As a Religious Studies and English double major I often come across the stereotypes that come along with being an English major. However, being a Religious Studies major also brings its own whole batch of stereotypes. And so, in the lightness of procrastinating studying for any of my finals, I would like to tell you the five things Religious Studies majors are hearing.
1. So, you study Christianity?
Well, yes, we do, but that isn't the only religion we study. We study Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism....and those are just the ones that my small private college covered in our introductory course! We do not simply study Christianity, or as one of my professors would say, "This isn't like your Sunday School class back home," we study all religions from an academic standpoint, not a theological one. We will leave the theology to the people pursuing their Master's of Divinity.
2. You want to be a pastor?
Okay, while some of us may be thinking about pursuing a career in ministry, not all of us do. You don't have to be a Religious Studies major to go to seminary. I know pastors who majored in business or biology or psychology and then went on to get their Master's of Divinity (the degree required for ordination at least in the United Methodist Church). A friend of mine is graduating in 13 days with a Bachelor's of Arts in Religious Studies and the absolute last thing she dreams of becoming is a pastor. So, in short, no. Not all of us want to be pastors when we grow up.
3. What can you do with that?
Well, in a lot of ways a degree in Religious Studies is a lot like an English degree. It can be paired with anything to simply enhance your understanding of the world. You can be a doctor in medicine and have a degree in Religious Studies. The thing about it is that it doesn't just have one set career path, you can do whatever you want with it. And being able to understand different cultures and their faith traditions is truly an amazing thing.
4. Oh, so you're a Christian?
Okay, hold it right there. This goes back to number one and assuming we only study Christianity. And, speaking as a Christian Religious Studies major, my favorite person in the room in a class is the atheist or the agnostic. Because they see the world through a totally different lens then that of someone of faith. So, no, not all of us are Christian.
5. How do you study something that is based on personal opinion or experience?
Okay, so maybe this one we don't tire of hearing. At least for me I love explaining it to people, though I have gotten asked this question more times than I care to remember. See, the thing is, we don't study theology. Theology and Religious Studies are two TOTALLY different things. Theology is stuff like the doctrine of your church, how you read the bible, and so on. The academic study of religion looks merely at the surface, analyzes what it claims, and looks at it as if a scientist were looking at it. I mean, look at Freud's view of religion. He thought it was a crutch and unnecessary. You can learn about something and study it without believing in it.
So, the next time you run into a Religious Studies major ask them about what they are currently studying. It will take them by surprise, and make them more engaged in the conversation than if you just asked what part of Christianity they were studying at that time.