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 Leaders/Administrators/Musicians/Specialized Ministries

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 or Psychology
C. Interfaith NPO or Inter-cultural NPO – Bachelor’s degree

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 level
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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Jill Irvine
Associate Professor
Religious Studies/Womens Studies


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!

Non-governmental organizations:
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 others.

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, Freedom House

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.

Your best friend in this search should be the following website: www.idealist.org
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.

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.

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 classroom.

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.


Jill Irvine




Allen Hertzke’s Perspective on Global Careers

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 like business.

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 observances) matters.

• 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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Religious Studies Program
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Norman, OK 73019
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