My name is Johnathan D. Clayton. I’m originally from Memphis, TN, and hold a BFA in Studio Art and Religious Studies from the University of Tennessee and an MA in Religious Studies from Georgia State University. My research interests have focused on Contemporary Paganism, Folk Magic and Folk Belief in the US South, New Religious Movements, and Religion in Pop Culture. I found that I was able to work within these interests in most aspects of GSU’s MA program and that is one of the things I value most about my experience.
What was your most memorable experience in the Religious Studies department at GSU?
I was also thrilled with the opportunities to study abroad through GSU. In both my first and second year of the program, I was afforded the opportunity to travel to France and Scotland, respectively, where I engaged with course material, local culture, history, and personal interests while making lifelong memories.
What have you been working on since leaving GSU?
After completing my MA, I took some time to decide whether or not pursuing a Ph.D. was the right choice for me. I earned a position with Teach for America and was placed teaching 5th grade back in my hometown of Memphis after a decade and a half away.
How has an MA in Religious Studies helped you in your current work or projects?
Initially, I thought my teaching experience from GSU’s MA program would be the most applicable part of my experiences. I honestly worried that little, if any, of my Religious Studies training would come into play. However, I’ve found that to be anything but true. My training around the study of race and gender has enabled me to talk more openly, honestly, and succinctly with my students about difficult topics I teach such as the genocide of indigenous people, the enslavement of African people, and other sensitive areas of study. It also prepared me for the amazing and insightful questions my students ask, questions that often veer directly into my training in Religious Studies and religious history in the US. And because religion intersects with so many aspects of life, especially here in the US South, I find that my background has left me better equipped to understand and connect with the wide variety of students I now teach in a city like Memphis.
Any advice for prospective students considering a degree in Religious Studies?
For anyone interested in Religious Studies, I can’t say my studies have been anything but positive. They’ve contributed to countless facets of my life and even if I decide to forgo a Ph.D., my time in the field has been nothing but beneficial. I plan to continue learning, writing, and attending conferences as an active contributor to the field and hope to inspire that in my students as well.