Meet a Major: Sarah Manning

Sarah Manning in TurkeyHometown: Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Double major: Religion and international studies
Graduation: May 2016

After graduation: Plans to pursue a master’s degree in either foreign policy or security studies

"My major in religion has challenged me to look beyond obvious answers... I have been able to take my college career and shape it into something that truly reflects myself and my interests."


Why did you decide to major in religion?

I decided to become a religion major my sophomore year, after taking a course with Dr. Johnson on methods of studying different religions. I originally took the class to expand my horizons and have fun, but ironically it ended up being the hardest class I've taken in college yet. For the first time, I felt challenged. During the semester-long research project we had to complete, I discovered how much I wanted to study things that simply weren't found in any other class on campus.

What have been your best experiences in the major?

The first course that made a large impact on me was REL 201, "Methods for the Study of Religion." That course required me to develop my own research project on religion. It was the first time I had to write a paper over 15 pages in such a particular way, meet with professors, and read background materials in such an extensive manner.

I've now done numerous research projects. I did an independent study of Jihadi Salafism with Dr. French and am currently participating in the Dean's Scholar program, developing a project about the role of religion in American foreign policy, specifically the war with Iraq. I will present my work to the university this spring, and Dr. French and I are looking for other outlets to publish in as well.

The best experience I've had outside the classroom has been my study abroad trip to Istanbul. In my major, I focus heavily on Islam, as well as Christianity; so Istanbul was a great city due to the intersection of history and culture in those two areas.

How has studying religion prepared you for a career?

I credit Dr. French's REL 376 course, which surveyed militant Islamic groups, with piquing my interest in combining my international studies major with something like national security.

More than anything, my religion major has made me independent and organized. The major taught me how to set my own deadlines, as well as how to be proactive versus only meeting the minimum requirements.  The fact that the faculty are so involved has given me a great opportunity to collaborate with others. I've grown to manage a lot of responsibility, and now I feel confident in entering a career, working with others, and trusting my own judgment.