Career Paths

What do Religious Studies Majors do After Graduation?

Almost anything! Religious studies majors do the same things—in approximately the same percentages—that other humanities and social science majors do.

Like other liberal arts majors at Pitt, religious studies provides skills in critical thinking and reading, observation, and written and oral communication essential to any successful career. It also tends to open students’ minds to new experiences and ways of approaching the world and to expose students to the diversity and complexities of the world around them. Some majors go on for professional training in law, business, medicine, or journalism. Others pursue advanced degrees in the study of religion or neighboring disciplines such as anthropology, area studies, classics, history, literature, or philosophy. A small number enter seminaries and pursue religious vocations. Most do not.

Most religious studies graduates apply the skills they acquire as liberal arts majors to find satisfying careers in the public, nonprofit, government, or private sector. The superficial equation of the academic study of religion with pre-professional training is no more applicable to religious studies majors than it is to majors in any other discipline in the humanities and social sciences. In this, it is no different from a degree in art history, communications, English, history, philosophy, political science, psychology, or sociology.

Religious studies graduates may pursue careers in teaching, business, advertising, print or electronic journalism, radio, television or film, information technology or library sciences, Web design, publishing, museum and archival work, travel, politics, marketing, and merchandizing. Others spend time working for social service programs such as the Peace Corps or Teach for America or for NGOs. Still others work, teach, or study abroad.

Tips for Planning a Career

Key to preparing for a career upon graduation is planning ahead.

We recommend that majors explore internships offered through the Office of Career Development and Placement Assistance (CDPA) to gain experience in work settings. Our majors, for example, have held internships in journalism and communications newsrooms and offices, historical societies, museums, and retail establishments, which have led to careers upon graduation.

Take advantage of the resources available at CDPA. They hold workshops and other job fair events, and their career advisors have experience working with students in specialized fields. With their career database Handshake, students and alumni can search postings for student employment positions, full-time and part-time jobs and internships; upload a résumé; and view company information. Handshake is also the main link to On-Campus Interviewing. Also check out their Pitt Career Network, an online directory of Pitt alumni volunteers that provides details about their careers and professional experiences.

CDPA is located at 200 William Pitt Union. You can see someone there without an appointment Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Anastasia Lopez is the career counselor for religious studies majors. You can schedule an appointment with her by calling the receptionist at 412.383.4473 or by e-mailing her directly.

The Pitt Alumni Association also helps graduates to enter the job market. The Study Abroad Office has information on opportunities for graduates to teach English or work in foreign countries. The University Center for International Studies holds informational career sessions periodically throughout the year.

In addition to personal and professional contacts, the Internet is a good source of career information. We caution against using Web sites with titles like “What can I do with this major.” Web sites that encourage students to think broadly about the skills they have acquired as liberal arts majors come closer to the mark than ones that tend to imply that religious studies majors will gravitate toward work in religious institutions. Web sites with titles such as “What can I do with a liberal arts degree” typically offer good professional advice on job searching.

Thinking about Graduate School in Religious Studies?

Some of our majors and minors pursue graduate studies in religion, anthropology, history, literature, philosophy, sociology, or other related fields. Our director of undergraduate studies, director of graduate studies, and any faculty member working in a student’s area of interest are happy to talk about planning a curriculum with an eye to graduate training and about where and how to apply to graduate school.

Here are some recommendations for students considering advanced training in religion.

Think ahead. Solid preparation is key to success!

Students planning to attend graduate school should know that competence in languages related to the culture they will be studying is mandatory. If you plan a career that will require language competency, we strongly encourage development of language skills during your undergraduate years. Typically, a minimum of two years of language competency is required for admission into a graduate program in which language is critical. The earlier you identify and begin to study the language(s) you will ultimately need to pursue your research interests, the better.

We also recommend study abroad to develop language and cultural competency. Your junior year (and/or the year immediately following graduation) is a good time to spend one or more terms abroad. If possible, you should study in an area of the world you are considering studying in graduate school.

Combining a major in religious studies with a complementary certificate program is also an excellent way to document interdisciplinary breadth in your area(s) of interest.

Our senior capstone seminar is an excellent opportunity to try out original research and gain research and writing skills that will serve you well in graduate school. Typically, graduate school applications require a writing sample. A solid research paper is an excellent credential for graduate school applications.

Undergraduates at Pitt also have many other opportunities to get involved in research through the UROP program in the Office of Experiential Learning. Many of our majors participate in the summer USS Foundation/Christine Toretti and Brackenridge research fellows programs offered through the Honors College. Others may take advantage of the Research Abroad Program (RAP), sponsored by the University Center for International Studies and the Honors College, which fosters participation by undergraduates in faculty-led summer research projects abroad. Undergraduate teaching assistantships are also available through the Office of Undergraduate Studies.

It is never too early to start keeping up with journal articles and books in religious studies and related fields. Scanning tables of contents and browsing through articles of interest in journals held in the Current Periodical Reading Room in Hillman Library or online through the University Library System and keeping abreast of new literature in your field(s) of interest give you a good sense of the kind of scholarly work done in religious studies and the current direction of the field. Knowing who is working in areas of interest to you also helps to identify potentially appropriate graduate programs.

Start looking at graduate programs and preparing applications early. Religious studies faculty members in your area of interest are great sources for helping to determine the best graduate programs for you and for assisting you with all phases of the application process. Talk with your instructors early and often.

It is always a good idea to visit the departments of graduate programs you are considering, and it is essential to communicate early in the application process with faculty member(s) with whom you would most like to study.

In addition to looking into fellowships and financial support offered by individual graduate programs, visit Fellowships for Graduating Seniors.

To get started, we recommend:

Former Majors Look Back at Religious Studies and Forward to Careers

Pitt’s religious studies program instilled an inquiry on the subject of tolerance between myself and those around me. Through studying religion I was able to combat the prejudices that I held for those outside of my direct contact. During a time when technology and media are bringing people closer together, ignorance about other religions often exposes misunderstandings and animosity. A degree in religious studies helps one to eradicate vague assumptions about other people’s beliefs and practices. Students are encouraged to question and engage in the surrounding world. Pitt’s religious studies program offers a well-rounded approach to the study of religion. The inspection of vast cultures and various periods throughout history offers a look at the way that current societies were formed; it inspires a curiosity in the derivation of modern protocol. I am using the inquisitiveness and knowledge that I gained in my undergraduate studies to travel throughout Europe for several months. I plan to enroll in graduate school to continue to pursue my education in religious studies in the near future.

—Melissa Hellmann, class of 2010

As an undergraduate, I pursued bachelor's degrees in religious studies and neuroscience, aspiring to eventually become a physician. To be quite frank, my pre-med peers often assumed that neuroscience was my "main" major and religious studies was just another degree that I was tacking on for decoration, which would be totally irrelevant to my future job. In reality, I feel that the religious studies major has been invaluable in preparing me for medical training and a career as a physician. The religious studies curriculum at Pitt has taught me to think with precision and depth in order to properly understand people and situations. It has taught me how to assess whether a claim is defensible and how to use evidence to support a claim. Perhaps most importantly, it has taught me to recognize the limitations of my knowledge and to admit when I don’t know something—an admission which is the first step toward gaining knowledge. I believe not only that the training provided by the religious studies major will prove useful to me in medical school and beyond, but that it can provide essential preparation for any career path.

—Rupali Kumar, class of 2010

Religion played a significant role in my life throughout my childhood and adolescence: my grandfather taught at a seminary, a number of my uncles served as priests, my family attended church services weekly. The prevalence of religion in my youth developed into an immense curiosity about religions of all different cultures, from all parts of the globe. This curiosity led me to pursue the religious studies major at the University of Pittsburgh. The nature of the program—cross-cultural, embracing a variety of academic approaches, including the historical, the anthropological, and the philosophical—not only satiated my curiosity, but also developed my analytical skills so that I could understand how religions, cultures, and worldviews interact and change with the real world in which we live. While I don’t plan to pursue a career directly related to religious studies, the skills and information I received from the religious studies program will remain invaluable to me throughout my life. Beyond the academic world, the analytical skills I developed will help me to think actively and creatively to handle any problem I might face. More importantly, I believe that religion is an essential part of the human experience and, thus, affects every aspect of human life in some way, from the personal to the global. The religious studies major has given me a wide lens to view and understand these complex interactions and in our increasingly global world, a global lens is utterly indispensable.

—Colin C. Post, class of 2010

My experiences as a religious studies major at the University of Pittsburgh have been extremely positive. The professors are top tier educators and facilitated my academic growth and success. Religious Studies is an academic major that urges its students to develop higher level writing and analytical thinking skills through the examination of the cultures that shaped our world today. I was a dual major in both psychology and religious studies. I will be continuing my study of religion at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. I will be pursuing a Master's degree in ancient Judaism as well as a Doctor of Divinity degree. My journey would not have been possible if it were not for the remarkable program that Pitt has to offer its students.

—Zach Sitkin, class of 2010

Coming to Pitt as an international student, I was planning to pursue a different academic path when I chanced upon a lecture in Chinese Buddhist history that made me realign my goals for the future. After being introduced to the fascinating field of religious studies, I began to perceive religion not only as a socially-defined belief system or moral code, but also as a continually evolving and universal phenomenon that adapts over time and place to various cultures, historical, political and economic situations—borrowing from each and changing to emerge as a new faith while still possessing similarities with its roots. I found the pull of the study of this academic field irresistible. Encouraged not only to study a wide array of religious traditions and themes, in order to pursue my goal of graduate school in Buddhist Studies, I also spent my junior year in Beijing perfecting my Chinese language skills and began the study of Japanese. Summer 2010 was spent in a Buddhist Studies program in China sponsored by the Woodenfish Project in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing and, in the fall, I enter the graduate program in Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. I consider myself privileged to have received the fortification and mentorship to further my education in this field from such an excellent academic department and faculty as the one at Pitt.

—Kaan Buyuksarac, class of 2009

My years as a religious studies major made me more certain than ever that religion truly is at the core of the world’s histories, cultures, and modern societies. Few programs examine the beliefs, genuine and avowed, that have driven our world and determined so much of the course of humanity. While my classes illustrated the diversity of traditions both within individual religions and across many, they also helped me to understand the commonalities among many faiths and professed beliefs. At a time when we fit strangers and nations into handy, one-dimensional religious classifications, I am glad to have learned enough to realize how very little I know. Right now, I’m using some good portion of my college-bred skills as a marketing person and am planning to return to graduate school.

—Elizabeth Strohm, class of 2006

For whatever else it might be, studying about religion forces us to consider why and what we believe (broadly conceived) and how we act, even when no one is looking. Since graduation, I have been working in nonprofit communications. The crux of that work is a constant attempt to understand what motivates people to improve the world around them and to tell their stories in as compelling a way as possible. Pitt's Department of Religious Studies gave me historical perspective on the plight and successes of humanity and the skills to communicate those ideas and actions. I can think of no better background for the work I do now.

—Greg Heller-LaBelle, class of 2006

I didn’t start out at Pitt hoping to study religion; rather, I was introduced to the department through a biblical literature course. That my introduction to the major was literature is key both to the attraction of the major and to its appeal as a liberal arts degree. Religious studies allowed me to study history, politics, philosophy, and even some sociology and psychology as well as the literature that first brought the major to my attention. Through my study of medieval Jewry, I was able to explore not only Judaism but also Spanish history, Christian philosophy, and the politics and thought processes that fueled the Inquisition. With a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, I have found that the broad scope that enriched my education continues to affect the way I look at the world, seeing issues from various points of view and especially understanding the beliefs of others, be they religious, personal, professional, or political, through an objective perspective cultivated from a knowledge of various religious traditions. I am currently working for a foster care agency and hope to continue in a career in education.

—Rachel Ankney, class of 2005

The hybrid character of religious studies naturally encourages dynamic interaction between academic fields, and my decision to combine a major in religious studies with work in philosophy and Asian studies led to the completion of a Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) degree through the University Honors College, thus adding both depth and breadth to my academic experience. After a period studying with Tibetan Buddhist scholars in northern India, thanks to a Jacob Javits Fellowship for Graduate Studies, my work continues at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where the need to think critically about religious violence, power, and ideology is fused with creative play amidst the pastiche of dreams, visions, narratives, and transformations that constitutes the imaginative realm of religion.

—Patrick Dunn, class of 2004

My experiences as a religious studies major caused me to open my eyes to the richness of the world’s cultures, and gave me an understanding of how many people make sense of their lives and the world around them. Upon entering the classroom, I was met with fascinating lectures and lively discussions with my professors and peers. Even outside the lecture hall, professors were highly approachable and possessed a wealth of knowledge they were ready and willing to share. The education and skills I developed have helped me immensely in my ability to respond intelligently at job interviews and to think theoretically and practically in the working world. I have recently been hired by one of the major cable news channels. I look forward to utilizing the education I received at Pitt and am confident it will help to further my career and lead me to success and personal satisfaction.

—Todd Mastrobuoni, class of 2002