CAREERS/VOCATIONS IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES
From Dr. Barbara S. Boyd
A Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Religious Studies invites
you into several options for your future: graduate studies, seminary
studies, religious vocations, non-profit careers, and secular careers.
This document will discuss the last three of these options:
I. Religious vocations
A. Ordained clergy positions – these vocations most often
(not always, but usually) require seminary training.
Job Title: Pastor/Priest/Chaplain/Rabbi
B. Non-ordained clergy positions – usually do not require
a seminary degree
Job Title: Pastor/Preacher/Administrator/Director
C. Lay vocational positions – may require certification at
the graduate level; may require seminary or graduate school training;
may require no additional education
Job Title: Deacons/Education Directors/Youth and Children Ministers/Missionaries/Lay
D. Administrators/Musicians – may require graduate education;
may require no additional education, but experience and training
counts toward the position
Job Title: Administrator/Musician/Choir Director/Music Minister/Cantor
II. Non-Profit Careers
A. Religiously based non-profits – these positions vary based
on the focus of the non-profit, like pro-life counseling, youth
advocacy, community based projects for the homeless, families, education.
There are positions in these organizations that do not require more
than a bachelor’s degree.
B. Religious Counseling – graduate work in either Social Work
C. Interfaith NPO or Inter-cultural NPO – Bachelor’s
III. Secular Careers using Religious Studies Background
A. Media – careers in print media for religious publishing,
news and television media with religious groups; video and film
productions for religious groups; print media for journals, newspapers,
magazines with religious pages; web site creation/production/management
for religiously based groups
B. Health Care – Hospitals often hire people to support the
Chaplaincy ministry; spiritual and life style education training;
mental health organizations will often hire someone with religious
expertise as a resource liaison
C. Human Rights Organizations – tend to hire people who display
experience in the field, education and a certain willingness to
be flexible in the work
D. Education – teaching requires a teaching certificate; private
schools with religiously based agendas will hire persons without
the TC for classroom assistance or administration at the non-managerial
E. Corporate environment – Many large corporations will hire
students with a Bachelor’s degree in the Humanities because
they have been taught to write well, think critically, and do research.
Often the key to that first job interview is the background the
student brings to the market: internships, summer jobs, contacts,
travel experience. Make sure your college years include more than
just course work.
Dr. Barbara S. Boyd
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Religious Studies/Womens Studies
CAREER OPTIONS FOR RELIGIOUS STUDIES MAJORS
Assuming that many of you are in this field because you wish to
help others in your work, I will focus on working with non-profit
and governmental aid organizations worldwide. I believe that we,
as Americans, have a special obligation to take our skills, faith,
and dedication to those who are suffering around the globe. You
can make this kind of difference in your work!
Faith-based: Catholic Relief Services, Church World Service, American
Jewish World Service, Mennonite Central Committee, Christian Peacemaker
Teams, Quaker Peace Network, Samaritan’s Purse, United Methodist
Committee on Relief, World Vision, Lutheran World Relief and many
Women’s organizations: Center for Women’s Global Leadership;
Human Rights Watch—Women’s Rights Division; Amnesty
International—Women’s Program; Global Alliance against
Traffic in Women; Coalition against Trafficking of Women; Women’s
International Coalition for Economic Justice; Women’s Environmental
and Development Organization (WEDO); Development Alternatives with
Women for a New Era (DAWN); International Women’s Democracy
Center; Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security, and many others.
Global Human Rights: Amnesty International, Transparency International,
United States Agency for International Development (USAID): works
around the world in development, aid and relief efforts, democracy
and governance, peace and reconciliation efforts.United Nations:
For women’s rights see especially jobs in ECOSOC and CEDAW
and DAW sections.
Peace Corps: is expanding the number of volunteers it sends to
138 countries around the world to work on everything from community
and technology development to HIV prevention to micro businesses
and, of course, education.
HOW DO I FIND JOBS IN THESE PLACES?
Your best friend in this search should be the following website:
This site has an amazing amount of information about jobs in the
non-profit sector around the world. Right now there are 4,414 jobs
listed, 10,639 volunteer opportunities, 1,246 internships and much
more. You can search for jobs by type of organization (women’s,
faith-based etc.) and preferred location.
For job openings at USAID visit their website.
For job openings at the United Nations visit their website.
WHAT KIND OF EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND SHOULD I HAVE?
Religious studies majors acquire the kind of analytical and communication
skills that are highly valued by these organizations and, equally
importantly, the ability to understand and operate effectively in
a variety of cultural and religious settings.
Your career options are expanded by minors and second majors in
anthropology, biology, comparative literature, English, history,
philosophy, letters, political science, African-American Studies,
gender or women’s studies and psychology.Your options for
a global career are also expanded greatly by acquiring a working
knowledge of a language or languages. If you are interested in working
in Latin America, start taking Spanish now or if you are interested
in working in Africa, take French. Even if you end up working in
a different part of the world, it is MUCH easier to learn a second
language than to begin with a first, and employers know this.
WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE SHOULD I HAVE?
Internships: this is the key to finding work in the non-profit sector.
Organizations look for this kind of experience when they are hiring
and most organizations offer some kind of internships either during
the academic year or the summer. For example, right now USAID has
numerous internship openings in such areas as the Office of Conflict
Management and Mitigation and Legislative and Public Affairs. Check
the idealist web site or check with the organization you are interested
in working for.
Experience living and/or working abroad: a semester abroad is a
great way to begin to prepare for this kind of career. Make a point
of taking advantage of OU’s great exchange programs. Even
better is to join the Peace Corps after you finish college. Ruth
Messinger, director of American Jewish World Service says that time
spent in the Peace Corp is the single most important experience
they look for in hiring. Working for the Peace Corp can also give
you valuable language skills that you might not have gotten in the
GRADUATE SCHOOL: Religious Studies majors and minors can be the
basis for continuing on at the graduate level in a variety of fields
particularly in the social sciences and humanities. For more on
graduate school and the application process, click here.
Allen Hertzke’s Perspective on Global
Religious developments at home and around the world have made
it more vital than ever for professionals entering all walks of
life to have knowledge of, and sensitivity to, different religions
and how they interact. Thus, religious studies students actually
will have knowledge and skills in high demand and should trumpet
that fact in their career pursuits, including in non-obvious contexts
On the domestic front, as Barbara Boyd highlights, there is
a burgeoning network of religious non-profit organizations that
have all sorts of missions. They increasingly work in partnership
with local, state, and national government agencies in welfare
programs, drug and alcohol treatment initiatives, refugee resettlement,
and the like. This will be a growth “industry.”
What I want to focus on is the global context. Globalization
is a profound fact of life and it means that many people will
not only work in organizations with global reach but interact
with people from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. This
means that doctors, lawyers, business executives, journalists,
and teachers will need this knowledge. So a religious studies
background can be a plus even if you pursue one of these paths.
In addition, there are a number of more specific career paths
for religious studies graduates, including:
• Work with international Non-Governmental Organizations
(NGOs). There has been an explosion in the number, size, and scope
of international NGOs, both religious and secular. Staff for them
may work out of the U.S., Europe, the developing world, or temporarily
in hot spots and where humanitarian crises erupt. In the aftermath
of the wars in the Balkins, for example, some 600 groups alone
were working on reconstruction and development, prevention of
trafficking and exploitation, reconciliation initiatives, interfaith
dialogue, and conflict prevention. Globally there are large organizations
that focus on relief and development work from the different religious
traditions, like Catholic Relief Services, Church World Service
(a mainline Protestant organization), Lutheran World Relief, World
Vision (the largest of the evangelical organizations), Samaritan’s
Purse, etc., and there are numerous smaller organizations with
specific focuses. There are groups that focus on human rights,
others on mediation of conflict, others on health or education.
• Work in the U. S. Government, which increasingly needs
people with religious understanding, especially those working
in the diplomatic corps and our intelligence agencies. Yes, the
State Department, the CIA, and the Defense Department understand
the need for people who have religious knowledge and awareness,
especially when tied to foreign language skills.
• Global business. Multinational corporations, investment
firms, and banks operate in, and have workers and executives from,
countries around the world. These operations with have Christians,
Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists working together, and I have
heard from former students how valuable exposure to religious
diversity can be. But even smaller businesses are increasingly
involved in export-import operations, plants in foreign countries,
and the like where sensitivity to cultural contexts (like religious
• Law, Medicine, Journalism, and Teaching. Even professions
we associate with the domestic side have potential international
dimensions. For example, there is a great interest abroad in teachers
of English in numerous programs that do not require educational
degrees. And those with degrees in religious studies who do go
on to get advanced degrees in other fields have something special
to offer. There are religious organizations that hire lawyers
to take on religious freedom violations, human rights causes,
or justice issues, just as there are religious NGOs that hire
doctors and nurses. And journalists who have a grasp of comparative
religions will have a leg up in reporting on the increasingly
salient religious aspects of global politics.
How to Prepare for such global opportunities?
In many cases you can enter these fields with a bachelors degree,
but blending religious studies courses with offerings in such
fields as journalism, political science, foreign languages, or
international and area studies is a great way to go.
In other cases you will use your religious studies degree as a
springboard to advanced education. Here again, being smart about
blending religious studies with relevant coursework will give
you a leg up. Law schools do not require a particular bachelors
degree, for example, but political science is a great foundation.
Similarly, religious studies majors who plan to go on to graduate
school in other fields – such as history, political science,
sociology, or anthropology – can prepare by minoring in
such fields or double majoring. In many of the humanities and
social sciences you do not have to have a bachelors degree in
precisely the same field you pursue for masters or doctoral work.
For a link on how to prepare for graduate school and the application
process, click here.
Dr. Allen Hertzke
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