Alumni Voices: Dr. Matt Hedstrom, Assistant Prof. of Religious Studies and American Studies at UVA

We are delighted to introduce a new regular blog series! Alumni Voices will feature words of wisdom from alumni of the American Studies program at UT about their experiences in graduate school, their current work, and advice about how we can get the most out of our time while students of American Studies.

Today, we kick off this feature with some insights from Dr. Matt Hedstrom, a professor in the department of Religious Studies and the program in American Studies at the University of Virginia. He graduated with a Ph.D. from UT in 2006, and his book, The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century, will be released by Oxford University Press in October 2012.

How is the work that you’re doing right now informed by the work that you did as a student in American Studies at UT?

That’s a hard question, because everything I do is informed by my graduate education. For one thing, I only really learned to read and write as a graduate student. I mean that.  Bob Crunden talked about academic reading as akin to gutting a fish—learning to get quickly at the meat and discard the head and tail—a rather gruesome image that has nevertheless stayed with me. This is not just about efficiency but also about honing the ability to find what matters in an argument. In addition, many of my professors were incredibly insightful readers of student writing, Bill Stott most memorably. I try to write narrative and jargon-free prose as much as possible, following the examples of many of my professors at Texas. This reflects, perhaps, my affinity for history rather than cultural studies, though I don’t want to draw that line too hard and fast. More than anything, it reflects the style of writing I was taught at Texas, and I am grateful for it.

More substantively, the book based on my dissertation is just coming out now (The Rise of Liberal Religion)—so I have been immersed in my graduate research until very recently. Be careful what topic you choose—you’ll have to live with it for a long time!

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