A Conversation with Natalie Oliner

Undergraduate Religious Studies major James Keys sat down with Natalie Oliner, a 2012 graduate, to discuss life as a Religious Studies major. Oliner is currently an academic counselor at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville, and graduated IU with majors in Religious Studies and Sociology, and a minor in Philosophy. Oliner then moved onto the University of Michigan to purse a Master of Arts in Higher Education, where she focused on Student Access and Success, especially as it relates to Students with Disabilities.

JK: Why did you pursue a Religious Studies degree? What attracted you to the program?

NO: I decided to pursue Religious Studies [because it was] a topic that was of interest to me at a young age having grown up in the deep south as part of a Jewish family. I was always fascinated by how people formed belief systems and used those systems to treat others differently based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, so I decided to pair my Religious Studies degree with Sociology so I could learn more about social institutions, socialization, and how these concepts affect the way people act.

JK: How have you found your Religious Studies degree to be informative after graduation?

NO: I would say it comes down to thinking critically, comparatively, and analytically. While I was talking about religion with my students in the disability services office, there is a crucial element of the work which entails compassion and understanding. Regardless of the population, it is critical that we understand our own perspective and experiences as well as those who have different ones from us. Individuals with disabilities, for example, are going to have unique experiences and barriers that they have to navigate in life. Non-Christians are going to face barriers in the United States that a Christian might not endure. So, the value of the Religious Studies education really comes down to being able to learn, understand, and respect different cultures, faiths, practices, and identities.

JK: Do you have any favorite memories associated with the department?

NO: I love that feeling when a class "shakes" you up, and a lot of my religious studies classes did that! For example, Dr. Nance in REL 250 (Intro to Buddhism), would never disclose his personal belief system and would pose the question to us about "would it be more beneficial to learn this course from someone who is a practicing Buddhist or someone who does not subscribe to this religious faith/practice?"

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