Religious studies professor selected for prestigious program

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Daisy Vargas, a University of Arizona professor in the Department of Religious Studies & Classics, was recently selected into the prestigious 2019-2020 cohort of the Young Scholars in American Religion program. The aim of the program is to train and mentor future educators and scholars in American Religion. 

Her specialization is Catholicism in the Americas; race, ethnicity and religion in the United States and Latinx religion. Vargas spoke to the Daily Wildcat about what sparked her interest in religious studies, what being selected into the cohort means to her and how she will benefit from it. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Daily Wildcat: Why did you decide on a degree in religious studies?

Daisy Vargas: I became interested in religious studies when I was an undergraduate. It mostly came through professors who made links between religion and political and social movements. The more I read and understood about American history in particular, and the history of the Americas, it became really clear to me that religion had a huge part to do with it.

DW: What about religious studies interests you the most?

DV: I love interacting with folks. Much of my research is based on ethnographic methods. I go out and go to religious festivals, sites and services and meet with different individuals and communities. I get to speak to them and hear in their own words what their experiences mean to them.

DW: Is religion a big part of your life?

DV: Religion is a big part of my life, because in many ways, I’ve dedicated my life to it. I’m a researcher by training and at heart. One of the big draws for me, as far as research goes, is being able to engage with folks and other people, and I think my interest in religion and religion practice allows me to be able to constantly connect to people and hear their stories.

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DW: What does being selected to the 2019-2020 cohort of the Young Scholars in American Religion program mean to you?

DV: First, it’s an honor to be chosen as part of cohort. It’s a program with an established record of creating communities of scholars of American religion that collaborate with and support each other and end up being really influential to each other throughout their career. I’m excited to be a part of this community and be able to contribute to that feeling of collegiality.

DW: How did your family and friends react after they learned you were selected?

DV: They were incredibly happy for me. Especially my colleagues here at the University of Arizona from the Department of Religious Studies & Classics, as well as the College of Humanities. They have been an incredible network of support.

DW: How do you think you will benefit from this program?

DV: One of the large benefits of this program is to be able to engage and meet other junior faculty and emerging scholars of American religion. I think that type of support is incredibly important, in our field in particular, so I look forward to that especially.

DW: What is one thing you would like every UA student to know about religion and American culture?

DV: Every part of American culture is touched by religion practice and religion experience.

Vargas is working on her most recent project, “Mexican Religion on Trial: Race, Religion, and the Law in the U.S. – Mexico Borderlands,”  which traces the roots of Mexican religion, race and law from the 19th century into the present day, especially when it comes to the history of anti-Mexican and anti-Catholic attitudes in the United States.


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