WSU grad student studies the history of religion
Religion is history to Alisa Cotter, a graduate student in the Master in Liberal Arts and Sciences program at Wichita State University.
Cotter began her college career as an art major, but, after her first semester, found herself interested in different things, from philosophy to psychology.
Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” sparked her interest in religion, but not the book. She said his bibliography changed her life.
“It opened my eyes,” she said about Brown’s bibliography, “that there are traditions older than the Catholic church, that there were New Testament stories about Jesus, for example, that were deemed heretical.”
Cotter grew up in a household that was not very religious, was baptized as a Catholic and took required religion classes in middle school in Colwich, but she rarely went to church.
“I didn’t grow up having that strong perspective,” she said, which helps her to step away and look at religion from a historical perspective.
She said it was fascinating for a young person coming out of a small Catholic town.
“You don’t learn about Plato or other cultures,” she said. “It’s amazing how much you don’t learn.”
Cotter said religion professor Stuart Lasine has been the most active participant in her academic career. She will lecture about different topics in biblical studies in his classes this semester.
Her academic resume is impressive. She was awarded the Medieval and Renaissance Certificate, part of a program at WSU that encourages students to gain a broader understanding of those periods.
She published a paper in the history department’s Fairmount Folio and presented a paper at last year’s Graduate Symposium.
Cotter has submitted two papers to be published this semester for the Fairmount Folio and the Graduate Symposium, as well.
But the WSU religion, history and art history departments don’t offer graduate teaching opportunities.
“Because I am unable to gain any teaching experience at WSU,” Cotter said, “(these) experiences will let the Ph.D. program to which I apply know that I am a serious student.”
She is studying Latin and Hebrew to read ancient texts, and she takes French to read academic books and speak conversationally. She plans to study Greek and Italian in the future.
And Cotter is traveling to Rome this summer to present one of her papers, “Pilgrimage and its Effects on San Paolo Fuori Le Mura During the Middle Ages.”
“This is a huge deal,” she said.
“Presenting a paper at a professional conference can lead to the paper being published,” Lasine said.
Cotter will have the opportunity to research the church in Rome her presentation covers, he said. And networking with scholars at the conference can lead to further presentations and publications.
Cotter is a working mother of three and a full-time student.
“It’s hectic,” she said, “taking care of the kids, making dinner, other household duties, and with Disney and Nickelodeon, it’s never quiet.”
Though finding time is a struggle, she said her professors always work with her, and her performance in class never suffers. She even brings her children to class with her on occasion.
Her daughter, Tierra, loves languages, and her oldest son, Nicholas, jokes he will be a doctor before his mom will. Cotter bought them French children’s books, and she said her youngest son, Jordan, cracks up at “Little Brown Bear” in French.
Cotter is planning to attend Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but after she finishes her degree, she’s not sure where she’ll be.
“I definitely want to be a college professor,” she said, “somewhere with nice weather.”