ARIYANNE COLSTON GRADUATING CLASS '17

What made you decide to pursue graduate work?

I knew going into undergrad at UM that I would go to grad school after; the question was more a matter of what I would actually study. I decided to pursue graduate work in theology because my studies in that major led me to questions and topics I wanted to research further beyond undergrad. It also best tied together all my areas of study. I realized that almost all of my interests in history and international studies and language were rooted in a deeper passion for Religious Studies.

What will you be studying?

I am entering a joint degree program in Law and Religion, meaning that I will be pursuing both a Master of Divinity and Juris Doctor simultaneously within a five year program instead of spending three years per program separately.

What are you career goals?

My goal right now is to enter a PhD program in Religious Studies and teach at the collegiate level after I’ve completed the law degree and MDiv. At the same time, I’m also very interested in public interest law and community justice. A dream of mine is to make academia more accessible. There’s a dichotomy between academia and ‘the streets’ that I want to challenge, but I’m still not completely sure of what that will look like career-wise. That is something that I want to explore for the next five years.

Where will you be going to graduate school? (If you haven’t decided, feel free to talk about the places where you’ve been accepted so far)

I just committed to Emory’s Candler School of Theology and Emory School of Law. I was also accepted to the law and divinity schools at Vanderbilt University and Wake Forest University. The decision process was extremely difficult because they are all amazing schools with warm faculty! I would recommend all of them to anyone interested in pursuing graduate work in theology.

How did your work in the Religious Studies department contribute to your decision to go to grad school?

This is where I get to gush about the Religious Studies department at UM! This department facilitated a passion for Religious Studies by showing me just how relevant religion is to all disciplines and arenas of life. It discovered the ways religion pervades our cultural values, social norms, politics—things we don’t commonly consider as having any religious significance or foundation. I think the Religious Studies department here at UM fully reflects how expansive and interdisciplinary Religious Studies is. I have another major and two minors, and the work I do in my Religious Studies major always connects to my other areas of study because in studying religion, I’ve also acquainted myself with anthropology, sociology, and political theory. The department influenced my decision pursue graduate work because it showed me that Religious Studies is one of the most diverse and well-rounded fields, and there are so many directions in which you can go. It made me fall in love with the use of religion as a lens through which to view and ask questions about history, society, and human experience.

What skills (e.g., critical thinking) did you learn from the study of religion that might help you in your studies/work as you move forward?

UM’s Religious Studies department definitely prepared me for grad school by challenging me academically and building critical thinking skills. I do feel like the study of religion changed the way I think and expanded the way I look at the world. I guess you might say I’ve started “thinking like a scholar” in my daily life. I constantly come up with research topics I want to explore just from watching movies or keeping up with pop culture. And not only are the ideas there, but I mentally plan out how I would organize and argue the paper as well, because working in the Religious Studies department has taught me how to analyze and express ideas in light of the things I’ve read and learned.

What advice can you give to other students who might be thinking about applying to graduate school

Take advantage of the great faculty here at UM. They have a lot of great advice to give because they’re in the field and they’ve done this before. They’re more than willing to help you if you’re unsure about what schools to apply to or how to craft your personal statement. And our faculty is well known and highly respected in the academic community! At every school I visited, someone knew at least one professor in our department. Definitely keep them involved in the process.

What advice can you give to students who might be considering a Religious Studies major/minor?

Just declare it! You won’t regret it. Out of the four departments in which I study, the Religious Studies department is without a doubt my favorite. I’ve enjoyed every class and professor. And as I said before, Religious Studies is always relevant. It will do nothing but help you and strengthen your understanding of other majors and minors if you have them.

What is the one thing you will never forget about studying religion at UM? (a favorite memory, topic, reading, project)

I think the personal highlight of my career as a Religious Studies major was giving a presentation on Kanye West and Amber Rose twitter wars in Dr. Walsh’s ‘Religion and Gender’ class. I connected Kanye’s tweets about Amber Rose and Kim Kardashian to ancient Greco-Roman ideas of the female anatomy and sexual power dynamics. Now I keep a steady eye on Kanye, Jay-Z, and Beyonce for all the ancient religious imagery and content in their art (and social media activit