What Does a Career in Religious Studies Look Like?
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Whether you plan to work in a religious institution, for the government, or in the private sector, a religious studies degree can set you on a rewarding career path.
Among majors that appeal to spiritual people, religious studies offers perhaps the most interesting post-graduation prospects. Religious studies careers include spiritually rewarding vocations like clergy, researcher, and educator.
According to Payscale, the average salary for a graduate with a master's in religious studies is approximately $61,000. Read on to learn more about what to expect from a career in religious studies.
What Do Religious Studies Professionals Do?
Religious studies professionals contribute to society by providing counseling services, working as educators, and serving as religious functionaries, like priests or nuns. Their clientele may include congregants, traditional and nontraditional students, or patients.
Religious studies professionals can work in nonprofits, religious institutions, schools, and government agencies. A religious studies degree can also translate to less immediately related fields, especially when earned as part of a double major.
Due to the nature of their work, religious studies professionals are typically empathetic and understanding. They also need strong communication skills in order to reach their constituents, students, or patients. Finally, religious studies graduates generally have strong rhetorical skills and a passion for research and philosophy.
What Jobs Can You Get With a Religious Studies Degree?
A religious studies degree can help you pursue jobs in the humanities or prepare you for ordainment and endorsement as clergy in your faith group. A postgraduate religious studies degree can even prepare you for work as a professor of religion or theology.
|Projected Job Growth
|Religious Activities and Education Director||$43,860||3%|
|Postsecondary Philosophy and Religion Teacher||$79,540||9%|
How to Become a Religious Studies Professional
Becoming a religious studies professional requires you to earn a religious studies or theology degree from a 4-year college. Then, you may need additional training at a nonsecular school, like a theology college.
Sometimes a 4-year religious studies degree by itself is enough to start a career as a religious worker or similar professional in your faith group, but exact requirements vary by faith.
It typically takes 2-4 years to earn a religious studies degree at most universities, depending on the level of education and whether you take courses part or full time. Course offerings usually cover world religions, philosophy of religion, and history of religion.
Some students earn a religious studies degree as part of a double major. This works well due to the interdisciplinary nature of the degree. Some religious studies careers even encourage or require additional training or education in outside subjects. For instance, while a religious studies degree can prepare you for a career as a religious activities director, some employers might want candidates to hold a management degree as well.
It is also common for religious studies programs to offer internship opportunities or residencies with nonprofits, government agencies, or schools.
A religious studies degree partly completes basic requirements for joining the clergy in a variety of faith groups, but becoming a fully ordained and endorsed clergy member often requires additional education and training in a nonsecular setting, such as a divinity school for priests.
What to Look for in a Program
When choosing a religious studies degree, it's best to limit your search to programs from regionally accredited colleges and universities, although some divinity schools are nationally accredited.
Also, check out whether a program focuses on a particular faith group. Programs that skew to one faith may not adequately familiarize you with a broad religious history or philosophy, or you may find yourself in a program that doesn't support your own faith. It's also a good idea to check if electives or concentrations cover the topics that interest you.
Military chaplains are commissioned officers who provide spiritual counsel for their fellow service members. Most branches of the military require chaplains to fit within required age limits and to have an ecclesiastical endorsement from their faith group or denomination — not necessarily a degree. Clergy members with a military background often choose this career path.
Social and community service managers sometimes start off as religious studies majors, especially those working in religious organizations. These specialized managers help handle the daily business and organizational functions of social welfare programs and service organizations. This job usually requires only a bachelor's degree.
Social workers help provide advocacy and counseling for underserved members of society, such as low-income families or people who are incarcerated. This mission closely resembles the work done by clergy and other religious functionaries, so religious studies graduates are often drawn to these roles. Some social workers double major in religious studies and social work, espcially if they plan to work for a religious service organization.
Religious Studies Professional Organizations
Founded in 1938, ASR advances scholarly research on the sociology of world religions. The organization's member resources include various research grants and awards for graduate students of religion and theology.
The REA is a community of educators, researchers, and practitioners who advocate for religious education leadership in faith communities. The organization endorses dozens of secular programs in religious education nationwide.
Frequently Asked Questions
A religious studies degree prepares you to work as a religious worker, functionary, or religious activities manager, but it can also boost your credentials in other humanities fields, like social work or administration.
In order to become a religious studies professor, you must earn a Ph.D. in religious studies. No occupation-specific certification is required for religious studies professors.
Header Image Credit: laflor | Getty Images
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