Undergraduate Spotlight: Kayla Klanreungsang reflects on her DSR experience

June 5, 2024 by Kayla Klanreungsang & Siri Hansen

We talk to newly-minted BA Specialist in Religion and outgoing Religion Undergraduate Student Association (RUSA) president Kayla Klanreungsang about her student experience and the study of religion.



The most basic question first! How did you come to the Department for the Study of Religion (DSR) in the first place?

Well, my original plan was to study politics or political science and public policy, but in my first year I ended up taking three DSR courses because they sounded interesting. ("Introducing Religion" Blood, Sex, Drugs", "Dystopia: Religion and Gender in Science Fiction" and "Religion & Popular Culture".) I was completely sold! I was like, this is great. I love it. This is what I want to study. But before I came to U of T I didn’t even know that there was a religion department. It was while I was looking through the course catalogue trying to find things that sounded interesting – because I really wanted to take the opportunity to study something that I found personally interesting – that these religion courses caught my eye.

Have you seen a change in students’ perception of the study of religion?

Definitely, as the DSR is becoming increasingly popular, there are RUSA members who came to the university wanting to study religion specifically. That’s an interesting change, because when I first started I don't think there were any members of RUSA who knew right from the outset that that's what they wanted to study. I help out at student information sessions and more recently there have been numerous students in their first year who come up to us and say, oh, I've been looking for this table, I want to major in religion.

When students take religion classes, they like them so much that they end up recommending them to their friends!

The DSR’s class enrolment has seen large increases since you started your degree. 

I think what's really cool about the religion classes is when students take them, they like them so much that they end up recommending them to their friends!

How would you explain the DSR to someone in a different department?

I always say, it's like anthropology, but with religion or it's like sociology, with religion. The DSR is all these different fields. It's psychology somewhat, too. And it can be science: I was taking a science and religion class.

What would you describe as the rewards and the challenges of studying religion?

The most rewarding thing for me personally is that I got to study something at university that I really was interested in. I see some people doing subjects they don’t like but I enjoyed the variety, the whole process. Another reward is the DSR is so welcoming and the classes can be relatively small, so you really got to know the people in the class and the professors. I had a roommate studying in a completely different discipline, and she’d never had a conversation with any of her professors. I just can’t imagine what my university experience would have been like had I not been able to do that.

I would say probably the most challenging thing was explaining to other people what the study of religion is – they're like, oh, what are you going to do with that? But like I said, it's personally interesting – and develops critical thinking and writing skills.

You have been part of RUSA since your second year, and were president this last year. What prompted you to get involved?

I started my degree in 2020 and it was completely online because of COVID so when I came in person for second year I got in touch with RUSA and ended up being elected as the second year rep. It was great, being able to get to know and talk to people who were also studying religion, who understood what the study of religion is. I liked that a lot. I enjoyed that part of my role was reaching out to professors – almost every one who was teaching a class that year. Then in my third year I was in charge of RUSA’s external affairs, which again was a lot of contact with professors. 

[The study of] religion is composed of so many different disciplines, it goes with everybody else's.

You’ve been involved in the organization of the Undergraduate Student Conference on the Study of Religion since it began in 2022. The sheer variety of students and topics is very notable.

That's what's so interesting about the DSR because you could take a class and you can have every single student in the class be from a different department or from a different background. The number of science students that end up taking religion courses as their electives, just because it's interesting, is quite startling – like in my religion and science class.

A minor in religion, that’s a great pair to go with other areas. A lot of people do bioethics and religion, which IS super interesting, but it is just because religion is composed of so many different disciplines, it goes with everybody else's.

In the religion and science class they went around the class asking people for their majors and then they wrote them all on the board. And it was completely full because there were people from so many different disciplines.

You’ve spent a lot of time studying many facets of religion and been closely involved with the DSR: we will miss you. What’s next for you? Something related or something completely different?

I'm still not really sure. I did apply for law school and I got in. And then I also applied for grad school in religion and I also got in. I'm also considering going into early childhood education as a next step – I’ve been working at a daycare, which I’ve also done the last couple of summers, and I really enjoy it. For now, though, I have decided to take a year off to think about what it is I actually want to study – and I could also consider going abroad for school. I just have to take the time to figure out which option is the right one for me.