What Do You Do with a Religion Degree?
What can you do with a degree in religion from Butler University? The short answer is anything you can imagine.
Butler Religion graduates do all kinds of things. Some recent graduates have gone to grad school, pursuing courses of study in such fields as Master of Divinity at Yale University, Doctor of Ministry at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, PhD in Islam at Rice University, Master of Arts at Claremont Graduate School of Theology, JD in Law at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Public Policy at the University of Chicago, Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Valparaiso University, and Renaissance Literature at Emory University.
Some students who study religion at Butler enter the ministry; others work with companies and organizations as diverse as Marquette University, the Indiana State Museum, and the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. They have spent time in the Peace Corps. They have become public school teachers. They have become registered nurses.
Read about some of our recent graduates and the paths they have chosen below, or take a look at the results of a national study of the graduate school and workplace success of religion majors.
Brian Anderson graduated from Butler University in 2003, having majored in both religion and psychology.
"I've always been a religious person, but my spiritual adventure (and journey) began at Butler University. Dr. Valliere pulled me aside after class one day in my sophomore year and asked why I wasn't a religion major even though I had already taken several religion courses. In fact, I was once class shy of a minor. I didn't have an answer to him or myself, so the next day I found myself double-majoring with Religion quickly becoming my primary major.
"Two key moments defined this experience. The first was taking Peoples and Faiths of Islamic Countries during our invasion of Iraq in 2003. The course make-up was diverse with students coming from multiple faith backgrounds. In the midst of history being made, our professor helped to give reality to the texts we were reading and a perspective to the war. The second was taking Modern Religious Thought with Dr. Valliere. In this course, I was introduced to the writings of Paul Tillich and Thich Nhat Hanh, two individuals who would help shape my spiritual life for the next 10 years.
"After Butler, I was accepted into the Jesuit Volunteer Program where I worked amongst the poor and homeless in Anchorage, AK. This led me to a job in higher education as a volunteer coordinator, which then led me to my current position as a chaplain for Juniors, Seniors, and Interfaith Programs. Throughout all my previous jobs, but definitely in my current position, religion is made ever present as part of our identity just as much as our political, racial, and socioeconomic background. The classes I took at Butler University gave me a foundation to explore that identity.
"Looking back now, I know that I'm more confident in my life because of my understanding of the diversity of religious experiences around me. This is a direct result of the diversity within the classroom. Because of that coursework, I know I'm more competent when discussing issues of religion and spiritual life. However, more importantly, because of the community of peers and mentorship from faculty such as Drs. Valliere and McGrath, I have some life-long relationships that I can turn to when I need to be rejuvenated or to turn to when I need that kick in the butt to keep working toward peace and social justice."
"Since graduating in 2008 with a degree in religious studies, I am constantly reminded of how important and worthwhile this particular course of study is. Living in a time of rapid cultural, political, and religious shifts can be unsettling, but having a background in understanding the history, mechanisms, and reasons to why this happens has been my bulwark.
"Being a theme-based degree, as opposed to discipline-based, throughout my education I was given a taste of anthropology, philosophy, sociology, gender studies, and political science all under the umbrella of religious studies. I have no idea how the professors can sustain this variety, especially at a small university, but they do it with flying colors. In addition to the variety of classes, the diversity of professors is a boon for the department. I focused primarily on South Asian religions, so I like to joke about how I majored in Dr. Bauman, but I had some of my most memorable experiences in Dr. McGrath's Science and Religion class and Dr. Valliere's Religion and Secularism seminar.
"Religion can be a touchy, uncomfortable subject for some students. This fact makes the study and discussion of it that much more important in my opinion, and having the right types of people to discuss the topics with was very important. I was lucky enough to share a classroom with some of the most wonderful people I know today. The diversity, maturity, and incredible intellect of my fellow classmates made the daily discussions a friendly and enriching experience, and I wouldn't have traded them for the world.
"After graduating, I spent a year doing volunteer work with AmeriCorps in Indianapolis setting up education seminars for homeless veterans and the local Burmese refugee population. My education helped me understand and empathize with the situations of others, and cultivated a desire to become a globally-minded individual. After AmeriCorps I took a Director of Operations position at a wellness center in Illinois.
"The value of my Butler University religious studies education is evident to me every day, and I thank the professors and fellow students for the opportunity to learn, discuss, and grow."
Class of 2008 graduate Aaron Abrahamson Cote took his experiences from Butler University on tour to over 30 countries and 3 continents so far. From World Religions to Change & Tradition to the Gospel of John, the courses at Butler University gave insight into global cultures that Cote would later experience first hand. Using music performance as his vehicle to travel, Cote has continued his education with first hand visits to St. John the Apostle's tomb, Ancient Ephesus & the Virgin Mary's house in Turkey, the Cardinal's Crypts in Sicily, the Roman Baths at Carthage, Ancient Greece, and a plethora of cathedrals and places of worship from numerous cultures. A graduate of the Jordan College of Fine Arts, Cote found the Department of Philosophy & Religion through core curriculum requirements, and continued taking courses to fulfill a Minor in Religion. His success in travel & interacting with other cultures is due in part to his studies and explorations that started in the classroom.
Cote has performed in Africa, Europe, and extensively throughout the Caribbean. In 2013, Mr. Cote wrote a series of over 40 Caribbean Jazz tunes for Steel Pan—many of which will be released in his new book, "Sea Breeze," and followed by a corresponding album of the same title in 2014. Cote is about to embark on a 6 month cruise tour to Hawaii, Central/South America, the Caribbean & the West Coast—trips which include multiple passes through the Panama Canal.
Aaron Cote holds a Masters of Music from the University of Illinois, and has performed with Bobby McFerrin, Glenn Kotche of Wilco, The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, John Ennis (Mr. Show, Malcolm In the Middle, Arrested Development), Kevin Spirtas (Days of Our Lives), and many more. He has performed on CBS, FOX, & NBC and on numerous National Public Radio (NPR) & local cable stations. When he is not traveling, Cote resides in Rhode Island making a living as a full time musician. To see/hear Cote's music, visit Facebook.com/CotePercussion, Facebook.com/PanoramicViewBand, CotePercussion.com.
Ann Herbert graduated in 2006 with a major in Religion and minors in Spanish and Business Administration. She worked as a Health Extension Agent in Morocco with the Peace Corps from 2007–2009. She recently completed a Master in Public Policy from The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy in 2012 and is currently pursuing her PhD in Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"The decision to major in Religion was not an easy one. I was worried that studying religion wouldn't lead to a job and that everyone I met would think I was a religious fanatic of some sort. Frankly, the decision came down to going through the course bulletin and highlighting all the courses I wanted to take. It was clear once the religion section was completely yellow that I would go this route. Still, I was uncertain about this decision so I handled it with humor. I remember standing up at a Religion/Philosophy Department dinner to explain to a group of fellow students that I chose to major in Religion in order to start a cult. Something I have yet to accomplish. But, my decision to study religion at Butler has turned out to be good one and one that I would suggest to others considering it.
"While attending Butler, I was heavily involved with the Center For Faith and Vocation, which, among other things, afforded me the opportunity to participate in a Field Seminar to Nicaragua. This seminar included a trip to Nicaragua over spring break where we met with various religious leaders who were representing diverse roles in the country and who held divergent religious views. This trip was my first trip abroad and played a significant role in my decision to study abroad in Ecuador. Since then I have lived in Morocco and Germany and will likely have an international career. My studies in religion were the first exposure I had to learning about other people in different cultures and is one thing I took away from this major.
"At Butler, I took courses that ranged from a broad overview of the world's major religions to a micro-view of an Islamic mystic poet, Rumi. I did walking meditation in Asian Philosophy. I wore a headscarf for a day and wrote about the experience for Muslim Women in the Middle East. I wrote a paper using various theories of religion to prove that my sorority was in fact a religion. Coming from a small town in rural Indiana where I was only exposed to Christianity this was an eye opening experience to say the least. Studying religion opened my eyes to other ways of thinking and living in the world. I became a more well-rounded and open person having learned about diverse belief systems which is something I think is crucial in today's increasingly diverse world.
"Because I was interested in different ways of thinking and living due to my exposure to different religions through my course work, I applied to Peace Corps. I was open to going to Morocco when many others were frightened at the prospect of living in a Muslim Country in the post-9/11 era. I wanted to see how Islam was practiced on an everyday basis. Not only did my background in religious studies lead me to Morocco, but also my experience in Morocco was much richer having studied the religion, as it is a major component of the average Moroccan's worldview.
"Following my Peace Corps experience, I could have done many things and the basic skills I gained as a religious studies major at Butler would have been enough preparation for most jobs I would have applied for. As a religion major I gained competence in reading, writing and critical thinking. These are the basic skills necessary for any job. Jobs are basically seeking applicants that can do these three things well, learn quickly and are motivated to work, all of which a religious studies major at Butler is more than capable of.
"I, however, chose to go to graduate school because I wanted to supplement my training in the humanities with a more quantitative base in the social sciences. Paired with my Peace Corps experience, my excellent undergraduate performance afforded me a choice of top graduate schools offering a range of support. The fact that the religion department at Butler is small and is willing to work closely with students, advising them both academically and professionally, has been a huge advantage. I was able to thrive and grow in that supportive environment, which played a significant role in how well I did during my studies and subsequently what other opportunities became possible. The faculty was available both during my time at Butler and after. I have repeatedly returned to them for advice, contacts and other support. I actually applied to the University of Chicago where I just completed a Master of Public Policy Program because a Butler Religion Professor, Chad Bauman, directed me to this school. Finding a department where the professors believe in you and are willing to work with you is one of the most important aspects of an undergraduate education, and I am thankful to have experienced this at an optimal level in the Religion Department at Butler.
"Additionally, having studied religion makes me unique and allows me to stand out from the crowd. It is a rare major that allows me to contribute a unique perspective. Through my courses I gained the ability to talk intelligently and respectfully about a controversial subject and to approach problems in a more creative, holistic way. Religion happens to be a part of most people's lives all over the world in one way or another and therefore having studied it allows me to provide a pertinent and important perspective.
"Lastly, for me, taking time to think about what I believed and finding out more about what others believed was a crucial step in my personal development. Knowing where I stood on fundamental things such as whether or not I believed in God has influenced most decisions I've made since. I had the luxury to think about big questions such as, "what is religion?" and "what role should it play in a democracy?" These are topics that most people consider to be a luxury to think about and I got to dive deep into them for four consecutive years.
"Now if asked, "Why Study Religion at Butler?" by someone who is interested in the subject I would reply by saying you learn basic skills that are necessary for any job, you gain competence in a field that applies to anyone anywhere, you will get exceptional support from the department that will allow you to thrive academically and professionally, and you will stand out and provide a unique perspective. Needless to say, I am very happy I chose to study Religion at Butler. In fact, I am very proud of my decision to major in religion. It has led me to where I am today, a place that I am very happy with."
"Questions have always been so much more interesting to me than answers.
"And I was fortunate from a young age to have parents, teachers and pastors who encouraged those questions and wrestled with me to find answers.
"That didn't change when I went to Butler University. I started as a math major, determined to have a practical degree that might actually provide me employment. But as I continued through calculus class after calculus class, I discovered that at a certain point equations cease to have answers. Wrestling with numbers wasn't nearly as appealing as delving into faith, religion and their intersection with people. I changed to a Religious Studies major.
"The Religious Studies and Philosophy department drew students and professors from a variety of traditions and religious backgrounds into an intimate circle. I took Intro to the Bible with a young wicken woman. I looked at art with my Buddhist professor. I discussed morality with the atheist in my class. And I considered divinity schools with a fellow United Methodist.
"I found a mentor with a gift for leading a stimulating discussion on topics of Bible, the apostle Paul, feminism and atheism without ever revealing his own opinions, but helping each student to clarify his or her own.
"The questions and the study and the dialogue and the reading allowed me to see - and to respect - a much broader world than I had ever considered. It was this larger vision, love of questions, respect for the intellect and perspective of others that prepared me for life and ministry beyond Butler.
"I have been privileged to serve in youth ministry at a national level within The United Methodist Church and serve on local church staff as youth pastor. The ability to hear, embrace and wrestle with their questions was a gift that my major prepared me for.
"And most recently, my family and I served as United Methodist Volunteers in Mission in Malawi, Africa. When we couldn't find the abundant life in our American dream, we followed God's call to serve alongside church pastors and lay people in Malawi. I was grateful for academic study of the Quran and Muslim faith and tradition that allowed me to interact with respect and understanding in an interfaith setting. And to dispel myths and prejudice within our local churches.
"I was grateful for the model of professors and students who asked questions first and formed opinions second. And I was blessed that some of those same professors reached out to us with interest and followed our journey with delight.
"The Religious Studies Department at Butler provides a rigorous and in depth study of a variety of religions and faith traditions. It challenges students intellectually. But more importantly, it develops the ability to hear, appreciate, challenge and discuss the issues at the heart of so many of our personal and corporate conflicts. A religious studies major will lead students into the beautiful world of questions and wonderings. And it may propel them into their own wanderings all over the globe to develop friendships and relationships that they had never considered.
Stephanie Slemp graduated from Butler University in 2008 with a BA in Religion.
"I felt like a child again sitting in the lotus position on the carpet square. Only this time, our hands were in a prayer position. I remember hearing only Eddie's voice, raspy yet beautiful. He was wearing a gray robe and his round face was young, his head shaven. For a moment, it was as if I was in a monastery, somewhere in Korea perhaps, surrounded by devoted monks chanting their sutras. We all followed Eddie's actions. Stand up. Bow. Head on the floor. Repeat. The man across from me was breathing hard-struggling to keep pace. I tried to concentrate on the unvarnished wooden floor. "Only 50 more," I thought to myself. As soon as we finished 108 full prostrations, I began to chant along in Korean. After five lines, I realized that I didn't know what I was chanting. Eddie's voice brought me back to reality. How did I end up at the Zen Buddhism Center? How did I go from wanting to study biology to studying religion?
"I finally thought that I was on the path to becoming a doctor when I became a biology major at Butler University. However, a whirlwind of doubt and uncertainty soon swept through my world. As we studied evolution in class, I began to question the purpose of life. Why is our miraculous, intricate human body here? Evolution was one way to answer my questions, but there seemed to be more to the story. Why did people believe differently and why was religion such a large part of life, conflicts, and morality? With these questions in mind, I took a risk: I changed my major. I was almost certain my decision would scar my chances of becoming a physician. Perhaps I would choose a different career, something in religion. Yet my path through religion has taken an ironic turn-it has affirmed my commitment to a career in medicine.
"During my studies, I began to realize that religion was an important part of many people's lives. I am still fascinated when I read the first line of the Hippocratic Oath, as its religious references are clear. Religion is present in St. Vincent Hospital's Emergency Room as well. While training for my EMT-B license, I tried to keep up with the doctor, walking hurriedly in all directions. The paramedics brought an older woman into room five; she had just had a seizure. She was frail, shaking, and kept a blank stare at the ceiling. As I followed the doctor out of the room, an older man was entering. I heard a brief second of his whispers, but it was enough to understand, "Please God." When medicine falls short, experience has shown me that religion is there. Studying many different religions such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity at Butler University allowed me to investigate and question my own beliefs as well as appreciate, erase assumptions about, and develop empathy for different cultures and traditions. Although I job shadowed Christian counselors and considered seminary, something was missing. I knew a career in religion would not completely satisfy my passion for studying the human body.
"My senior year at Butler, I was accepted into Indiana University School of Medicine. Throughout my four years of medical school I have come to cherish even more-so my time spent in Jordan Hall classrooms and various places of worship discussing such a passionate subject like religion. I continue to draw inspiration every day, especially in times of stress, from one of my favorite classes: The Book of Psalms. After medical school, I will be starting a residency in Pathology. I have met many different classmates, teachers, patients, and doctors along my journey and I thank my professors and classmates of the Religion Department for teaching and challenging me to respect and appreciate others, no matter what their beliefs may be.
"Before I left the Zen Buddhism Center, Eddie explained that Zen was about answering the question: "Who are you?" I am not a Buddhist, but I do believe that I am discovering who I am. Even after changing my major to investigate my questions of life, I could not change my desires, my purpose. Although I have come full circle, ended up where I always began, trying something new did not scar me—it inspired me."
"I graduated from Butler in 2005 with a BA in International Affairs and Religion. Studying Religion at Butler has continued to shape my life long after classes were over; I continue to use religion as a basis for understanding people and culture, and to critically analyze my own experience of the world.
"As an undergraduate at Butler I focused on Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. I developed an interest in these religions in the Mysticism course and was able to explore these religions more deeply during an academic year abroad in India. For a research paper that would become the basis of my Honors thesis, I traveled in North India conducting interviews, making observations, and researching the places where Sufism was practiced. Despite the Hindu/Muslim divisions in South Asia, the Sufi shrines, or dargahs, were places in a community that both Muslims and Hindus could peacefully co-exist and co-worship. Along the way I went to a camel fair in a desert that turned into a pilgrimage to the temple of the Hindu god Brahma; I visited the vibrant and colorful dargah in Ajmer, and explored the four-hundred year-old Jama Masjid Mosque in Delhi. My time in India was not only about conducting research, but also about personal growth. I am thankful to the supportive professors in the Religion department at Butler for encouraging me to take this trip and fully embrace different experiences.
"I moved to Philadelphia after graduating from Butler where I worked with several non-profits before starting a Master's degree. I had the opportunity to work with Scribe Video Center, a community media non-profit, on their Precious Places Project. The Precious Places Project is a nine-month process where local scholars and filmmakers are partnered with community groups that want to create short documentary films about spaces that define their community. The first project I worked on was with the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, a racially integrated urban church. (You can watch the film here.) Working on this project made me realize how pronounced racial divisions are in America, this is especially evident in places of worship. To better understand this critical issue, I again relied on my studies at Butler; Modern Religious Thought and Theory and Method challenged me to think critically about religion and how it impacts the way we experience the world around us. I began to see that two people practicing the same religion could have entirely different experiences of that religion (and the world) because of their race. Working with the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown opened my eyes to race in America through the lens of religion, and to the idea that it is possible to begin to bridge the racial divide in faith communities with diligent practice and intentionality.
"After completing my Master's degree in Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University (2010) and an additional three years of teaching at colleges and universities, I am entering a PhD program in Geography at Clark University. For me, studying religion at Butler opened up a door to understand the impact religion has in people's everyday lives. Although my current research is primarily urban and economic, I can't separate the cultural and religious traditions from the places I research; religion provides context to the world around us. Studying religion at Butler also provided me the opportunity to travel to India and gave me the confidence to explore on my own, and since then I have not looked back! Finally, studying religion at Butler provided me with a path to think critically about my experience of the world and to not fear questioning myself, inequalities where I see them, and how others may experience the world differently from me.
"Regardless of your future career aspirations, Religion at Butler is a gateway to a more enriched understanding of the world and of you. The faculty in the department will encourage and challenge you to explore unknown possibilities. Good luck!"
Rev. Matthew L. Kelley has a BA in Religion and Political Science from Butler University, a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt University, and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry from Candler School of Theology. He is an ordained Elder in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church and currently serves as Lead Pastor of Arlington United Methodist Church in Nashville TN. Matt has written for a wide variety of print and online publications. He blogs at The Truth as Best I Know It.
When classroom studies intersect with real life, the most educational experiences can take place.
"I double majored in Religion and Political Science at Butler, and the joke among my friends was that my studies were "unconstitutional", since church and state are supposed to be separate.
"That changed at the beginning of my junior year, on September 11, 2001.
"In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, people were suddenly interested in questions of theology, different cultures, and how nation states relate to one another. Was all this destruction and death the will of God? There are a billion Muslims in the world—do they all hate America, or is al Queda a fringe group? Is going to war in the Middle East the best way to keep us safe at home?
"My professors at Butler didn't teach me the answers to these questions. They gave me a much more valuable gift. They taught me how to begin exploring these questions in sympathetic and critical ways, and to see how any answers we arrive at always lead us to even better, deeper questions.
"This became incredibly important as I entered into local church ministry, attempting to lead an institution that is deeply rooted in cultural forms that are largely fading from the scene, and to adapt to a very new world with new questions and new challenges. Neatly packaged answers and flimsy certainties will not sustain us. Only "faith seeking understanding" (as St. Anselm defined the pursuit of theology) will lead us forward.
"The Religious Studies program at Butler University gives the opportunity to encounter many different expressions of truth, the opportunity to form relationships with people we would not otherwise interact with, and in that exploration to find deeper meaning within our own tradition. Every student who has taken even one class in the program is a better human being for having done so, and you will be, too."
Kathleen is a 2014 Butler alum who graduated with high honors in Religion and a second major in Anthropology. Watch Kathleen hit the streets to help the homeless in Indianapolis.
"I started my freshman year at Butler University as an Early Childhood Education major. My first semester I took a few education classes and a Religions of the World class with Dr. Hege, just to get the Text and Ideas requirement under my belt. On the first day of class, Dr. Hege was going over the syllabus and the course material sounded fascinating. He told us about a project, where we would be split into groups, given a specific religion to visit the place of worship, and present our experience to the class. My group was assigned Hinduism and was to visit the Temple the next week. After that experience, I was sold on being a Religion major. Meeting the people and learning about their belief system and how they live their lives based on that belief system was incredibly eye-opening.
"The Religion Department at Butler University is a very close knit community. This allows the professors to not only be teachers, but mentors as well. There are many great memories that have been created with this department, whether it is Dr. Bauman always bringing his orange Indian smoothie drink to Religion meetings or Dr. McGrath talking about Sci-Fi, there is never a dull or boring moment with the department. There are two things that stand out as highlights when being a Butler University Religion major. The first is the class trips to Temples, Mosques, Churches, etc. that we were able to attend. We were also able to work with Refugees, which was an incredible experience. The second, is the Senior Religion Dinner, where the professors treated all the graduating students to a wonderful dinner. It was a great time to laugh and talk about all of the wonderful times throughout our years.
"After graduation my internship at Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement in Indianapolis turned into a full-time job, as the Match Grant Coordinator. The position coordinated a self-sufficiency program for refugees to help them stay off welfare and gain employment. After this experience, I began working at the Horizon House as the Volunteer Coordinator and Street Outreach Worker. The Horizon House is a day shelter in Indianapolis that provides necessities for the homeless. For this, I coordinate volunteers for the organization and I am also on the streets providing resources to the homeless.
"Non-religion majors are often confused as to why anyone would ever want a college degree in religion. But as religion majors know, religion penetrates all aspects of society and has monumental influences on human behavior and interaction. Whether I was working with refugees from around the world or working with homeless here on the streets in Indianapolis, religion plays a profound role in people's lives and cannot be ignored when helping people from different backgrounds. Personally, being a religion major as broadened my mind and my heart to different beliefs, cultures, and people."
Betsy Shirley is a 2010 Butler University graduate who has been recognized as a Handa Fellow by the Religion Newswriters Association.