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Career Relevance: Professors' Thoughts

Department of Religious Studies

 

WHAT CAN I DO WITH A RELIGIOUS STUDIES DEGREE?

When you graduate from a liberal arts college, you enter the world of work recognized as someone who chose to develop his or her thinking and communication skills by studying some of the most deeply interesting subjects that exist. Your independent intellect and your ability to apply yourself to new challenges of understanding are actually your most marketable qualities.

Contrary to one popular image, a Religious Studies major is not pre- professional training for religious work. Undergraduate religious studies offers a unique opportunity (even for someone who becomes a religious professional) to explore a wide range of religious phenomena and issues. Religious Studies is a humanities major especially strong in analysis of fundamental issues of reality and value (like philosophy), in social analysis (like history and the social sciences), and in interpretation of cultural objects (like literary and artistic studies). The knowledge base and skills developed in the Religious Studies major can be put to work in infinitely many ways.

Below are some specific words of advice about jobs for which religious studies credentials are most obviously well suited, derived in part from information provided by the Millsaps Career Center.

1. RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS

Clergy
You can pursue a career as an ordained leader of a religious community. Clergy positions in Christian churches typically require denominational ordination and usually a Master of Divinity degree. Congregations expect clergy to possess high moral and ethical standards, leadership ability and self-discipline, and excellent written and verbal communication skills.

Local Church Work
There are many job opportunities in local churches such as youth and adult ministries, counseling, religious education, day care, missionary outreach, and music ministry. One could be employed by local churches or denominational agencies. One might want to get additional training or coursework in specialized areas; obtain certification for specialized areas; obtain Master's degree in Divinity or counseling, etc.

Missions/Outreach
Jobs are available for those interested in missions in church and community development programs, education, medical professions, metropolitan ministries and community centers by denominational boards or agencies, missions boards, local churches and religious institutions. One would need to obtain any needed advanced degrees, certification or licensing for area of interest and seek related volunteer or work experience. An undergraduate religious studies major provides a breadth of religious understanding that is crucial for work in this field.

2. SOCIAL, HEALTH AND WELFARE SERVICES

The social services area encompasses jobs in administration, vocational training, retail, public relations, programming, counseling, advocacy, camp administration and more.

Many jobs of this type are found with national and local nonprofit organizations including United Way, Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, sheltered industries, etc. as well as with churches and religious organizations, correctional institutions, shelters, nursing homes, and youth organizations and camps (YMCA, YWCA, Young Life, etc.). A student interested in this work would volunteer with local organizations for experience and cultivate excellent interpersonal, oral and written communication skills.

In the Health and Welfare categories there are jobs in Administration, Social Services, Residential Living, Religious Activities Programming, and Counseling in such settings as hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, assisted living homes and children and youth homes. Experience and coursework in Business or counseling could also be very helpful in such jobs. You could take courses related to special populations (children, youth, aging), volunteering your time in related organizations and obtain advanced degrees for counseling and chaplaincy.

3. CHAPLAINCY

Chaplains are employed in the military and in a range of large institutions, including health care facilities and colleges and universities. Ordination is required and sometimes (as in the military) special chaplaincy training.

4. EDUCATION

In educational institutions there are positions in teaching, research, counseling, administration/staff, chaplaincy, religious life programming and campus ministry.

Religious studies or social studies is a secondary school subject which a religious studies major has strong credentials to teach. One could be employed by public or private schools. (There are currently more opportunities to teach religious studies courses in private schools.) A certification or licensure to teach may be required. A Ph.D. is usually required for teaching, research and administration in colleges and universities. A campus minister most often has both a Master of Divinity degree and a doctoral degree.

A religious studies undergraduate or master's degree may be a helpful preparation for graduate study in related disciplines such as history, literature, creative writing or studio art, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychology, or political science.

5. BUSINESS

Jobs in the business field for which a religious studies degree would be an obvious asset would include Administration/Management, Human Resources, and Research.

Business jobs are available through local churches, religious bookstores, religious publishers, denominational boards/agencies, seminaries, religiously affiliated schools, denominational hospitals, and other agencies. A student interested in the business side of religious or religiously-affiliated agencies would do well to double major or minor in Business and acquire some related experience.

6. MASS MEDIA

Journalism
In the field of journalism, one can find jobs in writing or editing agencies and public relations areas. One could apply for religion-related jobs through denominational agencies, interdenominational organizations and local churches. Freelancing is possible. A student with this interest should take courses in English, journalism, and social science, obtain related experience, and submit articles for publication.

Publishing
In the publishing field there are positions for writing, editing, public relations, advertising, sales administration and commercial art. A religious studies major's depth of cultural understanding is a prime asset here. Both secular and denominational publishing houses of books and magazines, as well as denominational offices, would be hiring in these areas. A student interested in this kind of work would take courses to develop excellent writing and editing skills, learn desktop publishing techniques, and/or develop artistic talent.

Television/Radio/Film
The radio, television, and film industries offer jobs for which communication and interpretation skills are important. A student interested in a careeer in these media should seek relevant work experience and training in the use of television, radio, and/or film technologies.

GENERAL INFORMATION

* A bachelor's degree provides a broad background for careers in many fields including many religious-affiliated organizations.

* An undergraduate degree prepares for professional and graduate study in business, law, medicine, counseling, higher education and other fields.

* A Master of Divinity is required for most clergy positions, plus denominational ordination. A Master of Theological Studies degree may be a good step toward further graduate study or non-ordained church work.

* A doctorate is required for college/university/seminary teaching, research and administration.

* A student of religion can help others understand human spiritual, cultural, and social needs.

* Experience in religious and social service agencies and developing counseling and communication skills will be helpful.