Why Is a Major in Religious Studies Important?
A major in religious studies personifies the study of liberal arts. The major is an amalgam of anthropology, sociology, theology and literature that trains students to think critically about religion and its place in our lives. Religion is one of many expressions of culture, and studying a people's approach to worship reveals a great deal about how they live.
Religion is often cited as a cause of conflicts between governments, nations and ethnic groups. For that reason, religious studies can help students put into perspective many important events - both historic and modern-day. Those who study religion may learn to understand the differences between people and how to use those differences as a springboard to common ground.
Religious studies is not a major that leads directly to a job in the way computer science or business might, but it is a great stepping stone for graduate study. In addition, a background in religious studies can be useful for careers in areas as varied as diplomatic affairs and education.
What Do Religious Studies Majors Learn?
Religious studies programs examine faith communities from across the globe. Courses may explore the history of religions, similarities between faith groups and differences that contribute to international challenges. Through the prism of religion, student scholars examine the art, politics and economies of societies, observing how faith has influenced culture.
Religious studies programs require high-level critical thinking and writing skills. As they advance, students may focus on a single aspect of the discipline culminating in the development of a thesis. That research may lead students down a particular path to further study or employment.
A large part of the study of religion is the study of sacred texts. Often, study of those texts is best done in the original language. As such, several religious studies programs require proficiency in a second language, and there are often opportunities to study abroad through partner universities around the world. The University of Maryland, for example, fosters partnerships with programs on four continents.
Who Majors in Religious Studies?
According to Liberal Education, religious studies as a discipline experienced something of a popularity boom within the last two decades. The major has become increasingly popular at the community college level, which is leading to a renaissance at many state colleges and universities. The number of students choosing the discipline increased steadily in the years immediately after 9/11, evidence of a perceived need for greater understanding between religious groups. The University of Texas, for example, recently expanded its program to include graduate study.
Students who enjoy reading, writing, investigating philosophical questions and learning about other cultures may find satisfaction in the religious studies major. These programs require students to be broad minded and willing to see the world from others' perspectives. Students who expect to focus on a singular religion should seek a more focused major - religious studies is comparative in nature.
Where Can a Degree in Religious Studies Take You?
Religious studies as a discipline is relevant to our daily lives and can easily support entry into a variety of careers. Grads with a bachelor's degree may secure positions in education, nursing, social work and a wide variety of other professional areas. A religious studies degree can also prove a valuable foundation for students interested in graduate studies in law, medicine, journalism, business and public policy. According to a study published by Georgetown University, college graduates with a philosophy or religious studies degree earned a median salary of $30,000 in 2010, while those with graduate degrees in philosophy or religious studies earned a median of $62,000 per year.