Why Duke Religious Studies?
The Department of Religious Studies is one of the largest Humanities departments at Duke and one of the most prestigious departments of religious studies in the country. The contemporary academic study of religion recognizes the virtual ubiquity of religion as a phenomenon in human life and culture, and it thus seeks to understand the nature and role of religion. The academic study of religion has a distinctive multidisciplinary character, drawing upon resources and approaches from archaeology, art, anthropology, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, and sociology. It also has a strong multicultural orientation, exploring a plurality of traditions and a wide range of behaviors and beliefs.
The Department offers introductory courses in all the major religious traditions, notably Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Other courses offer additional study of these or other traditions and their texts, often focusing on specific features -- such as gender, ethics, visual modes, mysticism -- or historical periods. Many other courses examine theoretical or comparative aspects of religious phenomena, especially as they are manifest in the modern world.
Duke in Israel, Photo Credit: Lee Baker
Why Major in Religious Studies?
A major in Religious Studies, like other humanities majors, can be a pathway to a liberal education. Indeed, because religion is arguably the most powerful and pervasive force in the world, the study of religion can help one understand the complex and sometimes volatile relationships between religion and politics, economics, and social structures. In our increasingly interdependent global community, awareness of various past and present features of religious life -- events, texts, personages, ceremonies, rituals, convictions, theologies, visual representations, artifacts -- can lay the foundation for informed and thoughtful analysis of contemporary life. Such analysis is important in considering international issues and also domestic ones (such as abortion, evolution, faith-based initiatives, homosexuality, capital punishment, stem-cell research, marriage, civil rights, and school prayer). The study of religion thus helps us to understand the faiths, worldviews, and ways of life of millions of people. At the same time, the study of religion can be a path to self-understanding.
What Can I Do With a Major in Religious Studies?
A major in Religious Studies offers intellectual excitement. It also offers broad access to many career options. Indeed, the study of religion has broad value because it has an international component, deals with values, and speaks to contemporary issues. All these make it very meaningful as preparation for a variety of vocational and professional opportunities.
Students choose to major in Religious Studies for many different reasons. Most do not intend to pursue a professional career in ministry or in the academic study of religion.
A recent survey of graduates who have majored in Religious Studies shows that they have pursued diverse careers. This underscores the fact that a Religious Studies major is valuable in its own right but can also function as excellent preparation for a variety of occupations.
35% are professionals of various kinds -- city managers, bankers, engineers, journalists, etc.
19% are in a variety of ministerial professions -- clergy, directors of religious education, etc.
14% are educators -- teachers, college professors
8% are in legal professions -- attorneys, judges
18% are medical professionals -- doctors, dentists, or other health professionals
6% are in other fields
About two-thirds of the majors graduating in 2007 were planning to attend graduate or professional school; and nearly one-half of the majors were headed to medical school.