Religious studies alum stresses the importance of humanities and social sciences

December 17, 2018

The study of religion is becoming more prominent as countries around the world continue to connect with one another. Religion plays a large role in each society, and understanding each one is important when building relations with countries and the people who populate them.

Alli Coritz graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College with bachelor’s degrees in global studies from the School of Politics and Global Studies, geography from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and religious studies from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in 2011. She knew studying religion was vital to comprehend the world around her. Photo of Alli Coritz Alli Coritz is a 2011 triple-major graduate from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College. Download Full Image

“Religious studies often challenge assumptions and make you think about what you ‘know’ to be true,” said Coritz.

Before starting her college career, Coritz was already stepping out of her comfort zone as a youth exchange student in France. She didn’t have access to her high school counselors and resources, but when her mom emailed her saying she had received a scholarship offer for ASU, she didn’t hesitate to apply.

Her interests while she was a student concentrated on violence, conflict, gender and human rights. She worked hard toward a double major and even received a fellowship from the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. All of her passions pointed her to take on one more challenge during her last few years.

“I was interested in studying gender and religion, and I found that the religious studies major offered far more opportunities to do so,” said Coritz. “These interests and the variety of courses available led me to pick religious studies as my third major.”

Studying religion helped her focus on some of her soft skills such as critical thinking and writing. She has carried those skills with her into the Peace Corps after graduation where she taught English in Benin, in West Africa, for two years.

“In the Peace Corps, I didn’t have internet very often and had inconsistent electricity, giving me a lot of time to reflect,” said Coritz. “I read lots of books on conflict, religion, gender and more. All of this time reflecting and reading made me realize that the best way to combine all of my many interests — religious studies, gender studies, geography, etc. — was to study sociology.”

Coritz is currently in her fifth year of a PhD program at the University of Southern California, studying sociology, and plans on graduating in 2020.

“My religious studies degree helped me tremendously,” said Coritz. “I am training as a sociologist but never studied sociology at the undergraduate level. However, because so much of religious studies overlaps with sociology and anthropology, I came in with a great base to be able to think sociologically.”

Religious studies can open doors to many different careers. Just like Coritz decided to continue her studies in sociology, others are finding there are opportunities that scale up to a global scope with their degree.

The U.S. government created the Office of Religion and Global Affairs in 2013 to expand political officials' understanding of religious dynamics and engagement with religious actors. The office knows how diverse the study of religion can be and how vital it is to comprehend in our age of global diplomacy.

The School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies has launched two new concentrations within the religious studies degree to help prepare students for jobs in the global market. One option is to concentrate in religion, culture and public life, and the other is a concentration in religion, politics and global affairs. These new programs were developed to bring more intersectionality to a degree that already encompasses so much.

“We thought that it was important for our undergraduate programs to reflect changes in the broader field of religious studies, and we sought to ensure that our curriculum aligned with these intellectual developments,” said Jason Bruner, assistant professor of religious studies. “Doing so enables our graduates to develop a wide range of intellectual tools and research methods for understanding the myriad ways religion and religious traditions have shaped the past and present.”

The new concentrations offer a distinctive opportunity for faculty to show off their specialized studies.

“We wanted to use the curriculum to present the unique strengths of our faculty, which has a remarkable range of research methods and geographical expertise,” said Bruner. “While any faculty will have intellectual diversity, ours has faculty trained in anthropology, ethics, history, and religious textual traditions.”

Past students understand how large and complicated human culture can be. That’s why Coritz branched out and studied as much as she could during her time at ASU.

“I really believe the importance of religious studies cannot be overstated,” said Coritz. “Understanding different religions and learning to think critically about how our understanding of the world is so heavily shaped by our social networks and social institutions — such as religion — is of increasing importance in today’s world.”

When asked what advice she had for current students, Coritz said:

“Gain as many research skills while you can — both quantitative and qualitative. Understanding statistics is a great skill to have not only professionally but as a good, informed citizen. Further, interviewing skills are often high in demand at many companies due to things like focus groups. Regardless of what you’re majoring in, getting extra background in a variety of research methods will be really beneficial.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

ASU psychology professor improving global literacy through adaptive training

December 17, 2018

Over the past 65 years, global literacy has increased by 4 percent every five years, but the poorest countries still have large percentages of the population who are illiterate. In countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea, youth literacy rates can be around 40 percent.  

Arizona State University’s Danielle McNamara wants to change those numbers. Left to right: Marina Solnyshkina, Prof., Laboratory "Intellectual Technologies of Text Management" Kazan Federal University, Valeriy Solovyev Prof.,  Laboratory "Intellectual Technologies of Text Management" Kazan Federal University, Radif Zamaletdinov, Danielle McNamara, a professor in the Department of Psychology, shared her research in Kazan, Russia. The trip was funded by a governmental grant for the global study of literacy. Left to right: Marina Solnyshkina, Prof., Laboratory "Intellectual Technologies of Text Management" Kazan Federal University, Valeriy Solovyev Prof., Laboratory "Intellectual Technologies of Text Management" Kazan Federal University, Radif Zamaletdinov, Prof., Director of Institute of Philology and Intercultural Communication, Kazan Federal University. Download Full Image

“Two hundred years ago approximately only 14 percent of the population could read and write, but now that number is reversed: Only about 14 percent of the world’s population cannot read or write,” said McNamara, who is a professor in the Department of Psychology. “This number is still too high. Adult literacy is an extremely important and understudied topic that is inherent to our survival.”

The main goal of McNamara’s research is to improve the overall understanding of language worldwide through online adaptive training. The impact of her research stretches far beyond Arizona — recently all the way to Russia.

McNamara, who was named an American Educational Research Association Fellow in 2018, studies education and reading comprehension and directs ASU’s Science of Learning and Educational Technology (SoLET) lab. The SoLET lab creates practical and free tools that are designed to improve reading comprehension and accessibility of education. The lab’s mission is to improve literacy globally through intelligent tutoring systems.

The global mission of the lab was on display last summer when McNamara shared her research in Kazan, Russia. The trip was funded by a governmental grant for the global study of literacy. Kazan is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia and is home to the Kazan Federal University. McNamara taught master classes about game-based learning and reading comprehension to students and educators at the university. She also led a three-day workshop for students, teachers and faculty at the university’s Institute of Philology and Intercultural Communication. In St. Petersburg and Moscow, McNamara also led workshops.

“It was truly remarkable to see how hard the educators work in Russia,” McNamara said. “They spend their full day teaching or working and then continue their research when they are home.”

The project McNamara shared in Russia focuses on using computer programs to predict language and text difficulty in Russian, English and Spanish. One of the innovative tools that the SoLET lab has created is the Interactive Strategy Training for Active Reading and Thinking, called iSTART. This tool teaches strategies for reading comprehension like linking ideas together in a text, paraphrasing, using logic and common sense and elaborating a text. The SoLET lab has also developed Writing Pal, a tool that seeks to improve reading and writing comprehension. The SoLET programs provide immediate and interactive feedback to students and have demonstrated success in increasing student literacy.

McNamara recently was awarded four grants totaling $3.4 million from the Department of Education to explore writing and math literacies and to develop a writing assessment tools for teachers, students and researchers.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology