Religious Studies Announcements

The Religious Studies Program has moved to The Bradley Memorial Building, 1225 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706.



Susan Ridgely of the Religious Studies Program and Mike Wagner of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) have received a $60,000 grant from the American Council of Learned Societies. The grant’s focus is on improving and strengthening the connection between religion, journalism, and international affairs. Using funds from the grant, talks will be offered from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Nafziger room on the 5th floor of Vilas Hall

Religious Studies Program Award Citations, May 2017


The Award for Academic Excellence recognizes majors who have consistently surpassed faculty expectations in achievement of the learning goals of the RS Program and produced superb capstone projects.

Already as a freshman in his first Religious Studies course (RS 208), Sam showed so much promise, with intellectual gifts to match his affable personality. Over the past four years it has been a pleasure to watch Sam grow as a scholar of both range and depth. More recently he has also shown himself to be a highly skilled teacher and mentor, serving this year as a Writing Fellow for other History and Religious Studies students.

We are thrilled about how well Sam has delivered on his early promise with a first-rate joint Honors thesis in History and Religious Studies, “Scientific Salvation: Mystical Experience and the Psychology of Religion in America, 1880-1930.” The thesis explores a new and short-lived academic discipline around the turn of the twentieth century, the psychology of religion. Its pioneers, most famously William James, experimented with novel methods of psychological science (in James’ case, subjecting himself to laughing gas) to investigate the nature of religious experience. While diverse in outlook, these academics were all concerned with the loss of vital spirituality in their time and, as Sam argues, they tended to view science itself as a way to access the core of mystical experience, in effect turning science into a modern path to salvation. Given similar lamentations about religion and spirituality today and current neuroscientific work on meditation and the brain—some of it going on here at UW under the William James Professor of Psychology Richard Davidson—this study of the past has particularly interesting connections to the present. Sam’s thesis exhibits a rare ability to expose its subjects’ wrestlings and paradoxes clearly, yet in an empathetic manner that draws the reader into their struggles. For those of us in Religious Studies, this probing work resounds in timely ways, not only with our culture in general but also with our own scholarly struggles over definitions, disciplinary boundaries, and the quest to articulate a science of human experience. Beautifully written, Sam’s study demonstrates keen intellectual curiosity, subtlety, and sophistication. And enormous promise—just like Sam himself.

Sam’s thesis has already won the Harrington Prize for best undergraduate thesis in the History Department. History has also recognized Sam as outstanding History undergraduate with the Smith-Butt Scholarship. Religious Studies adds with great pride to the accolades for Sam and his culminating work as an undergraduate double honors major.


PAGE BAZAN: As an artistic type in High School, Page says he was drawn to “the clean aesthetics of minimalist interiors and designs” and the social media communities that celebrated them. As he explored further, “instead of sleek furniture, stark decorating, and empty photography” he began to notice another kind of minimalism, one in which people proudly “posted pictures of themselves with everything (or rather not much) they packed for a three-week trip to London” as they emulated emerging minimalist celebrities who blogged, wrote and workshopped the gospel of minimalism. Page “joined the community” and spent much of his “spare time” on this “personal research.”

In college, Page has taken full advantage of opportunities far and wide—Cambodia, Morocco—to explore a range of cultures in and out of the classroom. In the classroom, he’s done excellent work with great interdisciplinary breadth and religious studies has been a big part of that mix.  But it wasn’t until after he had completed RS 600 and already developed a solid plan for a promising thesis that Page realized his RS training might shed light on his personal research and the “spare time” culture he had been part of through college. By serendipity, it came to him while walking with friend down State Street to a minimalist event in a local bookstore.

Convincing his thesis advisor (no mean feat) that he could change his thesis topic and still finish well and on time, Page set out to analyze the stories and strategies of minimalist celebrities and the buzz around them to help explain how they succeed in creating and influencing communities of followers. Deftly drawing on approaches to religion learned in his coursework, especially new theory on consumption and religion, Page created a typology of minimalist celebrities and pinpointed clear explanations for their success. Among those is Page’s well-crafted argument that they do not change their followers while seeming to: minimalists never have to stop being consumers. Rather, they consume the manifestations of the minimalism the celebrities sell. What appears “radical” is a rather conventional form of identity and myth-making in the post-modern world.

“Selling Nothing: Marketing the Myths, Methods, and Movements of Minimalist Celebrities” meets all Religious Studies’ learning goals exceptionally well. It displays impressive interpretative and communication skills and is a very original work that builds on tools and knowledge acquired in creative ways without over-stating or over-interpreting. Moreover, it employs experience in appropriate and sophisticated ways that show an integration of personal and academic development in Page’s college years. Thus, it is truly a “capstone” work of which the RS program is very proud. 



Our Award for Citizenship celebrates majors who have served our RS community and others with dedication and enthusiasm and who have demonstrated special promise for future service in experiential learning and in coursework. This is a very difficult award to assign because RS majors--and certificate students-- tend to be service-oriented and connect their classroom learning to real life. 

BECCA WANTA- Becca began her essay for our 2015 newsletter as follows: 

The day I registered for my first semester at UW Madison, I decided to enroll in whatever grabbed my attention. I was immediately intrigued by the Freshman Interest Group course title, “Love and Attachment in Buddhist Art and Literature.” After a semester of learning about Buddhism and Southeast Asia, I was completely captivated and declared a Religious Studies major. Although it had seemed out of reach for me as a freshman, I began seriously considering the study abroad opportunity in Siem Reap, Cambodia. By second term, as my interest in Religious Studies grew, I found myself bound for Cambodia from May 25th through June 23rd. That term, I also found a special interest through my religion in sickness and health class. In Siem Reap, I was able to put what I had learned in both courses to use…. 


Becca is all about putting her studies to use. A Phi Beta Kappa student with prodigious academic ability, she moves between discourses in Religious Studies and her other major and life’s calling, Social Work, with elegant facility. She also moves with genuine and impressive empathy. From Madison to Cambodia, in a variety of volunteer positions and experiential learning opportunities, Becca has evidenced a consistent commitment to service of vulnerable populations, from minority populations, to the elderly, to UW students walking home in the dark at night.

She has also been an exceptionally good citizen of Religious Studies, serving as a class peer mentor, writing for our newsletter, and helping spread the word in event appearances about how Religious Studies can help prepare students for service professions, especially in healthcare and allied fields. Becca knows this firsthand from her field placements in Social Work where she has focused on eldercare. She’s investigated the importance to well-being of understanding how people want to be remembered. Her honors thesis project has taken her to a variety of green burial communities in Wisconsin that, in surprisingly different ways, build community beyond death around preserving the earth (rather than human remains). 

After hearing speakers from Wisconsin Medical Society in the Religion and Sickness and Health course, Becca sought out an internship with the Society, becoming an ambassador for Honoring Choices Wisconsin, a program to educate faith and other communities about advance care planning.  From promising first-year student and effective peer mentor in that course, Becca completed the journey in December as an engaging guest lecturer, representing Honoring Choices and inspiring new students with the expertise she has built over her college career and her commitment to putting her learning to good work.

Becca is impressing our entire campus during this graduation celebration. She is 2017 recipient of the College of Letters and Sciences Louise Troxell Award. In 1956, Louise Troxell retired as Dean of Women, a position she held for a quarter of a century. At her retirement, the Louise Troxell Award was established to honor Dean Troxell's years of outstanding leadership and devotion to the cause of women on our campus. The award is for one—yes, one in the entire College of Letters and Sciences—outstanding woman whose qualifications include “intellectual ability and curiosity, good citizenship, appreciation of the world outside herself and interest in participating in its affairs.”