passions; however, they now embark on their academic endeavors together at Northwestern.  

Each of the first-years, Lugyal Bum, Juliana Sexauer, Daniela Rosas and Yannick Lambert (from left to right), share a glimpse of their unique experiences, interests and how their first year in graduate school has been so far.


Lugyal bum 

Lugyal Bum is from a northeastern part of Tibet in the Amdo region. He received his B.A. in English from Qinghai Normal University in Xining, the capital city of the Qinghai province, where Bum said he learned English from the ABCs more than a decade ago.

He then received his M.A. in Cultural Sustainability from Goucher College in Maryland. Bum said he started the program because, "As a Tibetan, a minority ethnic group, we try to preserve the language and sustain the language and culture, and my previous NGO work was related to cultural preservation and documentation."

Bum worked as a field manager in the Tibetan area for the Buddhist Digital Resource Center (formerly TBRC), an international non-profit organization, collecting, scanning and managing Tibetan Buddhist texts and related works for more than 4 years. 

He said Northwestern's religious studies department allows him to take courses from all different types of programs that will support his research project in the future. Bum said his research fits into this program because of its interdisciplinary nature. 

Bum said he was not used to a quarter system and has had to search for a balance. "It’s been very busy but also at the same time I learned that the quarter system pushes you to do more," he said. 

Of his biggest achievements, Bum said his acceptance into Northwestern's religious studies program makes him feel most accomplished. He expressed his deep gratitude toward the program, professors and staff in the department. 

"I really appreciate the program, the school, and the opportunity. It is something invaluable. As someone from my background and my community, it is very special for us, not just for me," Bum said. 

In 2020, he started making Tibetan podcasts to invite scholars from various fields to share their academic journey and their field of discipline, attracting around 10,000 viewers. Bum said he wants to begin to make content that is informative and inspiring again over this summer.  

Lugyal's podcast:


Juliana Sexauer

Juliana Sexauer was born and raised on Dena’ina lands in Anchorage, Alaska and moved to Chicago in 2021. She received her B.A. in Religious Studies and International Relations from Pacific Lutheran University. Now, she is a JD-Ph.D. student at Northwestern. 

Juliana is passionate about how people relate and show up for one another: what drives and connects them. She said she first decided to study religion when she was very young, after a conversation with her grandpa. 

I was probably four or five years old — I had asked him why he didn’t go to church and asked, “Don’t you love God?” And I remember he told me, “I don’t have to go to church to have a relationship with God," Sexauer said. She said this brief exchange led her to study religion, and she later became interested in ways Christianity has influenced the American legal system. 

Sexauer said she has grown so much as a student and scholar, even just in the last quarter. She said the Ph.D. program has been challenging but incredibly rewarding. 

"This department is so supportive. I’ve made great friends with fellow students in our department and other departments as well as faculty members," she said. 

When asked about what inspires her, Sexauer said she is inspired by a lot of things in the world but ultimately settled on the work The Orange Tent Project is doing for Chicago's unhoused neighbors. 

Sexauer said she has been working toward achieving a “work-life balance" and locating her self-worth outside of the academic work she produces. She is proud to be dedicated to setting healthy boundaries with her time and energy.

Outside of graduate school, Juliana and her husband watch the Great British Baking Show and snuggle their dog, Luna. She also likes to do yoga and take dance classes!


Daniela rosas

Daniela Rosas is from Bogotá, Colombia. She is passionate about the study of politics and religion. As well as, the human brain and human behavior.  Daniela holds a Psychology degree and an M.A. in Philosophy from La Universidad de Los Andes.

Rosas said she spent a big part of her childhood and teenage years with the youth groups of a particular Christian Church. Growing up in a Christian environment, Rosas was surrounded by religion. She said as she grew up, her worldviews began to take different shapes. 

"I had a lot of questions that remained unanswered during those years, and the more I read about the relationship between religion and politics, the more I felt that I was a bit closer to figuring out how and why that works. That was my main motivation," Rosas said. 

Rosas said she  is most proud of the work she did during her master's program at La Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia. 

She said her graduate experience at Northwestern has been good so far, and she has been enjoying the graduate seminars. When asked about her biggest inspiration, Rosas said she has been inspired by specific professors she has met during her undergraduate and graduate experiences.

Rosas said, "They are all very magical and bright and kind. I've learned so much from them, they taught me everything I know. I'll be lucky if I end up being half as great as they actually are in their respective research fields and in life in general." 

She said she likes go to out with friends in her spare time. Rosas also enjoys watching movies and tv shows as well as discovering new music.


Yannick lambert

Yannick is from the Esch-sur-Alzette area in the south of Luxembourg. Before joining Northwestern's graduate program, Yannick received an M.A. in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, an M.Phil in Classical Indian Religion at the University of Oxford, and a PGDip in Global Diplomacy at SOAS University of London. 

He is primarily interested in ancient Indian religions, ancient Indian philosophy and the language Sanskrit. He said he has developed interests in ancient Indian secularism, state craft and law as well.

Lambert said his passion for religious studies began when he was around 15 years old and encountered a set of ancient Indian texts through German philosophy. "It left such an impression on me when I first read it that I am still doing it now like 15 years later," Lambert said.  

When asked about his graduate experiences, he said graduate school has been good so far, and he is having a lot of fun. Lambert said he is enjoying the freedom he has to take all sorts of courses from different departments at Northwestern. 

He said part of the reason he chose this program is because it seemed like an open-minded place where you can expand your ideas. The main reason, Lambert said, was because of the connection and chemistry between  his advisor, Professor Mark McClish, and himself.  

Lambert said his biggest inspiration was his very first Sanskrit teacher, Paul Dundas, who taught him at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and unfortunately passed away last year. 

"During my third year, he taught me Sanskrit just one-on-one and that really left a string impression on me that he took his time just to teach me. I think of him constantly," Lambert said. 

His greatest accomplishment, Lambert said, was his involvement in a pan-European investigation into green washing in the investment fund industry where his group was named runner-up for a European Press Prize in the category of investigative reporting last year. 

In his time outside of graduate school, he said he enjoys listening to music, reading novels, going for walks and has recently been getting into powerlifting again to decompress.