Sprawling black asphalt, thick white paint and a meticulous 20-hour process. Alexander Batson’s work begins well after sundown, under beams of fluorescent headlamp light.

“The lines on the parking lots? I put them there,” he laughed. “It’s a job you never think about until you do it yourself.”

Clemson student Alexander Batson and religious studies professor Ben White are pictured working in Dr. White's office.

Alexander Batson, left, and religious studies professor Ben White have spent a lot of time pouring through books and visiting during White’s office hours.
Image Credit: Clemson University

For Batson, lines are more than a day — well, night — job. The religious studies and economics double major crosses divisions between disciplines to make the contradictory complementary. He connects the dots between individuals to foster close-knit communities. He breaks boundaries that threaten to restrict spiritual development to one dimension.

And, a couple times per month, he takes overnight “striping trips” to paint lines on out-of-town parking lots.

Batson’s immersion in unseen — but undoubtedly important — work has given him a new appreciation for his South Carolina neighbors, and self-reflection has inspired him to share that sense of community with local high school students.

Between classes and striping trips, Batson makes the half hour drive to T.L. Hanna High School in nearby Anderson, S.C., where he spends 15 hours per week leading Young Life, a national Christian high school youth ministry.

“I am a religious person, so faith has always been a huge part of my life, but religion is also one of my personal interests,” he said. “Religion is a great historical force — people give their lives and sacrifice everything for their beliefs. It’s very powerful in individuals’ lives and in the lives of societies. I just think it’s fascinating.”

Over the years, Batson has formed an especially close bond with a quiet student who has grown tremendously between trips to Zaxby’s and pick up games of Frisbee golf.

“Now he’s involved in lacrosse, he has a job, he has grown in his faith, he’s more comfortable talking to people — talking to girls,” Batson laughed. “Seeing the influence I’ve had on his life and the way he’s changed has been special to watch.”

Through mentorship, Batson has left an enduring mark on the lives of these high school students, but he’s noticed a change in himself, too.

“I’m much more open to new ideas,” he said. “I’ve learned the value of sacrificing my time and gas money to serve people, to be a leader in some small sense.”

Batson grew up Protestant with a semi-fundamentalist background — not an uncommon vantage point for students born and raised in small-town South Carolina. His decision to major in religious studies may have grown out of personal interest, but his time at Clemson has pushed him to see the world through a new, more analytical lens.

“Studying religion has made me reexamine my views about scripture, tradition, authority,” Batson said. “It’s driven me to reconsider and see what’s important — for me, the most important thing is Christ.”

This process of re-examining religion and refining personal beliefs hasn’t come from a purely humanistic perspective. Although it may seem like an unlikely match, Batson has found that a strong understanding of economics is the perfect supplement to the historical study of religion.

“Economics provides a useful way of looking at things,” Batson said. “We cover lots of theory: supply, demand, shortage. It’s extremely useful to apply when examining historical phenomena. It allows you to see historical factors that have played a role in religion.”

Interdisciplinary discussion has fueled Batson’s intellectual development, but growth has also come from his experience abroad. As one of 12 students selected to participate in the Calhoun Honors College’s competitive Dixon Global Policy Scholars program, Batson spent a week studying European government in Belgium, France and Switzerland. When his group returned to the states, they continued to meet in bi-weekly discussion groups to analyze the differences between European and American policy.

Last summer, Batson was selected to participate in another Honors-sponsored global learning opportunity called the Christopher J. Duckenfield Scholars Program. This time, his flight across the Atlantic landed him five weeks at Oxford studying medieval history.

“I’m from Powdersville, S.C., and I’ve never lived more than 30 minutes from my house. Europe is similar to the United States, but I saw a huge variety of political, religious and cultural perspectives,” he said. “I learned how big the world is, but I also learned a love for home and the value of community — people that love you and care about you and speak your language.”

Just as Batson’s commitment to building connections has enabled him to form a community around Christ, the sense of home he feels at Clemson was constructed by his own mentors: the professors who’ve shaped his undergraduate experience.

“Professor Ben White spent a ton of time that he didn’t have to spend teaching me how to read Greek, writing letters of recommendation, recommending books and having me in his office hours,” Batson said. “And Steven Grosby has been very influential in teaching me the value of intellectual courage — that’s one of the benefits of the religious studies major. We really get to know each other and our professors.”

Between classes for two majors, trips to Anderson and late nights by headlamp light, Batson has still found time to submit “way too many” graduate school applications. He hopes that after spring graduation he’ll begin working toward his Ph.D. It’s a crucial step that will bring him closer to his ultimate goal of becoming a professor, of sharing more of the same mentorship that he’s already experienced.

“I’ve grown up coming here since I was less than a year old — I’d love to come back and teach someday,” Batson said. “It comes down to family ties, local ties and a love for the Clemson community.”