Religion has always been with us. Throughout history, it has expressed the deepest questions human beings can ask, and it has taken a central place in the lives of virtually all civilizations and cultures. As we think all the way back to the dawn of human consciousness, we find religion everywhere we turn.
This may be true of the past, but what about the present - and the future? In recent times, critics have suggested that religion is on the way out. Technology and science have changed our view of the world radically, leading some to say that we've entered a new stage of human existence, without religion. Soon, they argue, it will truly be a thing of the past.
In our day and age, rumors of religion's demise seem very premature - and perhaps there's no grain of truth in them at all. Religion persists and is often on the rise, even as scientific and non-religious perspectives have become prominent. We still find religion everywhere, on television, in film, in popular music, in our towns and neighborhoods. We discover religion at the center of global issues and cultural conflict. We see religion in the lives of the people we know and love, and in ourselves, as we live out and wrestle with our own religious faith. Why does religion continue to thrive? There are many reasons, but one thing is certain: religious traditions are adaptable in important ways. For many, contemporary religion even has room for skepticism, science, and the secular, which allows it to keep going strong in our rapidly changing world.
Overall, religion is powerful and persistent, and it shows no signs of disappearing. It provokes heartfelt commitment, eloquent expression, forthright action, and intense debate. For both practitioners and observers - for everyone who wants to be informed about the world around them - religion is an intensely curious phenomenon that calls out for better understanding.
Religion is studied by an energetic academic field. The academic study of religion, which is often called religious studies, is a relatively new field that aims to treat all religious traditions even-handedly. Utilizing the tools from many other academic fields (including philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and theology itself), the academic study of religion arises out of a broad curiosity about the nature of religion and religious traditions. Religious studies offers a unique opportunity to ask fundamental questions about religious traditions. It also allows experimentation with some of most exciting ideas from other areas of study. Overall, religious studies is an exciting new field that is constantly crossing boundaries and breaking new ground as it attempt to bring its subject into better focus.
The study of religion leads in many directions, qualifying undergraduates for further study in graduate school and giving them a leg up in certain areas of the job market. Most religion departments offer students training in a unique combination of skills, including direct observation, critical thinking, and cross-cultural understanding. In many professional fields, such skills are in high demand. In addition, many religion majors or minors go on to study law, business, education, and medicine in graduate school. Some students choose to make religion the center of a professional career, either as the leader of a religious community, or as an academic specialist in higher education. In short, the study of religion offers a wide array of opportunities and a firm foundation for a successful and fulfilling career.
What Can I Do with a Religious Studies Major or Minor?
The study of religion provides many occasions for personal and intellectual growth, but most departments of religion are also committed to transmitting a set of very practical skills to their students:
· In religion courses you'll gain a fundamental cultural literacy.
· You'll be trained in the skills associated with data gathering and direct observation.
· As a religion major, you are also asked to interpret and express your position on perplexing phenomena, exercising both your analytical skills and your originality.
· Your critical intelligence will constantly be tested and developed, along with your ability to empathize with your fellow human being in order to understand his or her perspective.
As many have said, our society thrives on information. In today's multicultural workplace and global economy, basic knowledge about other cultures and religious perspectives is indispensable. In addition, good interpreters of information are in high demand. Gathering data, organizing it, understanding it, and presenting it are vital skills in the study of religion, and in most professions, these skills are absolutely required.
But success in your chosen career is not just about interpreting information: it also depends on making connections with people. Studying religion is about people and their many perspectives. In jobs that require relating to others, reaching out to them, building bridges, or incorporating many perspectives at once, a religion major will provide an excellent foundation.
Starting with a Bachelor's degree in religion, there are many places to go. As an academic major in the humanities (or social sciences), the study of religion is like a history or English major; it imposes no limitations. But it also lends its own particular strengths to a number of different career choices. Religion majors have successfully gone on to professional training in:
· Business (particularly international business)
· Counseling and Social Work
Others have moved directly into the job market, taking up positions in:
· Event planning, hospitality, or the service industry
· The government, foreign service, or the Peace Corps
· Marketing and management
· Museums and the arts
· Non-profit or non-governmental organizations
Adapted from the American Academy of Religion project, studyreligion.org, authored by Brad Herling.