Department of Religious Studies

Religious Studies senior receives awards for academic excellence

Wed, May 16, 2012
Religious Studies senior receives awards for academic excellence
Co-op Mitchell Award presentation. From left: Provost Steven Leslie, Jillian Owens, University Co-op President George Mitchell, Dean Esther Raizen, Professor Thomas Tweed

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:

  • University Co-op George H. Mitchell Student Award for Academic Excellence. Jillian received the $2,000 prize on May 2 at a reception at the Four Seasons Hotel. The Co-op Mitchell Award acknowledges undergraduate students nominated by their professors for recognition of their hard work and extraordinary contributions to their fields of study.
  • Dean's Distinguished Graduates Award. Each year the College of Liberal Arts honors 12 seniors with the Dean's Distinguished Graduate Award for their leadership, scholarly achievements and service to the community. Jillian and the other distinguished graduates will be honored at the College of Liberal Arts spring commencement ceremony on Friday, May 18.
  • Religious Studies Senior Thesis Distinction. This honor recognizes extraordinary scholarly achievement and superior quality in a Religious Studies thesis.  

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.

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