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Phillip Davis, ‘17

Majoring in Religious Studies at Northwestern fundamentally changed my college experience and reoriented my approach to the world around me. Within a week of attending Professor Orsi’s American Religion I gained both a stark sense of ignorance and a palpable excitement. It was clear my understanding of American history and American society were incomplete. Professor Orsi helped me dive in and wrestle with the material, including what it meant for the religious climate of our beloved campus. As a result of that two-class sequence alone, I was able to name and explain many of the differences – amicable tensions, even – between different groups of Christians on Northwestern’s campus. Those differences and the normative pressures, rooted in American Christian history, upon which they are transmitted formed the basis of my URG work and resulting senior thesis.

Our religious studies department expanded and accelerated my intellectual reorientation towards a more critical perspective of the world around us. Definitional conversations of the meaning of “religion” – thinking mostly of Professor Taylor’s class and Professor Kieckhefer’s intro section – helped me identify not only the different camps, if you will, in the field, but have changed the way I think about concepts and institutions whose structures I have largely taken for granted. What limits and effects are bound up in our definitions? How did those definitions form and then become taken for granted? Prof. Orsi’s articulation of culture as the world that we make and sustain together, rooted in particular histories and that we receive as given still provides a backdrop for my own conscious creation and reworking of culture, both as an individual consumer and as someone who helps set the culture of Morningstar through my role in our HR department and as a recruiter.