Are you interested in exploring the world’s religions? If so, you should consider studying theology, divinity and religious studies at university to survey religious traditions, texts and faiths both outside and within socio-cultural contexts. Click on the tabs below to find out what to expect from theology degrees, including the course structure and entry requirements, specializations, and what you could go on to do after graduation.
Studying theology, divinity and religious studies, you will need and develop:
Undergraduate courses in theology, divinity and religious studies often tend to be inter-disciplinary in that they encourage students to think critically about the artistic, intellectual and cultural heritage and/or philosophical implications of seminal religious texts and traditions. Whether your interest in religion is personal, intellectual or vocational, an undergraduate course will train you to become a scholar of religions and develop a host of transferrable skills, including independent writing, extensive research and analytical thinking, which may be useful for jobs in many fields.
Course content and titles vary from institution to institution, with some universities focusing on a particular faith and other schools on a specific aspect of religious studies, such as philosophy, history, literature or anthropology. Typically, you will be required to take an introductory course in your first year on the study of religions, and in the following years you will be expected to choose modules pertaining to a particular topic you would like to specialize in. Assessments usually include coursework and essays, often leading up to an independent research project to be presented in a long essay.
Minimum requirements will vary based on the institution and country. Some universities will ask that you have studied an essay-writing subject such as history, religious education or English at A-Level (or the equivalent in your country), while others will simply ask for a certain level of grades. Strong reading and writing skills and an interest in the subject are essential.
From religious identities and political transformations in modern Africa to kingship in Zoroastrianism, there are about a million different topics you could specialize in: be it a particular religion, a spiritual practice, geographical region or critical/philosophical approach. Here is a far from exhaustive list of some of the topics you may encounter in an undergraduate course in theology, divinity and religious studies:
Delving into the depths of the Qur'an, the Hadith and other texts, specializing in Islamic studies will give you a chance to explore Medieval Arabic thought, theological traditions, the Qu'ran as literature and related topics such as Islamic law, architecture, art, and areas of contemporary debate.
Focusing on both the Old Testament and the New Testament, you will discuss the impact of biblical scripture on Western civilization, as well as a wide spectrum of topics ranging from early Christian ethics to apocalyptic literature.
Learn about religions within contemporary society through the lens of sociological research and critical theory. Specializing in the sociology of religion, you will study belief systems, practices and rituals using the methodology and tools of sociology. You could research how religions have an impact on social change, organizations and how individuals approach areas of life and identity such as race, age, gender and education.
Engage with religious pluralism and the interplay between the world’s religions in a number of areas such as theological exchange, everyday life or religious experience. Find out how different religious communities figure in public discourse and in cities and reflect on contemporary issues of cultural belonging.
Specializing in Asian religions, you will develop a sophisticated understanding of the interpretative, socio-political, artistic significance of Asia’s diverse set of religions, gaining an insight both into a set of cultures and religions. You will have a chance to learn about Asian popular culture, film and arts.
Theology, Divinity and Religious Studies graduates work in a wide variety of sectors after graduation including publishing, NGOs, education, law and religious organizations. Jobs where your skillset might be valuable include journalism, social work, youth work, teaching, charity and civil service administration.
While studying theology will give you a mix of different skills, such as empathy, higher-level research and writing, it is important that you complete work experience during and/or after your studies to boost your employability.
If you feel you might have a vocation for working in religious ministry, it might be a good idea to contact local religious organizations and enquire about opportunities. For any other careers, you could contact your university’s careers guidance team and alumni network to help you decide on and find out about the best summer work placements for you.
Specific career paths you may consider include:
Clergy men and women conduct religious ceremonies and perform associated spiritual functions, in addition to counselling affiliated members of a church. Other tasks include administrative duties such as managing buildings and facilities, and overseeing supplies, events and repairs. Each religion will have specific requirements for appointing members of the clergy, including knowledge of the sacred text, typical entry routes, and in some cases gender. Some religious faiths will require you to complete a specific training program. While salaries in this area tend to be fairly low – clergy members in the US earn on average US$15,500-25,255 depending on their state – but then this is not a career typically entered for material rewards.
Social workers take on roles within public sector agencies or charities to help vulnerable individuals, groups and families cope with difficult situations. They may specialize in helping victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse or people with addiction problems, mental health issues or who are homeless. A qualification in theology, divinity and religious studies would make you a good fit for careers in social work or any of the caring professions, as you will develop strong communication skills, as well as empathy and the ability to understand perspectives and experiences other than your own. A social worker in the US will earn on average US$29,500-61,900, while Australian salaries similarly range between AU$40,000-81,000 (approximately US$29,000-60,000).
Charity officers work for charitable organizations and may specialize in project management, business development, finance, marketing, PR, or volunteer management. A degree in theology, divinity and religious studies will equip you for a number of careers in the charity sector with a host of transferrable skills, including writing, reading, analytical thinking and teamwork. Responsibilities may vary based on job titles to cover specific functions, such as database management, organizing fundraising events or PR – and salaries will be equally diverse. A charity fundraiser in the US could expect to make somewhere between US$29,000 and $61,300, while UK salaries range from £14,900 (~US$21,500) to £29,200 (~US$42,200).
Careers in the civil service may entail working on policy development, corporate services and front-line operational services with one or more governmental departments, depending on your entry route. Every country follows a particular civil service admissions process. Often you will be required to hold an undergraduate qualification, pass personality, mathematics, reasoning and writing tests, and follow some sort of training program. The UK’s Civil Service Fast Stream, for instance, is an accelerated development program that allows graduates to get involved in several departments, projects and functions. A career in the civil service would require you to have the right personality, an interest in people and government, and excellent analysis and communication skills – most of which could be gained through a degree in theology, divinity and religious studies. Salaries for ‘Fast-Streamers’ range between £25,000 (~US$36,100) and £27,000 (~US$39,000).
Salary estimates including in this guide were gathered from PayScale.com and Prospects.ac.uk.