Top down of person writing in notebook on desk with open Bible and coffee

Studying Faith and Belief in College: Theology and Religious Studies Majors

If you have ever voiced your thoughts about majoring in theology or religious studies, you might have been greeted with, "What are you going to do with that?" Well, this is what!

If you’ve ever voiced your thoughts about majoring in Theology or Religious Studies, you might have been greeted with, “What are you going to do with that?” In our results-oriented world, these majors might seem foolish at best a waste of time and money at worst. But contrary to any stereotypes about it being impractical or “too religious,” studying religion at the university level opens numerous opportunities, both practical and personal, for undergraduates at Christian and Catholic colleges and universities.

What are Theology and Religious Studies?

First, some definitions about Theology and Religious Studies. Both paths of studying religion start in the idea that God and religious faith others are open to scholarly investigation, critical reflection, and sustained inquiry.


Theology generally refers to the academic study of one’s own beliefs—the 11th century theologian and Doctor of the Church Anselm of Canterbury classically defined theology as fides quaerens intellectum, which means faith seeking understanding. Theologians often start with their own faith and are using their reason, to the best of their ability, to understand that faith better. They often see their work as being of service to the academic/scholarly world, as well as to their church or other religious community. Unlike a childhood Sunday school or CCD class, however, part of the point of theology is to begin critically asking, while simultaneously starting to answer, your own questions about God and your relationship to God, with the help of your professor, your fellow students, and the long tradition of intellectual inquiry that characterizes Catholic higher education.

Religious Studies

Religious studies is a broader term that encompasses the study of religion as a phenomenon of human life and history. To study religion in this way is to take a bit more distance from one’s own beliefs and to learn about the beliefs of others, their practices, and their values and to look at broader similarities and differences across the spectrum of world religions. Religious studies was interdisciplinary long before scholars began using that term, drawing upon history, sociology, anthropology, and psychology as well as the work of theologians. Every Catholic or Christian college or university has some courses in theology, religious studies, or both. Many times, students take some of these courses as part of a general liberal arts education, so that even if you major in Chemistry or Accounting, you will be exposed to the intellectual habits and methods of theologians and scholars of religion. But if you find, yourself more curious about the topics explored in those courses, you might want to think about a religion major.

Related: Catholic Education: For the Faithful Person You Want to Be

A look at potential college courses

To get a sense of the breadth of these fields and course options, let’s use my school Marymount University as an example. All our undergraduates take a general introduction to the fields of theology and religious studies, a course we describe as studying “the perennial questions of human existence and the answers offered by the Christian faith.” After that, you’ll be prepared to take courses in a number of areas.

Theology courses

In the area of theology, some courses study the Jewish and Christian Scriptures more intensely, asking about the history of those texts and their meaning: Why are there four Gospels instead of just one? Where did the “10 Commandments” come from? How should Christians read the letters of Saint Paul today? Other courses focus more directly upon some of the “big questions” of human existence and the way theologians have discussed them across the centuries: Who is God, and what does it mean to say God is a Trinity? Who is Jesus, and how should we talk about him? Why does God allow tragedies in our lives? What happens when we die? Other courses focus more specifically upon ethics and morality and asks further questions.

Religious Studies courses

Religious studies courses are just as diverse and begin with just as many questions. Some study the phenomenon of human religious practice, including the unconventional ones: Why do religions have so many rituals? What do people think they are doing when praying or meditating? Is being a huge Red Sox fan a religion—why or why not? Others focus more directly upon particular traditions that you may never have encountered before, or that you may know a little bit about already. What does Judaism believe about God, and why? How do Hindus pray? What are the different branches of Islam?

As you can tell, the fields of theology and religious studies are defined as much by their questions as by their answers, and you might find it exciting to think about asking those questions in a sustained, thoughtful way over four years of college.

Related: 5 Questions to Ask During Your Catholic College Search

Using your degree in the working world

There are lots of interesting and surprising ways that Theology and Religious Studies majors use their knowledge and skills in their careers. For some students, Theology or Religious Studies provides a foundation for future work directly in religious occupations or environments. Students go on to work for churches or religious communities, to teach religion at the high school level, to work for nonprofit organizations doing community organizing, evangelization, and other forms of service to the church and world. Some students go on to graduate work in Theology or Religious Studies, teach at the university level, and priests and religious sisters and brothers.

Non-religious careers

There are also many opportunities to draw upon theology and religious studies in other non-religious contexts. Students sometimes do this by combining a Theology major with another major, such as Education, Political Science, or Sociology. Putting knowledge of religion together with study of global politics or criminal justice can strengthen overall appeal to employers. Other students find that the liberal arts skills of reading carefully, communicating well, and learning to interact with different ideas and people provide a solid foundation for jobs in entirely unrelated fields. It might also help one stand out in a pool of other applicants for jobs and graduate schools. Most applicants to medical school will have excellent training in biology, but fewer will have combined that with sustained reflection upon biomedical ethics. Most applicants to public policy programs will have a strong background in political science, but fewer will be able to understand the relation of people’s religious culture and identity to their political life and choices.

Related: Top Careers for Students Who Want to Make a Difference

Keeping in mind such practical realities, the main reason to major in Theology or Religious Studies should be because you find theological and religious questions interesting, even exciting. Undergraduate education is a brief chance to follow your intellectual passions without hindrance—to pursue your questions about God, about your faith, and about the world with wild abandon. If, in Anselm’s phrase, you’re passionate about understanding your faith or the role of religion in the world, then a theology or religious studies major might be right for you.

Find a great college or university to study in the fields of theology and religion using our College Search tool.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress


High School Class of 2022

My mother signed me up for a couple of scholarship contests through CollegeXpress. I was also able to do some research and compare the different schools on my list. I was able to see the graduation rates and different programs that helped me decide on Adelphi University. I will continue looking for some scholarships for my start in September.

Lydia Huth

Lydia Huth

Student, Campbell University; CollegeXpress Student Writer

I discovered CollegeXpress while embarking on my college search journey as an excited—but scared and way confused—high schooler without a counselor or college-bound sibling to give me advice. Let me tell you, I’m so glad that I stumbled on this community! CollegeXpress helped me find potential colleges and keep application deadlines straight. It gave me a great list of scholarships, and the blogs and emails made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone. Almost three years later and with freshman year of college down, I still love the CollegeXpress vibe so much that I’m writing for them. I’d recommend this site to anyone!

Jada Bohanon

Jada Bohanon

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships for the colleges I applied to. It was very hard for me to find scholarships in the beginning that I was qualified for. My teachers recommended this website to find some, and not only did I find some scholarships but I also got to look into some schools I hadn’t heard of before. I was very happy to have discovered this website, especially with the coronavirus spreading all over as I can’t really go visit many colleges.

Sadie Hartmann

Sadie Hartmann

High School Class of 2021

I'm a senior in high school, and CollegeXpress has helped me in so many ways this year in trying to navigate the process of deciding and committing to a university. The COVID-19 Student Resource Center has helped me many times with the most up-to-date and accurate information, along with financial aid and student life [advice]. During these uncertain times, CollegeXpress has been a great recourse to relieve the stress as a senior. Along with the COVID-19 Student Resource Center, I'm constantly using the extremely helpful tools off the site to aid me during this stressful process. Tools like the lists and rankings of universities have been the most beneficial. I've also used the site to receive expert advice on topics like financial aid. Finally, CollegeXpress has helped me easily apply for several scholarships. I'm thankful to be given the chance to win a scholarship to lessen the burden of my college debt.



High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me by opening my eyes to new opportunities. I learned about such easy ways to get financial help to achieve my dreams while also learning about myself and who I truly am. I know this isn't a very long explanation of what CollegeXpress has done for me, but nonetheless, I believe it's crucial to how I developed as a person throughout my time as a college student.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Saint John's University

Collegeville, MN

Fordham University

Bronx, NY

Molloy University

Rockville Centre, NY

Villanova University

Villanova, PA