Graduate study and teaching careers—High School

For many undergraduates, the noblest career choice turns out to be teaching. A religion major is an excellent foundation for teaching high school (or for pursuing graduate work in education on the way to a teaching job) in a number of different areas, including social studies, history, or English. Religion itself is part of the curriculum in many sectarian or private high schools; many teaching jobs are immediately available to talented religion majors in these settings.

Teaching religion in public schools is also a significant career option. Despite the controversies about the role of religion in public schools, the law makes a clear distinction between promoting a religious perspective and studying religion academically. As Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark wrote in 1963, "It might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization." This sentiment seems particularly important after 9/11, and public high schools have been following up on Clark's appeal by making the academic study of religion a required aspect of the curriculum. Many observers agree that the demand for high school teachers who are informed about religion will continue to increase.

For more information on teaching religion in high school, see:

Graduate study and teaching careers—Graduate School and College

Some undergraduates decide that four years of study is just not enough: there is simply so much to know in each individual area of the humanities and the social sciences that graduate study at the Masters and Ph.D. level has to be the way to go. A religion major can provide the basis for many areas of study in graduate school; religion majors often go on to work in related fields like history, literature, psychology, or sociology. For others, however, higher learning in the academic study of religion itself is the only option. Becoming a religion scholar can be a long and challenging road, but the rewards are great: college professors are able to devote themselves to a life-long pursuit of knowledge, while simultaneously sharing their insights with students in the classroom.

Religious studies is a highly diverse field with many possible specializations. Religion majors often begin to focus on a specific area as undergraduates, but as graduate study unfolds, this area becomes more and more specific. The most common areas of specialization within religious studies are the following:

  • Arts, Literature, and Religion
  • Religions of Africa and Oceania
  • East Asian Religion (primarily China and Japan)
  • Early Christian Literature/New Testament
  • Ethics
  • Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
  • History of Christianity/Church History
  • Islamic Studies
  • Judaic Studies
  • Religions of North America
  • Religion of South America and the Caribbean
  • Racial/Ethic Studies in Religion
  • South and Southeast Asian Religions
  • Social Scientific Study of Religion
    (primarily anthropology, psychology, and sociology)
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Women's Studies in Religion

Most graduate students in the study of religion start with a Masters degree. In Masters programs, students aim refine their focus and pursue technical skills necessary for advanced study, such as language study. Generally a Masters program lasts two years, requiring coursework and often a final project, like a Masters thesis.

Acquiring a Ph.D. in religion is an even longer enterprise, but upon completion of this degree, the candidate is considered qualified for a position teaching at a college or university. Most Ph.D. programs require:

  • Further coursework (even for those holding Masters degrees)
  • The completion of comprehensive exams, which test the candidate's ability in his or her area specialization
  • A dissertation, which is expected to be a significant but highly specialized contribution to the field.

At minimum, a Ph.D. in religion takes about 4 years.

The job market for religion scholars is highly competitive. In most specializations there are more qualified Ph.D.'s than there are jobs available in any given year (the ratio of candidates to positions in the field as a whole, on average, is about four to one). Careful deliberation is necessary before you begin to pursue a Ph.D. and a career in academic.

See The Survey on Doctoral Education and Career Preparation for helpful (and realistic) information about graduate study in America. For a general rating of religion programs in America, see PhDs.org.