Thursday, February 7, 2013

Religious Studies Degree the # 2 Killer for Employment

Yahoo News has posted an article which lists Four Foolish Majors to Avoid. College students who have these degree are among those with the highest underemployment rate.
Here are the top four

1) Liberal Arts - unemployment rate 9.2%

2) Philosophy and Religious Studies - unemployment rate 10.8%

3) Information Systems - unemployment rate 11.7%

4) Architecture - unemployment rate 13.9%

Here is what they have to say about a degree in Philosophy and Religious studies.

Can you remember the last time you saw a "Wanted" ad that said: "Looking for a really smart person who can solve why I exist"? Neither can we - and we're guessing even Plato could recognize the need for practical skills. It seems like today's employers certainly do, too. Which is why the majors of philosophy and religious studies made our list.
"For philosophy, you need a higher degree to do anything. As for religious studies, in America, and especially in Europe, religious institutions are losing followers. So I'm not high on this degree," says Heathfield.

Susan Heathfield is a career expert and writer of's Guide to Human Resources. To some extent I agree with her comments. Anyone going into philosophy should realize that most places of employment are not looking for a resident philosopher. And since most places of employment do not feature a chapel or an office of spiritual guidance, a bachelors in philosophy and/or religious studies is probably not the best option. 

But I think she also makes an important point. In both of these degrees most people will need to have more educational training than what they receive in their first degree. Those who are interested in philosophy will most certainly need to go on for a masters degree and most likely need to earn a PhD in the same or a related subject. 

Those who are interested in religious studies, will most likely need to go on to a seminary or some other similar institution in order to find a career within their religious tradition. And if they want to teach the subject they will also need to go on for a PhD.

The difference, I think, is about getting a job versus following a calling. We are accustomed to thinking of "calling" as something that only comes from God to those who are to enter into church ministry. And perhaps that is not completely incorrect (see my posts on developing a theology of work: here and here).

But those who are interested in philosophy and religious studies should realize that they are not simply looking for a job, but a way of life. They are pursuing a career path that requires much more than getting a first degree. They are (or at least should be) committing themselves to becoming a life long learner. Their education doesn't stop with the first degree nor with the the PhD. Those are merely the tools they use to help them continue in their pursuit. 

Finally, while you may not find an employer looking for a resident philosopher you will find people you work with asking "what is the point of life." A degree in philosophy and religious studies may not help you to run an  office or operate machinery, but it will help you to make connections on the human level. And hospitals, drug companies and other types of industry need people who have been trained in these areas to help them think through the ethical implications of procedures and policies they create and use. And while religion may be indeed by on the decline in Europe and North America, I suspect the rumors of its death are much exaggerated. If history has shown us anything, it is that religion has a nasty habit of not only bouncing back, but reinventing itself for the "modern age."

So if you are looking at a degree in philosophy and/or religious studies be aware of the statistics. Keep in mind that you will probably need more than a first degree. And remember that the reason you are pursuing it is not because you want a job. It is a way of life for you and one that you want to find a way to share with others.


  1. I don't find the arguments in these kinds of articles at all persuasive. Should people avoid studying architecture because their chance of finding employment is only 86.1%?

    1. James,

      I agree. I found it interesting that since only 89% of people in the field are working not to be a very good argument. I wonder, for instance, how many took courses in carpentry or auto mechanics and are also out of work.


  2. Ah, yes, Dr. B. But, it would sure be nice to be able to earn a living in pursuit of a calling. Just sayin....

  3. I majored in philosophy and was employed the very day I graduated by taking a commission in the US Army, which was my first career. The month I retired from the Army I started seminary and became ordained in the UMC, where I still serve.

    While philosophy was not particularly useful for computing ballistic solutions of artillery shells, it was extremely beneficial when I served in the Pentagon because the discipline trains you to separate the wheat from the chaff in dealing with abstract concepts (and Washington DC is as abstract as you can get), to organize information and concepts and to present them logically and coherently.

    Nonetheless, I am glad that my daughter is majoring in chemical engineering!

  4. "Can you remember the last time you saw a "Wanted" ad that said: "Looking for a really smart person who can solve why I exist"?"

    The author of this article on Yahoo News is really missing what goes on in Philosophy classes. Pretty funny.

    Anyway, to make this comment constructive, it's also worth noting that there is a clear effect of majoring in philosophy -- there's well documented evidence that philosophy majors consistently score better than nearly all majors on both the LSAT and the GRE. Anyone who is interested can google it and find tons of evidence suggesting this.

    So if one majors in philosophy one can more easily get into a better law school by getting a higher LSAT score... or into grad school, in philosophy or some other discipline, with a higher GRE score.

    Even w/ all of this, it's probably smart for most people to double major with something more practical if they want to major in philosophy or religious studies.

  5. As a recent graduate from Liberty University, ( religious university, I completely agree with all of you. I find it ridiculous that employment is based on percentages someone dialed up. I work just fine.

  6. I would like to say that day by day unemployment is increasing and many brilliant students who get degree from other country and to find jobs of their related qualification they try another country because they not been given opportunities to show their skills.I am also one them and i am leaving my country through cheap flights because mu cousin has offered me to come and join his business.