Meet a Major: Jackie Wagner

Jackie Wagner holding a reptileHometown: Brookville, Indiana
Double major: Religion and zoology
Graduation: May 2016

After graduation: Plans to pursue a graduate degree and participate in the Earth Expeditions program

"I would like to [work] with communities and religious groups to conserve our natural world."


Why did you decide to major in religion?

Well, to say it was a plan would be wrong. Growing up, I attended Catholic schools, and after taking religious classes for twelve consecutive years, I felt incomplete going into my freshman year of college not taking them anymore. The first course I had was with Dr. Duffy on the globalization of Christianity, and I absolutely fell in love with it. From there, I kept on taking religion courses, and eventually I got to a point where it didn't make any sense not to major in religion.

I would like to combine my two majors by working with communities and religious groups to conserve our natural world. There happens to be a program called Earth Expeditions, through both Miami University and the Cincinnati Zoo. I'm interested in working with the program in Thailand and India, where the program collaborates with Buddhist and Hindu communities to conserve their rainforests and mangroves.

I think that religious groups, being some of the largest organizations in the world, have the potential to serve as a great support system. My goal is to understand the different ways in which people prioritize within their belief systems.

What have been your best experiences in the major?

The first course that made a substantial impact on me was with Dr. French and focused on global jihadism. It was by far the hardest class I have taken in my college career. However, when I finished, I had gained a much broader understanding of jihadist groups and the way they work within our modern world. After taking that class, I possess a better understanding of conflict in the Middle East and the complex politics related to that conflict.

I've completed two main projects outside of the classroom. The first was an independent study I conducted with Dr. Wilson, in which I used theories of religion to observe how elephants mourn. The second was the Undergraduate Summer Scholars program, which I completed with the help of Dr. French, where I looked at how patriotism serves as a religion for many Americans.

How has studying religion prepared you for a career?

My majors offer two polar opposite perspectives. Within the realm of biology, as a zoology major, I learned to memorize information and to think critically within a disciplined framework. Within the religion major, I had to draw observations and conclusions in from all over the place. You're not necessarily dealing with hard facts and statistics, but rather thinking critically to understand cultural standpoints.

You can't just regurgitate information when you study religion. You have to rely on your own observations to continually gain new perspectives, creative thoughts, and explanations. You must formulate your own ideas and support them with theories and evidence.

Not only has the religion major challenged me to acquire a new way of thinking, but I've been told by professors that my writing has improved to reach new depth and insight.