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Student works with faculty on groundbreaking religion research

August 26, 2013

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    Miriam Karraker ’15 with Watzek Special Collections and Archives librarian Jeremy Skinner.

Even during the summer, Lewis & Clark students work hard in their various fields of study. In collaborating with faculty on research projects, students are able to explore their curiosity, expand their learning, and prepare for life after college all while making meaningful contributions to advancing scholarship.

Miriam Karraker ’15 and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Susanna Morrill are working together to research religion in the Pacific Northwest with a focus on “nature religion.” Nature religion can take many forms, whether it be engaging in outdoor sports, reading nature focused literature, or working for an environmental group. In the following Q&A, Karraker and Morrill reflect on their experience.

Does your research have any potential applications in the real world, or will it influence other work in your field?

This is exciting work because there is very little work on religions in the Pacific Northwest. It is an under-researched area and we just don’t know much about this subject. This is partly because Oregon and Washington have the lowest percentage of folks who participate in institutional expressions of religion. And yet, people in this region are religious, just in nontraditional ways. It can be hard to track down and study these nontraditional forms of religion such as nature religion.

Is any of your research taking place off campus? If so, what’s that experience like?

We are visiting local archives and libraries. So far, we have done research in the special collections at Lewis & Clark, the Oregon Historical Society, and the Oregon Jewish Museum. It is exciting to uncover the history that has created the current religious landscape of the Northwest. There are so many untapped sources in these institutions and their archivists and librarians.

What first sparked your interest in this research area?

Morrill: When I started teaching American religious history at Lewis & Clark, I realized that I didn’t know much about the history of religions in my new hometown and region. This didn’t seem right, so I developed a course on religions in the Pacific Northwest. Students were really interested in the subject. But, as I developed and taught the course, I found that there were few secondary sources and almost no published primary sources on the subject. I realized that I needed to go out into libraries and archives to find material for the class.

Karraker: Taking Susanna’s class was very refreshing in that there is a wealth of sources yet to be examined in the study of religions in the Pacific Northwest. This means that I have the opportunity to be involved in an academic conversation that is just beginning to take shape. It has been exciting and challenging to sift through materials; deciding what is useful requires some creativity.

How has working closely with faculty influenced your education?

Karraker: I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work with Susanna. Watching Susanna’s tact and focus in examining complex subject matter has given me an example of how I might go about my own research methodically and creatively. I also feel grateful that Susanna and I have been spending time examining the mechanics, structure, and content of our own writing, which I find valuable.

How do you hope your experiences this summer will impact your future studies or professional pursuits?

Karraker: I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing after college, but I can say now that graduate school in religious studies is a definite possibility. However, if I end up in another field, I know that the critical thinking and writing skills I’ve gained are transferrable.

About the program

The Mellon Foundation grant provides funds to help faculty infuse collaborative research into a broad range of new and existing courses, and supports an increased number of student-faculty summer research projects.

“We firmly believe that engaging students in the practice of their discipline is the best way to prepare them for life beyond the college,” said Tuajuanda Jordan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Student-faculty research is seen as one of the strengths of our educational experience, and with this grant we can ensure that students have access to this type of opportunity.”

With this support, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation continues its long legacy of supporting and enriching the arts and humanities at Lewis & Clark.

Department of Religious Studies

Zibby Pillote ’14 contributed to this story.