Tips on Applying: Spotlight on UCSB

We’re please to continue our series with a Spotlight on the University of California, Santa Barbara, provided by PhD student Stephen Flemming. Steve, as most are aware, blogs on JI. You can find out more about him here.

My BA and MA were in history and I applied to history programs for PhDs along with Santa Barbara. While I was getting my MA I became more and more interested in religious studies, so I applied to Santa Barbara. At UCSB they have everyone take 4 core colloquia as an introduction to religious studies: sociology, philosophy, phenomenology, and post structuralism. These courses had really interested me and I found them very useful.

UCSB was one of the early state universities to do religious studies and the department has been well-funded and they have (for religious studies) a large faculty. The areas of expertise are broad, lots of eastern religions. I came in in the American tract (you pick an area of emphasis) but quickly switched to the newly created Christians Traditions track. My dissertation will be on Anglo-American popular religion from the reformation to 1800.

A lot of those admitted don’t get funding and are encouraged to apply for TA ships in other departments that don’t have graduate students (particularly Law and Society). The grad students have been pretty successful at getting those.

I am the only Mormon in the department. Everybody has always been really nice, though I’ve sometimes played the role of the token Mormon (I took a class where the professor would show us various statistical databases [usually Pew] and would always pick the Mormons as the example).

We have a good strong family ward and a strong singles ward as well. My wife and I are very happy with the family housing here. We have four kids and things are a little tight (our Mormon neighbors have 5), but this is a great place for the kids.

I am very happy with the program; it has worked very well for the things I want to do. I am working with Ann Taves who had recently come over from Claremont when I got here. It was very helpful to be exposed to many different approaches to the study of religion and to be allowed to more or less create my own program. When we finish classes we take our field exams but we area allowed to (with the help of the professors) decide what the areas will be that we are tested on. So I’m doing exams on the history of Christianity and working with some professors in the history department (which is encouraged).

Department website:

Previous Spotlights can be found here. The entire series of tips can be found here.

8 Replies to “Tips on Applying: Spotlight on UCSB”

  1. thanks for the run down steve.

    what about you, how went the transition from undergrad to grad, masters to phd student, history to religion?

    so is popular religion another way of saying magic?

  2. Probably impolite, so feel free to ignore:

    Re your comments on funding, do you imply that you both pay tuition and have to get enough to cover all your living expenses? What percentage get full funding, in your estimation? What percentage get partial?

    How far does a TA-ship go for you in that regard, and are they also available to full/partial funded students? And is this all arranged after you have accepted/matriculated?

  3. Questioner, my funding has been pretty limited. My wife’s job pays pretty well though. Applicants who get funding are awarded packages when they are accepted (I don’t know the percentage). Those who do not are given the “go get your own TA-ship” speech that I mention above, but there are a number available. TA-ship pay pretty well, you get your tuition covered and it pays $25 an hour for 20 hours a week. We have a strong TA union here that fights pretty hard for wages. Single people seem to be able to come close to being able to live off of the TA ships. Some of that is drying up with California’s budget woes.

    g. wesley. My grad experience has been a long one, I graduated from BYU in 1999, worked for a year teaching math in an LA highschool then enrolled in Cal State Stanislaus for a master’s in history. There I wrote my master’s thesis on early Mormonism in the Philadelphia area. It was a good experience. I guess I had some expectations of what the wider world post BYU would be like and perhaps my adviser had some of what it would be like to work with a Mormon and I think we kind of had to explore some things (that make’s it sound more intriguing than it was). But I suppose that as with anything, you learn the ropes and push through.

    It was then 3 years before I went to UCSB.

    It was really good to get a good grounding in a particular discipline before I went to UCSB. Some of the guys who came straight from undergrad complained of getting all theory and no method in the first seminars we took. That is, you go through a lot of major thinkers, but they don’t teach you how to do anything. The plan is for the grad students to work on research methodology after the first seminars as they work with their advisers. Anyway, it was really useful for me to have done a lot of reacher before I went through the seminars. The one guy in our cohort who does biblical studies says he wished he had gotten a master’s in classics first so that he would have had his languages down before jumping into all the theory.

    Popular religion and magic: short answer–sort of. But I’m going to be arguing that magic is often classification that elites use to delegitimize popular practice. Instead of applying elite, modern definitions of Christianity and magic to what the common people do throughout history, scholars need to try to understand the worldview of these people in their entirety. That is, I want to rethink Quinn’s bifurcation of “magic worldview” and “traditional Christianity.” Interestingly, much of what Quinn (and most everybody else) calls magic, actually is traditional Christianity; that is, what common people practiced and was deemed legitimate in the middle ages.

  4. Thanks Steve, for letting me pry. That sounds better and more generous than I expected, and more along the lines of institutions that give full tuition + stipend but have a requirement for assistant-ship/teaching commitments. Glad it has worked well for you and your family!

  5. Steve, as a convert from the Philadelphia area (now residing in Florida) I would be most interested in your thesis on Philly and Mormonism. I am hoping to create a small book on the Philly Temple (once it is completed). Any chance I could finagle a copy?

  6. Michael, I published some articles based on my thesis. They are

    “‘Congenial to Nearly Every Shade of Radicalism’: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism.” Religion and American Culture, 17, no. 1 (2007): 129-64.
    “Discord in the City of Brotherly Love: The Story of Early Mormonism in Philadelphia.” Mormon Historical Studies 5, no. 1 (2004): 3-28, which you can find here.

    Also I’m working on turning all this into a book.

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