nuanced, “big picture” thinking skills I gained in religious studies everyday as I advocate for the value of humanities education and debunk inac- curate myths about the supposedly limited job prospects of humanities majors. I have no short- age of ideas of where I might take these skills next, fromways I might reorient fundamental ca- pacities toward projects tackling climate change or inequities in my community to opportunities to apply the knowledge gained through my re- search directly through work in the live music industry, college religious life administration, or consulting around interreligious relations. Reli- gious studies offers a strong foundation for any career. It provides the opportunity to think about whatever interests you more deeply and holis- tically and identify ways to nurture human con- nections and values across differences. These skills can be applied to making any kind of work more meaningful and sustainable for yourself and those around you. There isn’t an industry that wouldn’t benefit from more of that.
mans, and the secular is the other side of that same coin. Exploring how different humans at different times and places have worked to create, maintain, and bridge “religious” and “secular” constellations of meaning can fill however many lifetimes you have.
These facts are not mere trivia, they represent a deeper understanding of where people are coming from and the foundations their cultures are built upon. Sure, you can clarify some of these things with a quick Google search. But why would you if you think you already know? One of the things studying religion teaches you is that we are all predisposed to believe things about religious traditions that simply aren’t true. There is a lot of misinformation “in the water” so to speak. Much of what western so- ciety teaches us about what Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism is like is projection, an innacurate image that reinforces our understanding of who we are at the expense of a true appreciation of the other. That’s why studying religious diversi- ty is so valuable for enhancing our understand- ing of both others and ourselves, for exploring unfamiliar cultures and aspects of our own cul- ture that are so familiar that we don’t really see them unless we take the time to look at their distorted reflections. But religious studies is so much more than an opportunity to learn about others’ traditions or one’s own. Religious studies offers a lens for looking at the world that incorporates the many different aspects of human experience- -economics, politics, law, art, music, and food- ways, to name just a few—and always points us back to how people try to put these together to form a meaningful whole. You can study just about anything through this lens, from race and gender to sports and entertainment, and you’ll inevitably discover deeper shades of meaning. Through religious studies, you’ll learn that the so-called “secular” is a lot more complicated and, well, religious, than it seems. We’ve creat- ed this slippery, culturally conditioned, concept of “religion” to try to capture something about the way we yearn to connect the dots as hu-
was enormously powerful to have all these open, poignant exchanges with hundreds of incredibly generous and supportive stran- gers. I learned a great deal about the power of music to bring people together, the way the subcultures we gravitate towards shape our identities, and how all of this impacts our sense of the divine. I used religious studies to analyze how folks made meaning through the Scene, you could do something similar with whatever subculture grabs your atten- tion. The eight years I spent studying religion were expansive and exhilarating. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. And I left with a couple graduate degrees and a bunch of broadly applicable knowledge and skills that I chose to apply to a career in humani- ties advocacy that has been super fulfilling.
How Do You Really Apply That Though?
Now you might say, that sounds interest- ing and all but how do you really apply that in the “real world?” How can you not? How can you not find opportunities to apply criti - cal, reflective, holistic, culturally sensitive thinking, whatever profession you choose? In what career field will it not serve you to write clearly, accurately, sensitively, and per- suasively about complex topics about which folks vigorously disagree? Like all humanities degrees, a religious studies degree can be a great starting point for a successful career in virtually any industry. Right now, I apply the
Essential Religious Literacy and So Much More
By studying diverse traditions and the way they have interacted over time I acquired what researchers have dubbed religious lit- eracy—understanding of the basics of the major world religions—which enables you to better relate to the billions of people around the world who adhere to them. Research has shown that a whole lot of people who think they possess such knowledge do not; more than 60% of Americans got less than half of the answers on Pew’s Religious Literacy Survey correct. For example, only 14% of respondents correctly recognized that both Jews and Muslims each make up less than 5% of the U.S. population. And only small minorities recognize that Christianity is the religion of most people in Ethiopia (19%), or that Islam is the most popular religion in In- donesia (26%).
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