Religion studies can prepare you for a career in clergy or academia, depending on your interests. Keep reading to find out if religion studies might appeal to you.
If you are interested in religion, philosophy and the way people choose to express their faith, a degree in religious studies may be right for you. While the most common career path for a religion studies graduate would be to become one of several types of clergy positions, there are other options available if you choose to major in religion. The most common alternative after clergy or ministry is post-secondary teaching of religion.
There is no requirement to enter a religion studies program, other than perhaps to have an open mind and the ability to understand how deeply faith plays a part in some people's lives. Your success as a religion studies major may depend on your hunger for knowledge and understanding, as well as an interest in cultures other than your own.
Clergy members must have a great deal of compassion and care for their fellow individuals. The ability to listen and to counsel is also important in a ministry-oriented position. Religion studies teachers must obtain a great deal of knowledge in their area of expertise and have the ability to share that knowledge in such a way that will empower and excite students.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), post-secondary teachers, including religion college professors, will see a 15% increase in employment between 2008-2018 (www.bls.gov). This is due to an expected growth in students going to college as well as the retirement of existing professors. However, the competition will still be high for the best positions. The reported median annual salary in 2010 for religion and philosophy professors was $69,150. The BLS also reported that clergy members had by May of 2010 a median annual salary of $43,970.
Most clergy or ministers are required to earn at least a bachelor's and sometimes a master's degree in order to be ordained to work in churches and other religious institutions.
If you enter a bachelor's degree program in religion at a university, you will likely take classes that cover approaches to religion, religious symbolism and myth, Islamic studies, Jewish studies, Christianity, global religion and sociology of religion, as well as geographic or era studies as they relate to religion. You may also be required to take a foreign language that complements your major interest, such as Latin or Hebrew. Some bachelor's programs will allow you to study a specific area like Christian studies or ministry. These undergraduate programs are set up to prepare you to go into seminary or theological college to earn a more advanced degree.
The Master of Divinity can be earned at theological colleges, seminaries and some universities. Programs at these types of institutions are similar and may allow you to focus on a specific area of study depending on your career goals. For example, you may study Biblical languages, pastoral ministry, worship ministry and many other areas. You may also study master's degree program in religion studies with a non-Christian focus, including Judaic, Islamic and cross-cultural concentrations.
Doctoral degrees in religion can be earned at seminaries or universities and will prepare you for ministry or academia. These programs typically include courses on research and writing as well as a dissertation. Concentrations can include such subjects as New Testament, Old Testament, evangelism, comparative studies of religion and other subjects depending on the type of school.