portrait of ASU student Jaxon Washburn

Humanities undergrad uses research on Armenia to pen article of awareness

By

Rachel Bunning

The news of the reignited war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region beginning in September left undergraduate student Jaxon Washburn feeling distraught. After serving a church mission in Armenia and making connections with many people there, Washburn worried about the possibility of a second genocide.

He expressed his concerns to his friend and colleague Daniel Gullotta, mentioning his desire to pitch different op-eds to various outlets and newspapers to raise awareness. Gullotta put Washburn in touch with representatives from The Bulwark, a news network launched in 2018 dedicated to providing political analysis and reporting free from the constraints of partisan loyalties or tribal prejudices, according to their website. 

“I care immensely about the well-being and security of the Armenian people and know individuals who tragically lost their lives in the conflict,” said Washburn. “Writing the op-ed on the subject was primarily my effort to raise awareness of the severity of the war, the risks it posed for the region at-large and the necessity for greater international intervention to help secure lasting peace.”

Upon his article being accepted and published by the network, they invited him to submit more pitches in the future. 

“I am interested in writing for different journalistic outlets in the future, including for The Bulwark, though on which specific subjects I have yet to determine,” said Washburn. “I imagine it will involve the intersection of religion, history and politics. Contemporary issues involving Mormonism, Armenia/the Armenian diaspora and interreligious dialogue and peace-building would likely be my go-to subjects.”

He was delighted when his piece was published, saying it was his small token of gratitude for all the Armenian people have done for him.

“My mission experience there from 2018 to 2019 was life-changing as I was able to learn the Armenian language, engage in regular acts of service and humanitarian projects and fall in love with the Armenian people, as well as their culture and history,” said Washburn.

After serving his mission, he returned to Arizona, where he was born and raised, and began pursuing degrees. 

“I was happy to choose ASU for my undergraduate experience,” said Washburn. “I was and have been deeply impressed by the university’s commitment to holistic student well-being and ample resources to encourage the physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual flourishing of its students.”

In addition to earning his bachelor’s degrees in history and religious studies from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Washburn is also earning a certificate in religion and conflict from the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and is a student in Barrett, The Honors College. He has been the recipient of multiple scholarships during his undergraduate studies, including the Friends of Religious Studies Award, Friends of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict Award, Melikian Center Award and the President Barack Obama Scholarship.

Washburn had been approved to study abroad for eight weeks in Armenia through the The Melikian Center: Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies this last summer, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was unable to carry out his travel.

Despite being unable to visit Armenia, Washburn knows he wants to specialize in Armenian religious history for his career. His honors thesis reflects his interest as it is centered on exploring the history of Armenians in the state of Arizona. 

“I have been able to interview members of the Armenian-American community here to better understand their experiences as a religious and ethnic minority group in the state,” said Washburn. “Though the pandemic has introduced new concerns to my work that I didn’t originally anticipate, I am happy to report that things are progressing as needed.”

He will defend his thesis this spring and after graduation, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in theological studies from a divinity school. The schools he has applied to include Harvard, Yale, Duke and University of Chicago. 

“So far, I have been accepted to both Harvard and Duke and anticipate hearing from the others,” said Washburn. “I actively look forward to attending a divinity program for my master’s given that I want to engage in theological work for my Mormon faith community.”

Washburn plans to accept and enroll at Harvard Divinity School following graduation from ASU.