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Less Conventional Career Paths for Religion Graduates

Less Conventional Career Paths for Religion Graduates

Whether you’re currently enrolled in a religious program—such as theology or religious studies—or plan to enroll, it’s never too early to ponder what you’ll do with your degree post-graduation. For religion graduates, most people tend to think about more “conventional” career paths, including those of pastor or chaplain.

In reality, however, there are plenty of less conventional and downright fascinating career paths for graduates in religion. Many of these options allow you to make a difference in people’s lives while further building upon your own religious beliefs.

Interested in learning more about diverse opportunities after studying religion? We’re diving into these below, along with some job descriptions and a discussion of the common qualifications for unconventional religious careers.

Traditional Pathways

Before we delve into some of the less conventional jobs available to those with a religious background, let’s cover a couple of more traditional options for good measure.

1. Ministry and Pastoral Roles

A minister or pastor is one of the most common jobs people think of when they think about getting a degree in religious studies or a similar field. Generally, ministers, pastors, priests, and other clergy members take on the critical role of leading congregations in worship as well as tending to basic administrative duties within the church.

2. Chaplaincy

Another conventional career path to consider with a religious degree is that of chaplain, a professional who offers comfort and spiritual or religious guidance to a specific group of people. Hospitals, for example, often have their own chaplains who visit patients and their families for support during their stays. Many police departments also have their own chaplains.

Beyond the Conventional: Unconventional Career Paths

What if you want to do something a little less conventional with your religious degree? Not to worry; there are plenty of possibilities to consider:

3. Interfaith Relations

Another important role is that of an interfaith relations specialist, who works with people of different religious backgrounds to find common ground and understanding. This is crucial work, considering that differences in (and intolerance to) varying religious beliefs can create major issues.

4. Religious Education

Depending on your level of education, many religion and theology graduates go on to teach religion themselves. This could be done in a church setting or even a college or university setting, though teaching religion in higher education often requires a minimum of a master’s degree (along with some more specialized training).

5. Social Work and Nonprofit Organizations

Another option to consider is working for a religious nonprofit organization, which allows you to use your degree in other ways while still focusing on your own religious beliefs. Some people with religious backgrounds may also go on to become social workers, where they can provide essential support and social services to children, adults, and families alike.

6. Counseling and Therapy

Some religious graduates go into careers as counselors or therapists as well. If you’re the type of person who enjoys helping others through their life challenges, this could be an excellent career path to consider. In some cases, people may even seek counselors and therapists with religious backgrounds for more spiritual-centered support.

7. Journalism and Writing

If you enjoy writing, you might consider a career as a journalist. Those with a specific background in religion or theology may have an advantage applying for positions as religion correspondents and religious journalists. Along this career path, you can make a difference through your writing while continuing to pursue topics important to you.

Niche Opportunities

Aside from the less conventional career paths already covered, some work opportunities are even more obscure and niche—but ones you may still want to consider for yourself.

8. Environmental Ethics

Many who study religion are also concerned about the environment and future of the planet. With this in mind, working in environmental ethics can be a natural progression for those with religious educational backgrounds. With this type of work, you can strive to make a difference both now and in the future through education and other initiatives.

9. Digital Ministry

These days, more churches and other places of worship are expanding their offerings digitally. This includes live-streaming worship services, which requires help from those with a strong understanding of the digital realm. If you’re interested in this type of role, then a position in digital ministry may be right for you. You could be able to help a church or other congregation share their message to a larger audience online and make their services more accessible.

10. Art and Media

If you consider yourself a creative person, you might consider exploring a career in art and media. On the surface, it may not seem like the most natural progression from a theology or religious studies degree—but you might be surprised how common it is for such graduates to succeed as artists and media specialists.

11. Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Some religious graduates also go on to work in conflict resolution, often as mediators. This could be a practical way to put some of your own beliefs into practice while helping people resolve conflicts between loved ones. Mediation often falls into the legal realm, so you may need some additional training and education to go this route. However, it can be gratifying to help people work through their differences and reach a resolution that works for all parties involved.

Skill Set and Qualifications

Many of the practical skills you’ll need to qualify for any of these positions are those you would pick up during a formal religious studies or theology degree program. This includes both research skills and analytical skills. You may need to pursue some additional qualifications outside of your formal degree to be considered for certain less conventional positions.

For a career in religious art and media, for instance, you may need more of a creative background. Many religious studies graduates who pursue roles in art and media double-major or take additional classes in digital media, graphic design, and similar topics.

Meanwhile, those seeking religious writing careers should have strong composition and writing skills that may not be gained from a theology education alone. Instead, more advanced experience and training may be required in journalism, interviewing, and the like.

Those considering a career in teaching or higher education may also need to pursue more advanced degrees before they can qualify for this type of work. In general, teaching at the college level will require at least a master’s degree. However, some work opportunities may be available at the elementary level that do not require more than a bachelor’s degree or similar. Still, keep in mind that having some teaching or instruction experience under your belt will serve you well and help set you apart from other applicants.

Challenges and Rewards

Exploring less traditional careers in religion can be wise if you’re not sure about using your degree to work as a chaplain, minister, or similar role. There could be challenges to overcome when you go this route, though: For example, people may have a narrow way of thinking about people with religious studies degrees, with their own judgment clouded by stereotypes and misconceptions. 

The good news? No matter which career path you embark on with a religion degree, you’ll enjoy knowing you’re making a meaningful impact on individuals and on society as a whole. Whether it’s engaging in nonprofit work with a religious background or handling digital outreach for religious purposes, you’re sure to be answering your higher calling and enjoying a fulfilling, rewarding career.

How to Get Started

With so many exciting careers available to religion graduates, there’s bound to be an option that suits your unique interests. The key is to home in on your own skills and consider what you wish to get out of your career. From there, you can succeed with a little help from the right religious studies (or similar) program, networking within religious and professional communities, and gaining relevant experience through internships and volunteering.

As a Christian liberal arts university, we are on a mission to help students reach their fullest potential as servant-leaders, no matter what industry or field they choose to pursue. At Carson-Newman, you’ll develop and expand the skills needed to stand out in the job market. If you’re interested in learning more, connect with Carson-Newman. We’ll help you prepare for a rewarding and dynamic career.

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