Majoring in Religious Studies

Is It Practical to Study Religion?

The following statement of the practicality of studying religion comes from an article by Prof. Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago, entitled "An Exuberant Adventure: The Academic Study and Teaching of Religion."


Prof. Marty writes: "Religion gets to be studied because it is practical. On the domestic political scene, one need hardly elaborate on the practicality of understanding religion in the form of the putative Catholic vote, the various Christian coalitions, ever-changing Jewish interests, or what African American pastors are thinking. Advertisers blunder when they try to sell a project while being insensitive to the religious sensibilities of potential customers. Marketers include religious data when planning where to sell: hog butchers of the world, to take an obvious case, do not target Jewish communities.

"In intimate personal relations, such as providing medical care, promoting support groups in struggles against addiction, or making sense of the person to whom one is married, some understanding of religious impulses and religion is practical. Even the widespread religious indifference and ignorance in much of the culture demands study: if people abandon religion or are abandoned by it, academics get to study what takes its place. Something will."

All this to say that just about anything you're interested in will have some religious component, and studying that component will help you make better sense of your world. For example, one can't know history or literature or sociology or political science without attending to how religious themes and values enter into these disciplines. Nor are sciences like biology and physics immune from religious elements. Recent developments in biology like cloning and reproductive technologies raise enormous ethical and theological issues. Recent advances in physics and cosmology have those in these disciplines asking fundamentally theological questions. Moreover, good doctors attend to the religious sensibilities of their patients, particularly at times of critical or end-of-life care. And on top of all these things are the personal and interpersonal dimensions of how studying religion helps us better understand ourselves and those around us.


What can you do with a Religious Studies major?

The short answer is that you'll better be able to understand the world in which you live. For in truth, there are few significant streams of human endeavor that do not have a religious component. How much of contemporary politics intersects with religion and religious concerns? And what of history, art, music, literature, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology? No grasp of these subjects would be complete without attending to the religious influences that have shaped them. There are religious issues that come up in the law, there are religious dimensions of medicine and social work. Those in the corporate world, especially marketing, need to attend to religious issues and sensibilities. New advances in biology, genetics--even physics--have all had their practitioners asking religious questions. If you seek to understand your world or to participate in the one or more of the above streams of human endeavor, studying religion becomes eminently practical.

At Saint Mary's College, Religious Studies is taught in the tradition of the liberal arts. That is to say, the emphasis in all Religious Studies courses will be on careful reading of texts, well crafted writing, and involved discussion. Any career or post-graduation opportunity that values skilled reading, writing, and speaking will benefit from a Religious Studies Major. In this way, a Religious Studies major gives the student a broad and enriching course of study from which she can launch any one of a great variety of professions.

In recent years, Religious Studies majors have gone on after graduation to

  • work in the corporate world
  • graduate school in religion (or in the area of the student's second major)
  • a year of volunteer work
  • ministry of various sorts
  • law school
  • high school teaching
  • journalism
  • publishing
  • apply to medical school
  • work in medical ethics