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Religious Studies degrees programs

Not everyone realizes just how many uses there can be for the knowledge and perspective gained through religious studies. You might not have known it, but careers in business, health care, education, social services, law and several other fields contain opportunities for graduates of religious studies programs, particularly those with additional experience and training.

Religious Studies

What's more, a lot of the subject matter covered in other liberal arts degrees has roots in systems of religious thought and practice. As such, degrees in religious studies can help students make connections in art, literature, law, history and public policy that might be overlooked by those less aware of their ancient context.

If you've ever thought about earning a religious studies degree, here are a few important answers to have before moving forward.

Different types of religious studies degrees

The specific parameters of a religious studies degree are largely left up to each institution that offers one, particularly in terms of the religions studied and each course's approach to inquiry. Degrees are available from secular as well as faith-based institutions at nearly all academic levels, from bachelor's degrees on up to doctorates.

Brown University offers three doctoral tracks and an undergraduate concentration in the discipline, for example, and Yale maintains a list of graduate-level programs that includes Asian religions and ancient Christianity. Undergraduate study and non-degree certificates in religious studies can also be found at many institutions around the country, and can often be earned at least partially online.

Some individuals may combine a religious studies major with a complementary minor such as philosophy, English, history or a foreign language. Individuals with an undergraduate degree in the field may immediately enter the workforce or go on to graduate studies.

Religious studies graduate programs tend to be more focused and specialized. Some are designed to prepare students for a Ph.D. in religious studies while others are intended to meet the needs of those planning a career in ministry.

Students looking for the best religious studies program can choose from the following degrees, among others.

  • Master's degree in theology
  • Master's degree in religion and society
  • Master's degree in pastoral studies
  • PhD in religious studies
  • Doctor of Ministry

Other master's religious studies programs may focus on a particular religious tradition such as Christian spirituality, Islamic studies or Jewish heritage. For adults who have work and family obligations, online graduate degrees in religious studies are available as well. Loyola University, Fordham University and Cornerstone University are a few of the schools offering an online master's degree in religious studies or a similar field.

Skills learned in a religious studies program

Graduates of religious studies programs learn a great deal more than just the names of ancient gods and philosophers. Skills in research, writing and critical thinking are often necessary to succeed in religious studies programs, and the study of human spiritual motivations across history can provide significant insight into today's psychological and sociological realities.

What you can do with a religious studies degree

Many students of religious studies at the graduate level have a deep curiosity about ancient cultures and how they relate to modern life, which is a character trait well suited to professional research, professorship and other religious studies careers in the academic sphere.

Social service occupations and spiritually oriented professions are common among religious studies graduates as well, and the interdisciplinary character of the religious studies typically combines favorably with in-depth study of other fields.

Most common religious studies careers

Religious studies careers may seem, at first glance, to be confined to positions in the church or in academia, but the truth is that religious studies graduates can apply their skills to a variety of working disciplines. Indiana University Bloomington maintains a list of the careers that their religious studies students enter after graduation, and it contains such varied positions as the following:

  • Systems analyst
  • Retail entrepreneur
  • Attorney
  • Law librarian
  • Police lieutenant
  • Social worker
  • Writer/editor
  • Rabbi
  • Publicist
  • Physical therapist
  • Archivist
  • College dean

The perspective gained through religious studies can apply to careers in just about any qualitative discipline. It's often just a question of finding a position where your own unique skillset can thrive.

What else you should study

Students hoping to use their education in an academic or religious capacity may not need much auxiliary training, but those looking to enter more specialized professions would do well to spread the focus of their study. Those looking to enter the field of law, for example, are likely best served to take companion courses that cover the fundamentals of the legal system.

Declaring a minor in religious studies can sometimes give students the best of both worlds, providing the broadened perspective and enhanced research and writing skills of a religious studies degree with the established workforce reputation of a more conventional business or liberal arts degree.

Religious studies degrees online

Many colleges and universities that maintain strong religious studies departments provide online options for at least some classes, and some institutions offer entire online degrees in the subject. Check out some of the options listed at the bottom of this page. Earning your religious studies degree online can allow you to continue your education without taking too much time away from your work and family responsibilities, and the lower overall tuition cost of degrees earned in the virtual classroom can help those whose financial situation prevents a commitment to traditional, full-time schooling.

Job outlook for careers in religious studies

Jobs for religious studies graduates should remain steady or grow in the coming years. From 2012-2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the following job growth nationally in careers related to religious studies.

  • Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary: 19.6 percent
  • Clergy: 9.8 percent
  • Religious workers: 8.9 percent
  • Directors of religious education and activities: 8.4 percent

Students with a Ph.D. in religious studies may have the greatest job opportunities with employment for postsecondary teachers expected to climb significantly during the next decade.

A 2014 report on employment trends published by the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion found the majority of posted postsecondary teaching jobs were located in the Midwest, Great Lakes and Southeast regions of the United States.

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Finding the religious studies program that's right for you can seem daunting, but we're here to help: start by exploring our list of schools that offer religious studies programs, below.

Sources:

1. BA Religious Studies, University of the Incarnate Word, http://online.uiw.edu/academics/undergraduate-degrees/ba-religious-studies
2. Doctoral Tracks in the Department of Religious Studies, Brown University, http://www.brown.edu/academics/religious-studies/graduate/doctoral-tracks-phd
3. Religious Studies, Fields of Study, Yale University, http://religiousstudies.yale.edu/academics/fields-studylists-courses
4. Religion Studies BA Degree, The University of Texas at Tyler, http://www.uttyler.edu/academics/undergraduate-majors/religion-studies-degree.php
5. Religious Studies and Education Certificate, Harvard Extension School, http://www.extension.harvard.edu/professional-certificates/religious-studies-education-certificate
6. What Can You Do with a Degree in Religious Studies?, Louisiana State University, http://uiswcmsweb.prod.lsu.edu/hss/prs/Why%20Religious%20Studies/What%20Can%20You%20Do%20With%20a%20Degree%20in%20Religious%20Studies/item37796.html
7. Department of Religious Studies - Careers, Indiana University Bloomington, http://indiana.edu/~relstud/undergrad/careers
8. Department of Religious Studies - Careers List, Indiana University Bloomington, http://indiana.edu/~relstud/undergrad/careers-list
9. Combined B.S./DPT, New York Institute of Technology School of Health Professions, http://www.nyit.edu/physical_therapy/academics/combined_degree/
10. "Job Advertisement Data 2011-2012," Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion,
https://www.aarweb.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Career_Services/AARSBLJobsReport2011-2012.pdf

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