Studying Religion: Preparing Students to More Fully Engage the World

Why Major in Religion?

Debates over Park 51, lawsuits against Scientology in France, restrictions on the building of minarets in Switzerland, the rise of the Christian Right, the tragedy at Jonestown. These events and countless others demonstrate the pivotal role the religion plays in our world. While many have predicted the “death of God” or the decline of religious institutions, this has not happened.  In fact, as scholar Gary Kessler writes, religion is “a force that influences, for good or for ill, the lives of practically everyone who is alive.”  People live and die in the name of religion.  And, increasingly, religion is becoming a central part of election campaigns, educational curricula, personal decisions, and popular culture products.  Given the power of religion in our world, it is imperative that we, as citizens, study it.  The academic study of religion provides students with essential skills (critical thinking, analytical writing, active listening, cross cultural communication, critical empathy, public speaking, scholarly research, etc.) and prepares them to engage the diversity and complexity of our global environment in meaningful ways.  Perhaps this is why Secretary of State John Kerry recently declared: “In fact, if I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion because that’s how integrated [religion] is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about in life today” (Remarks at the Launch of the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives—August 7, 2013).  For another perspective, read Nathan Schneider’s article (“Why the World Needs Religious Studies”) on Religion Dispatches.

What can I do with a religion major?

Majors will have enhanced understanding of cultural diversity and the complexity of diverse world views. International and historical perspectives will in turn provide the wider context for students’ understanding of their own culture, as well as provide preparation for careers in international relations, development, and commerce.  After graduation, Religion majors do the same things other humanities majors do, in roughly the same proportions. Majoring in Religion is not, for most students, a route to a religious career, any more than majoring in English leads to being a novelist, poet, or literary critic. Our majors have gone on to pursue careers in a wide variety of fields, including Non-Profit work, Education,  Law, Social Work, Medicine, Business/Finance, Ministry, and Graduate School.

A recent survey of 114 graduates of the program within the last ten years revealed that 90% of those surveyed responded that they were satisfied/very satisfied with their choice of religion as a major or minor and a similar percentage would make the same decision again given the opportunity.

But can I get a job, really?

“The academic study of religion does prepare you for a career if you become professionally interested in the field. It also aids in preparation for other kinds of careers.  A wide variety of employers are looking for people who are tolerant of diversity, are able to learn from others, are adaptable to new situations, and have knowledge of history and international affairs(Gary Kessler, Studying Religion).

Skills Gained through a Major or Minor in Religion:  Cross Cultural Communication, Critical Empathy and Tolerance, Critical Thinking Skills (Analysis, Synthesis, Research), Ability to make Interdisciplinary Connections, Reflexivity, Flexibility, Adaptability, Careful Observing, Reading, and Listening, Comparative Skills, Written and Verbal Prowess, Sensitivity to the Construction of Meaning.

The failure of Americans to understand other religions “poses one of the great challenges to our public diplomacy” (Madeleine Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty, Easton Press, 2003).

Who can I talk with about a major/minor in religion? How do I find out more?

The Religion Department is warm and welcoming community of scholars.  Professors and students are happy to talk with you about the opportunities available.  To make an appointment to talk with someone about your interest in a religion major/minor, please email Ms. Sheila Lockhart.

What do students say about majoring/minoring in religion?

“The study of religion is important not only because of the impact religion has had and continues to have on humanity, but also because the study of religion teaches one to be a life-long learner, to ask questions and how to find the answers, and how to examine an issue through multiple lenses.”

“Saying the study of religion is important is definitely an understatement. It really opens you up to discussions with so many different people and so many different things. I ended up talking more about my religion major and experiences than any other science related topic at my medical school interviews!”

“The ideological and deeply intimate nature of what we call “religion” is present in almost every culture in the world in one way or another.  Religion can be seen as the basis for the development of nearly every subject in academia as we know its due to its fundamental role in helping human beings identify meaning, explanation and purpose for all phenomena beyond our own understanding.”

“I believe that studying religions not only can deepen one’s understanding of their own beliefs, but also provides for a more open-minded, well-rounded human being.  There is too much ignorance already in the world regarding religions, so to come away from college and not be one of those people is all that I would hope to accomplish.”

To hear first-hand what graduating majors have said about what they have learned, check out this short video.

For additional information on the benefits of studying religion, browse this site sponsored by the American Academy of Religion: Why Study Religion?

Interesting Facts About Majoring in the Humanities

  • Humanities majors were among the highest scoring cohort taking the MCAT, scoring well above the biological sciences, behavioral and social sciences, and specialized health sciences.  Their scores were comparable to those achieved by students in the physical sciences.
  • Medical research has increasingly focused on the connections between religion and health, forecasting a promising new area of investigation.
  • Humanities majors taking the GMAT did better, on average, than business majors, and performed on the same level as social science and natural science majors.
  • Humanities majors out performed social science, and performed on level with engineering, math, and natural science majors on the LSAT
  • Humanities majors ten years after graduation represent the most varied group when compared to social sciences, bio/phy sciences, and math/computer sciences. Keep your options open.
  • Humanities majors outperformed all other fields in the analytic writing category.  They also attained the highest GRE verbal scores, compared to four other academic fields, and exhibited the most balanced verbal-quantitative scores.
  • Humanities graduates enter jobs in a wide variety of fields, ranging from health occupations to sales to business and management.  See the occupations reported by a cohort of 2008 graduates or collected from a 10 year longitudinal study of 1993 graduates.