What Can I Do with a Degree in Religious Studies?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in religious studies. Find information on religious studies careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in religious studies.


Religious studies, like many other liberal arts areas, frequently raises questions among others as to the long-term aspirations of the individual. At first glance, it might appear that a major in religious studies will lead to one of two career paths: clergy or religion teacher. While these two options are viable and logical, pursuing a course of study in religion can lead to more. Religious studies, as a discipline, is a secular examination of world religions, frequently not focusing on one specific denomination. It is the domain of theology to explore the questions of deity and dogma; religious studies draws together multiple disciplines, such as history, anthropology, psychology and sociology to attempt to understand religious thought and behavior from an outside perspective. Religious studies can and will explore the tenets of Hinduism or Buddhism, for example, without expecting the student to become a practicing member of that faith. Further, religious studies is a part of the liberal arts. A liberal arts education provides a basic framework for viewing the world. Liberal arts education exposes the student to multiple ideas and points of view. As a human being, the course of one’s life takes the individual to more places than simply sitting in front of a computer in a cubicle. Liberal arts education provides a solid foundation in those disciplines that make an individual a well rounded, thinking person.


As mentioned, there are two logical, if not stereotypical, career choices for religious studies majors: clergy or religion teacher. While those are both valid career paths, whose economic outcomes will be discussed below, there are other professions to be considered. A Bachelor’s degree in religious studies, combined with coursework in business, could lead the individual to become a church administrator. Religious organizations frequently require practical daily operation that exceeds the scope of a minister. Such an individual might also seek to work at a non-profit organization as a program director. An ability to write could lead the religious studies major into becoming a writer or editor for one of the many religious publications that exist. In fact, it has been noted that the religious studies major has a nearly unlimited choice in career paths, much like other humanities disciplines. It is the process of gaining critical thinking and communication skills that allows a liberal arts major, regardless of field of study, to pursue training in any number of careers.


Given the wide scope of available jobs for the individual holding a Bachelor’s degree in religious studies, it is impossible to given a complete picture of potential earnings. Additionally, annual salary will differ widely based on such variables as industry, geographical location, and education level. The average starting salary for an individual with any liberal arts degree is $31,904. Clergy see an annual average salary of $48,750. By geography, clergy earn the most in California, $60,260 annually, followed by Nevada ($59,920) and New Jersey ($54,150). A youth pastor can see an annual median wage of $36,190. An administrative assistant for a religious organization can expect to make, on average, $28,710. The director of religious education at such an organization can expect an annual average salary of $38,020. A professor of religion at a college or university makes $55,630 yearly. Writers and authors can earn, on average, $46,520, while editors make slightly more, $54,640 a year.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for the religious studies major is about as varied as the career choices and salary range. Clergy, for example, are expected to see job growth on par with national averages in the coming decade. In 2008, there were 670,100 employed clergy members in the United States. This number is expected to grow between 7 and 13 percent, or 217,700 job openings in the near future. Directors of religious activities and education will also see job growth in the 7 to 13 percent range. 2008 employment levels of 80,000 will be supplemented by 26,400 projected job openings in the coming years. An individual wishing to pursue a Ph.D. in religious studies and become a university professor can expect 15 percent job growth from the current level of 25,000. Writer and journalists who focus on religious studies are perhaps the most unfortunate, as job demand for these careers is expected to decline moderately in the coming decade, as keen job competition makes securing employment difficult.

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