Destiny Magnett ’22 Finds a Sense of Purpose in Religious Studies
Destiny Magnett ’22 didn’t plan to major in religious studies when she applied to Grinnell. But when she visited the College in spring 2018, she dropped in on Professor Henry Rietz’s Christian Scriptures class and walked away with a profound sense of purpose.
Magnett, who comes from Topeka, Kansas, says that she fell in love with the way that religious studies gives students space to learn, reflect, and grow. This growth extends to personal and academic development, allowing students to fully engage in other fields outside the department as well. This interdisciplinary approach to higher education draws many students to Grinnell College. In Magnett’s case, she believes that it gave her a deeper understanding of how religion functions in communities and people’s lives.
Religious studies has challenged Magnett to be more empathetic and approach the world with openness and kindness. This sense of caring has changed her and how she looks at the world. Guest lecturer Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst said it this way. “To do religious studies, we must live in the silence and gaps.” Magnett says that sentiment sums up the heart of what religious studies has taught her.
Magnett’s experiences in her Being Muslim in America course with Associate Professor Caleb Elfenbein and working with him as his research assistant helped Magnett define what was important to her. During their research on Mapping Islamophobia, she realized she wanted to focus her studies on religious freedom and interreligious advocacy.
Through her senior seminar in religious studies, Magnett took an in-depth look at U.S. efforts to protect international religious freedom, which prepared her for an opportunity to work with USAID’s Religious and Ethnic Minorities Unit and Search for Common Ground in Jordan.
Magnett credits the commitment and support of Ann Landstrom of the Center for Careers, Life, and Service for the inspiration her to look beyond her years at Grinnell. Landstrom encouraged Magnett to apply for national and international award opportunities. Magnett won a Truman Scholarship in 2021, which will enable her to do a post-grad Summer in Washington, D.C., and enter graduate school.
Professors Rietz and Elfenbein were particularly influential on her as her mentors. Rietz has been her major adviser and played a pivotal role in Magnett’s growth as a scholar. By serving as Elfenbein’s research assistant for two years, Magnett says she learned what it means to be an advocate. The experience also changed how she approaches questions of belonging in and access to public space. She says that the lessons she learned in the classroom have blended seamlessly with her professional life, and she is excited about the impact applied humanities can have in the public sphere and in people’s lives.
After graduating in spring 2022, Magnett was off to Washington, D.C., as a Truman Scholar to intern in the Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. State Department. Beginning in fall 2022, she will pursue a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree at Harvard Divinity School, focusing on religion, ethics, and politics.