Jillian Owens, a graduating senior in Religious Studies and Plan II Honors, capped a spectacular undergraduate career by sweeping many of the most prestigious awards offered by the University, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of Religious Studies:
Jillian's senior thesis, "A Wide Net of Hope: Understanding the Success of Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church," examines the many factors that have made Houston's Lakewood Church the largest congregation in the United States and its pastor, Joel Osteen, a media star and one of the most influential religious figures in the country. Drawing on months of fieldwork--visiting the congregation, interviewing members, and attending groups--she concluded that Lakewood's success is built on three components: Osteen's encouraging message of hope; the network of volunteers who manage routine operations and integrate newcomers into the congregation; and the media network that beams Osteen and Lakewood around the world. Professor Thomas Tweed, who supervised the thesis, nominated her for a departmental distinction based on the outstanding quality of her work.
Jillian's interests and efforts have extended beyond her research field to the rest of campus and into the community. She was vice-President of the Religious Studies Student Committee and President of the Plan II Student's Association during her time on campus. She also has an abiding passion for the theatre, which has resulted in roles in several productions at UT, an internship at the ZACH Theatre, and participation in the Shakespeare at Winedale program. As a Shakespeare Outreach volunteer, she planned and taught workshops on the Bard for elementary and middle-school students in the area. Currently she writes regular biweekly theatre and arts reviews for the Austin Chronicle. Needless to say, we are extremely proud of Jillian's accomplishments and proud to count her among our department's graduates.