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Navy veteran, State Department employee earns Dean's Medal in religious studies

Photo of Joshua Herald

Joshua Herald is graduating this semester with his bachelor’s in religious studies and was chosen as the Dean’s Medalist for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

April 20, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Joshua Herald grew up in a rural town in Ohio called Jamestown and went into the U.S. Navy, where he served for 13 years. Three years after getting out of the Navy, Herald joined the U.S. State Department as a foreign service specialist.

He had taken a few college courses while he was still in the military and decided to finish his bachelor’s degree while he was serving with the State Department in Pakistan. Looking at schools to attend, Arizona State University caught his eye because of their online program and breadth of courses to choose from.

“Initially I could not decide what to major in, so I took the liberal arts major. I took some humanities courses, philosophy and English, and they really had an effect on me,” Herald said. “They opened my eyes to the idea that I might be missing out on something in life. Almost like I had not been reading or thinking as deeply as life deserved.”

He took a religious studies course as an elective and decided to change his major to it. Religious studies was a way to combine all the subjects he loved. 

“Religion can be viewed through historical sources, accessed through anthropology or sociology, analyzed as literature. I could make a study of the philosophy of religion, or study the psychological phenomenon of religious belief,” Herald said. "I also saw the study of religion as an opportunity to understand other people better.”

Herald is graduating this semester with his bachelor’s in religious studies and was chosen as the Dean’s Medalist for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies for his work ethic and excellent academic record.

“He is a first-generation student who dropped out of high school, later getting a GED,” said Clinical Professor of religious studies Agnes Kefeli Clay, who nominated Herald for the medal. “He is particularly interested in the intersection of religion and public life, in particular the ways that religion affects post-colonial politics.”

He was asked about his time at ASU and in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I took an English course, ENG 200, and one of the modules was about using feminist critical theory to analyze literature. This changed my view about what feminism was, as I was used to the colloquial definition used on cable news and in culture wars. That one module had such an effect on me that I would say it has shaped how I approach religious studies. It also led to me taking Dr. Doe Daughtrey’s “Women, Gender and Religion” course, which caused me to further evaluate my understanding of feminism. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the course selection. As an online student, I looked at several different schools and ASU seemed to offer the biggest selection of courses. This was important as I was unsure what I wanted to study. It gave me the ability to take courses and see what subjects interested me the most. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Wow, I do not know if I can answer that. Earlier when I said I took a religious studies elective and that made me change my major, that was half the answer. The full answer is the faculty in the religious studies department made me change my major. I was so impressed with them that I felt like I wanted to be a scholar like them. Since I’m in my last semester I will give you an example from there, but I could give you examples from every semester I have had at ASU. 

First, I am taking REL 407, which is the religious studies capstone course. Dr. Joel Gereboff is patient and very giving of his time. He is a mentor who understands how to guide you, while allowing you to find the answer, and is always giving feedback or helping to solve a problem. This is a lesson that I find myself applying not only in an academic setting but in my professional life as a mentor to junior personnel. Again though, the entire faculty at ASU and (the school) have been amazing. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Find something you enjoy and pursue it. I have been a technician for 20 years and early on it would have never occurred to me to get a humanities degree. I always thought I would end up getting an IT or business degree. But I was interested in the humanities and that is why I was successful academically. Life is short, do what interests you. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My favorite spot to study was at my dining room table. It is much larger than my office desk and allowed me to spread out a little more when I had a lot of reference materials. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to take some time off to work on developing my foreign language skills better to allow me to access primary data. I am planning to apply to graduate schools next year.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Childhood food insecurity is something that concerns me. I think that the problem though is not just feeding children but creating economic conditions in which families can afford food or improving social programs that combat childhood hunger in America. 

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