What Religious Studies Gave Me
If you’re like me and majored in something a bit out-of-the-box, like religious studies, you’re probably used to people asking you what you possibly plan on doing with your major after graduation. I kid you not, more than once I was asked if I was studying to become a nun. And frankly, when I graduated, I found myself confronting the same question. Why religious studies?
If someone told me during my January semester in London that I’d leave Hamilton with a religious studies major I wouldn’t have believed them. I entered Hamilton set on a majoring in geology or environmental studies with the ultimate goal of applying to a master’s program to pursue a career in marine biology. While enrolling in classes my sophomore year, I had an extra credit to fill and elected to take “Death and Dying in Indian Religions” with Associate Professor of Religious Studies Abhishek Amar, as a break from the science credits I needed. Four years later, I can say with certainty that choosing that course changed my experience at Hamilton entirely.
During my time at Hamilton, I took many interesting and a bit out-of-the-ordinary classes for my major such as “Death and Dying”, “Indian Buddhism” and my thesis on the campaign “Incredible India”, funded by India’s Ministry of Tourism and executed by my future employer, Grey Group. The material I studied was challenging both academically and personally. Outside of the classroom, I found myself telling my friends about what I’d learned in class over lunch at McEwen Hall.
I knew that I wanted to move to New York City, and I knew that I wanted to try a career in business, in whatever form that may take. After analyzing the “Incredible India” campaign, I started to pursue a career in advertising. The attention to human insights was rich, culturally significant and exciting, so I started to explore potential opportunities in the field. After connecting with a Hamilton alumnus, I interviewed with Grey Group a few months later and had the opportunity to ask more about the campaign that informed much of my senior thesis.
I was pretty nervous as I accepted my first job at Grey Group despite my background studying the “Incredible India” advertising campaign. Beyond the natural first-job jitters (Am I going to make friends; Where’s the bathroom?), I was walking into a role with no background in marketing, communications or business. Yes, I had analyzed innate assumptions of Western idealization of Eastern ideology inherent in the campaign during my thesis, but in reality, my focus had been Hinduism and Buddhism for the past four years, and I could not see how my experience would or could apply to advertising.
To be totally honest, at first I felt religious studies was completely inapplicable. I struggled with terminology and had no background in managing budgets or clients. Advertising seemed completely overwhelming and inconceivable to grasp. That said, I never felt I had any difficulty expressing my opinion over email or otherwise. The communication skills I’d gained at Hamilton were immediately clear and undeniable.
A few months into my job at Grey Group, I had a candid conversation with my boss about my strengths and areas of opportunity. During our discussion, she expressed to me that my resume caught her eye, specifically because of my religious studies major. As an art history major herself, she appreciated and articulated to me that she believed these (somewhat unusual) majors bring a valuable, much needed perspective to the working world.
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Looking back at my time on the Hill, my religious studies major gave me an incredible opportunity to learn how to identify and articulate complex connections between sociology, psychology, history and current events. I cultivated and refined a unique, and sometimes skeptical way, of reacting to and analyzing people’s behaviors and beliefs. Being able to make connections across different touchpoints and data, whether it be IAG consumer research or interviews with small business owners in Bodhgaya, has been an incredible strength in both my professional and personal development. In advertising, turning consumer research into business objectives and those business objectives into creative executions feels like a natural extension of the interdisciplinary work and research skills I developed at Hamilton. All this to say, take a chance on those interesting classes in the course catalogue. You never know where they’ll lead you!
Lauren Scutt ’17 majored in religious studies and minored in history. She is an account executive at Grey Group in New York City.