Now this is a question I hear fairly frequently. Fortunately, it is an easy one to answer.
First, like all liberal arts degrees, the Religious Studies major trains students in the critical thinking and communications skills that are the foundation of most career paths. These include asking significant questions and identifying problems, finding or generating and organizing information, applying critical frameworks and developing interpretations, assessing the influence of one’s own position or location on those interpretations and identifying the inherent biases that may be present, articulating one’s thoughts in writing and orally. All of these skills are in great demand in all fields.
But Religious Studies also gives students an added “leg up” on the job market. As we all know, the working world -- globally, nationally, and regionally -- is becomingly increasingly diverse religiously. Too often, however, religious differences are avoided in the workplace; the primary strategy for dealing with religious identities is to ignore them. The result is often tension and unproductive working relationships. Religious Studies students, however, have spent hours in the classroom learning about the beliefs, practices and histories of different religions; about inter-religion relations under various historical and sociological circumstances; and about issues that bear upon the lives of practitioners of various religions. As a result, they have the ability to comfortably address religious issues in a straightforward manner – without the fear, paranoia, or embarrassment that is so often the response to conversations about religion. Religious Studies majors can draw upon their knowledge to foster communication and awareness across religious traditions in “real life” situations. And this ability is of enormous benefit to employers.
Because all career paths these days bring individuals in contact with co-workers and clients of a variety of religious backgrounds, the ability to understand and speak comfortably with everyone is a skill that is increasingly prized by employers. Our recent graduates are pursuing careers in many fields – non-profit work, NGOs, government, public policy, publishing, business, education, the law and health care. Many have reported to me that their Religious Studies major has been a key asset in their landing positions and in their on-going success.
So, when I am asked about the real-world benefits of the Religious Studies major, my answer is that the knowledge and skills that students gain in this major prepare them for contributing to whatever career path they choose in a unique and vital way. As long as religion remains an important marker of identity among people in the workplace, the skills obtained through the Religious Studies major will remain not only relevant but sought after.
Jeanne H. Kilde, Perspectives, 2011-12
Journalist Nathan Schneider discusses "Why the World Needs Religious Studies." Religion Dispatches, 20 November 2011. http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/4636/why_the_world_needs_religious_studies_/#letter2776