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First-year ASU student Erin Schulte says religion has always been a strong presence in her life, “but rarely has it been the same religion: Buddhism, Catholicism, Lutheranism, Wicca – you name it, I probably have a family member who practices it.
“This environment got me interested in learning about the worldview behind different religions, from ancient Egyptian religions to modern-day cults,” notes Schulte, who is majoring in justice studies in the School of Social Transformation and minoring in philosophy.
“I strive to investigate, to understand; not to judge,” she emphasizes. “There are many perspectives in the world. How could I possibly judge whether the ideas I’ve been brought up with are any more ‘correct’ than ideals held by someone else, merely because of my familiarity with the customs and beliefs of my own culture?”
Next year, Schulte will have the opportunity to do applied work in this area at ASU as a 2014-2015 undergraduate research fellow in the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“This is a competitive program, and the students selected take a special class with the center's director and work with a faculty member on current research projects involving religion and conflict,” says Matt Correa, assistant research administrator in the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. “Fellows also have opportunities to meet with visiting scholars, attend special lectures, compete for research funds and earn a scholarship of $1,000.”
After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Schulte plans to earn her master's degree in justice studies before going on to law school to study human rights, in preparation for work with the FBI’s human trafficking or counterterrorism unit.
“Since differences in religion are often a prominent contributor to hostility and can be used as a rationale for terrorism, understanding how different religions work together and handle fundamental disagreements will be essential in working with counterterrorism,” Schulte observes.
Her interests are already weaving their way into her scholarship and campus involvement. Schulte wrote a research paper last semester about how cultural differences between Nepal and Bhutan contribute to the disparity in the prevalence of human trafficking between the two countries.
“Religion was a major contributor to this disparity,” she says, “and on occasion, there was evidence that religion, or at least exploitation of religious ideology, actually contributed to crime and overall strife in certain societies.”
At ASU, she is also an Honors Devil and is co-chair of advocacy for the Barrett Honors College Council. In the School of Social Transformation, she is researching structural intersectionality and domestic violence protection orders in Arizona with Alesha Durfee, associate professor of women and gender studies.
In her free time, Schulte, who was born in Boston but grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., rides horses competitively, in both Western and English styles.
She and her six-year-old paint horse, Diesel, are on a parallel trajectory when it comes to earning competitive awards.
“We just went to our first big show two weekends ago,” Schulte says, “and he took first in one of his classes.”