After finishing their formal thoughts for their “Why Study Religion?” videos, Savannah and Elise kept chatting while the camera kept rolling. They talked more about why studying religion is important to them personally and what has motivated them to pursue doctoral work in their respective areas of interest. See what they had to say in the informal, podcast-style recording below!
Savannah: Which is so weird because, I mean, every book, every book covers religion in some aspect.
Elise: Exactly, like you can’t get away from it, especially if you’re studying English literature.
Savannah: The Anglican Church is steeped in everything.
Elise: Exactly, and it is in the idiom of our language, inextricably linked. Whether a person is writing a text that they are conscious of being religious or not, it is in the way we speak
Elise: I don’t know…cause I think there’s a lot of beauty in a lot of religions, but there’s also a lot of harm
Savannah: I think it’s any social group, any society, there’s parts that are really beautiful or were intended to be very beautiful and unfortunately, end up causing more harm than good. And you know, figuring out how to navigate that by finding these questions that are so high stakes to people and really trying to tackle them head on, that’s something that we’ve been talking about in one of my grad seminars. It’s that knowing what’s important to us and what questions we want answers to and why and how our disciplines shape our thinking about those questions and how we answer them are so critical. In as much as I love being a theory head and being up in the clouds, what is that doing for the world, is my question. And if you can’t take that and apply it in your life and in your work then-
Elise: Like, what are you doing?
Savannah: Right, it’s just an exercise in how many mental back flips can I do? You know? And while that is fun in a certain context, I don’t know that I’m leaving the world a better place for my kin, you know?
Elise: Yeah and I just don’t know if that’s enough to fuel a difficult career, you know?
Savannah: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, I agree with you. You have to believe in what you do because passion will only get you so far. I remember actually going to a conference once. It was at Syracuse University, and the woman who was the head of the Religious Studies Department there, Gail Hamner, gave this talk, and she was like, “You know, you think your passion is going to be enough to drive you through the PhD, but you’re wrong. It’s not going to be enough. You’re going to be so sick of what you study by the end that you really need to have some other reason. It can’t just be that you love it. It needs to be important to you for something else.” And I think that because these questions about religion have so fundamentally shaped the decisions the state can make about my body as a woman and things like that, these questions have high stakes for me.
Elise: Yeah, absolutely
Savannah: And so while it’s nice to read philosophy and just kind of speculate about the nature of reality, if I can’t take those speculations and use them to create a world that is safer for bodies like mine, what’s the point?
Elise: Absolutely, I love that. And I feel like that sometimes when I’m thinking, like, “Oh Renaissancce literature, why?” But then I think about the ways that words have been used, leveraged from that time, specific choices that translators made or commentators made and how I’ve seen them impact my life. Talking about how when I was working in church, like how women can’t preach or whatever and how that is a toxic choice that has been made, that is removed from its context. So, I think that establishing the context can at least help us have conversations about how things don’t have to be the way that we’ve taken them to be.
Savannah: Right, it’s never inevitable.
Savannah: That’s what I love about theories that are grounded in language as the generator of a reality. Because when you realize that’s the case and it’s not embedded fundamentally into, like matter that can’t be changed.
Savannah: You know, when we remove the idea of fundamental realities and universal truths, we realize that nothing is inevitable and that actually we do have the power to make change.
Savannah: Figuring out how to do that—the academy just offers one pathway for us to be able to explore those ideas, I think.
Elise: Yes, that was beautifully put.
Savannah: Thank you.