Julia Johnson

Woman with brown hair and glasses on a college campus

Name: Major, Graduation Date: Julia Johnson, B.A. Religious Studies, 2015, Concentration in Nonprofit Leadership, College of Arts & Letters, with a Specialization in Science, Technology Environment and Public Policy (STEPP), Lyman Briggs College and James Madison College

Current Location: Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Where I am now; how it relates to what I learned at MSU; and how my major helped: “I am currently at Yale Divinity School, pursuing a Master’s in Divinity. My projected graduation date is May 2018. I was encouraged to apply by Dr. Gretel Van Wieren, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies. As my senior advisor, she helped me explore the intersections between religion and animals.

“I was often told that applying to an Ivy League school would be very difficult having a ‘state school’ education. But, it hasn’t been. I feel overly prepared, and I owe it all to MSU. I’m proud to say I attended Michigan State University for so many reasons. MSU made me feel like a leader both in and outside of the classroom. I immersed myself in all the opportunities the university had to offer, and I graduated knowing I left my mark.”

Growing up, why I chose MSU, and my life interests: “I grew up in Rochester, Michigan, and knew I wanted to attend a large university with lots of options. I also knew I wanted a small department where I could work with my professors one on one, and walk into their offices whenever I needed to talk. At Michigan State, I received the best of both worlds. The academic intimacy one often receives at a smaller school with the perks of being at a large research institution.

“I’m interested in religious animal ethics, specifically surrounding farming, slaughtering, and domestication. I am also interested in how religion shapes our worldviews, especially regarding the treatment and management of animals, the intimate connection between religion and food, and religious ethics regarding death and the afterlife. My experience visiting MSU’s agricultural farms and slaughterhouse inspired me to explore the relationship between food animals, death, consumption, and faith.”

Scholarships, grants or other financial aid I received: “I am blessed to be the recipient of two awards through the College of Arts & Letters:

  • Religious Studies Engaged Scholar Award | May 2015
    This award recognizes the Religious Studies undergraduate major who achieved the highest grade point average, and it is meant to recognize outstanding academic achievement at MSU.
  • Nick Rashford and Jake Folio Religious Studies Award | May 2014
    This award recognizes student excellence in engaged scholarship and community/nonprofit outreach combined with the academic study of religion.

“I am also very grateful to Yale Divinity School for awarding me the title of Marquand Scholar, a merit-based, full-tuition scholarship for my time at Yale.”

What students should prepare for and take advantage of at MSU: “Students need to be prepared to explore all fields that interest them. That’s what I did; including the offerings of three MSU colleges: James Madison, Lyman Briggs, and the College of Arts & Letters. In our global world, it’s vital to be able to create dialogues with opposing views, as well as be comfortable approaching situations from all angles, not just one trained field. MSU offers an interdisciplinary education for future leaders to be prepared to change the world. 

“In our global world, it’s vital to be able to create dialogues with opposing views, as well as be comfortable approaching situations from all angles, not just one trained field.”

“It is especially important to balance academic and personal life. My advice to new and current students is: After completing your homework, attend football and basketball games, Wells Hall movies, and, yes, even parties! MSU has so much to offer students. Take full advantage of it! You’re part of a huge community at MSU. That means, whatever you like to do, you don’t have to do it alone. I lived on campus all four years and loved it. Michigan State became my family.”

Other thoughts on MSU and my time on campus: “Originally, I was interested in studying Animal Science. But I realized that studying the humanities is so important for the future of our world. I decided to take Intro to Biblical Literature with Dr. Chris Frilingos. He motivated me to pursue the academic study of religion. Without guidance from him – and the whole Department of Religious Studies – I wouldn’t be where I am today.

“Now in graduate school, I feel prepared academically and personally. Michigan State afforded me confidence in my academic studies and within myself. Because I know who I am, I can move forward in my professional career, knowing that I have the training of a Spartan to prepare me for anything that lies ahead.

“After graduation, I will be pursuing doctoral work in religious ethics, as well as training as an Animal Chaplain. I feel called to educate people on the relationship between humans and animals, and how faith plays a large factor influencing our worldviews. I’m also in the process of creating an ‘environmental series’ for churches to draw attention to nonhuman creation in Scripture and sacred texts. I hope to generate more empathy for animals and the Earth, ultimately instilling a new Christian environmental ethic to effect compassion for all Earth’s creatures.