We’re please to continue our series with a Spotlight on the University of California, Santa Barbara, provided by PhD student Stephen Flemming. Steve, as most are aware, blogs on JI. You can find out more about him here.
My BA and MA were in history and I applied to history programs for PhDs along with Santa Barbara. While I was getting my MA I became more and more interested in religious studies, so I applied to Santa Barbara. At UCSB they have everyone take 4 core colloquia as an introduction to religious studies: sociology, philosophy, phenomenology, and post structuralism. These courses had really interested me and I found them very useful.
UCSB was one of the early state universities to do religious studies and the department has been well-funded and they have (for religious studies) a large faculty. The areas of expertise are broad, lots of eastern religions. I came in in the American tract (you pick an area of emphasis) but quickly switched to the newly created Christians Traditions track. My dissertation will be on Anglo-American popular religion from the reformation to 1800.
A lot of those admitted don’t get funding and are encouraged to apply for TA ships in other departments that don’t have graduate students (particularly Law and Society). The grad students have been pretty successful at getting those.
I am the only Mormon in the department. Everybody has always been really nice, though I’ve sometimes played the role of the token Mormon (I took a class where the professor would show us various statistical databases [usually Pew] and would always pick the Mormons as the example).
I am very happy with the program; it has worked very well for the things I want to do. I am working with Ann Taves who had recently come over from Claremont when I got here. It was very helpful to be exposed to many different approaches to the study of religion and to be allowed to more or less create my own program. When we finish classes we take our field exams but we area allowed to (with the help of the professors) decide what the areas will be that we are tested on. So I’m doing exams on the history of Christianity and working with some professors in the history department (which is encouraged).
Department website: www.religion.ucsb.edu