Religious studies major dedicated to improving the human condition


Hannah Moulton Belec

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

For religious studies graduate Nathaniel Harris, a Phoenix native, empathy and spirituality have guided his studies and his extracurriculars.

Harris always knew he wanted to be a Sun Devil, and once at Arizona State University, he decided to major in religious studies during an introduction to religion course taught by Professor John Cunningham.

I had always been interested in understanding the human condition and how other groups interpret the esoteric or venerated aspects of life. Professor Cunningham, with his enthusiasm and care and respect, sold me on my major,” Harris said.

That idea of caring for others was a thread through Harris’ time at ASU. He became involved in a number of student organizations, serving as student president of ASU Hillel and student coordinator for Recovery Rising, an organization that supports students in recovery.

Outside of ASU, he also served as sustainability chair for the Tempe Coalition, a local organization that seeks to reduce drug and alcohol use among Tempe youth. He also found the time to chair Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, teach yoga classes and spend a month living in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan.

Harris is about to embark on another adventure of understanding and service — he plans to join the Peace Corps. He talked to ASU Now about his Sun Devil experience and what he’s learned along the way.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: I learned that you can’t save everyone. Individuals are completely free to make their own choices, but what you can do is create a system that gives individuals the opportunity to thrive.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Study what you find interesting.

Q:  What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is the Poly campus at night. With its desert landscape and farms, you get an amazing sense of calm. On Tempe campus it’s the grove of trees behind Old Main. There’s something magical about them flowing in the rare wind that we get.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on going into the Peace Corps, teaching English in some rural community somewhere and taking a nap.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would put that money toward making a more empathetic system. $40 million is a lot of money to me as an individual, but to society as a whole it’s a drop in the ocean. The primary focus of that money would be advocacy toward creating a more equitable system of life.

Written by Logan Maro, Sun Devil Storyteller