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Religious Studies

p: 704-894-2658

Mailing Address

Box 7137
Davidson, NC 28035

Shipping Address

209 Ridge Road
Davidson, NC 28035

Why Study Religion?

The question, “what can you do” with a specific major is often asked and understandably so. But such an approach implies that the major one chooses is little more than a tool used to acquire a job. We believe that a major in religious studies prepares you, not just for making a living, but for making a life. What kind of person can you be having majored in religious studies? One major describes his experience this way:

I think about the world and the role of religion in it daily, even if I ended up being a lawyer. I look at the news everyday and understand the religious history, theologies, and institutions that play such an integral part in the regions of the world where extremism and violence reign. I see the power of the pulpit in our domestic politics and its power to divide us as a nation. I still see good being done in the face of evil, and I see symbols and rituals everywhere. —Richard Avery ’86

Richard Avery’s experience is like that of many other majors. The skills he acquired prepared him for law school, while the perspectives and habits of mind he developed deepened his reflective capacities and his understanding of the world.

Some students pursue the major as continuous with their own pursuit of truth and meaning. Others see the study of religion as a way towards understanding people who are not like them—people who see and experience the world differently—an endeavor that is of supreme importance in the modern world and one that resonates deeply with the spirit of a liberal arts education. Many students interested in political science or international affairs naturally find themselves in religious studies courses, sometimes double-majoring or pursuing a minor in religious studies.  

Like students in other humanistic disciplines, religious studies majors have many options after graduation. Some go on to seminary, others to law school or medical school, and others find work in human service organizations or non-government organizations. Faculty take great pleasure in recommending students to a wide variety of placements and supporting them as they move beyond Davidson.  

The anecdotes and short video clips below capture a few of the many different vocational paths that majors have taken.

Religious Studies Major Profiles

Hannah Sikes '16
Watkinsville, Ga.
Chris Woods '16
Burlington, N.C.
Sarah Aziz '17
Indianapolis, Ind.
Kerry Honan '17
Saint Paul, Minn.

Alumni Anecdotes

Katherine Cox, M.D. '07

Dr. Katherine Cox, M.D. '07
Research Fellow, Wake Forest University
"One thing I think about a lot as an oncologist when dealing with death is how people make meaning out of their life. I have end-of-life conversations almost weekly, and I find my patients usually want to talk about their family and their faith. Although most of my patients are Christian, I also have Muslim and Hindu patients, and I am so grateful I took those classes at Davidson to give me more background and appreciation for their faiths… As a physician, and particularly as oncologist, I see my calling as the relief of suffering. Some days I am able to do that with medications to cure cancer and treat pain, but a lot of days it is more about listening to the patients’ stories and being physically present as a patient transitions out of this life."

Boyce Whitesides '05

Boyce Whitesides '05
Management Consultant
Management consulting basically boils down to taking hard and complex questions and breaking them down into more manageable chunks that can be researched and tested, and eventually proven. And it’s hard to think of more complex questions than those we regularly discussed in the religion department, such as, "What is the role of religion as a social force in the world?" or "What did this early Christian follower mean by this particular piece of prose?"

Through my time in the Religion Department, I developed and honed my critical thinking skills and my writing/presentation skills. This same critical and logical approach to presenting arguments has applications in whatever field you choose, and I have felt very well equipped to tackle these challenges because of the academic training I received in the Religion Department."

Max Skelton '07

Mac Skelton ’07
Doctoral Student in Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
"What can you do with a religion major from Davidson? The short answer is, well, just about anything that interests you. Since I graduated from Davidson, I have split time between several jobs in nonprofit organizations and graduate studies, all of which have had some relation to the Middle East and/or Islam. All have required solid writing and reading skills. Perhaps most importantly, they have required an openness to allow concrete experiences and observations to challenge my assumptions. And this is precisely what a religion major at Davidson does."

Lillian McCabe

Lillian McCabe '15
Graduate Study in Religion, Harvard University
"You don't need to worry about what in the world you will be with a religion degree. The study of religion is about something different—it's about how you will be in the world. I think that the study of religion is an empathetic endeavor. It is about thinking critically about the beliefs you hold, and considering how someone else could hold totally different beliefs. It's about imagining the world through another's perspective, and coming to value that perspective. It's about encountering the other with the possibility that your own way of being in the world might be challenged or even change. Religion is a way to study people. And in this pluralistic society we live in, it is only becoming more important that we try to understand the 'others' around us.

Preston Davis '06

Preston Davis '06
Chaplain, High Point University
"I witnessed faculty who were deeply moved by what they taught. It was like they were rediscovering it anew as they offered us an opportunity to discover the wisdom of those who went before us. I wanted to be a part of that same movement. The religion department guided and supported me. They cared enough to challenge me."

Manish Kurien

Manish Kurien '15 (minor)
Law Student
The ability to comprehend differing perspectives is also a useful tool in the modern world. I have found that my study of religions at Davidson helped reinforce in me an open mind to new perspectives as well as instill in me knowledge of a wide variety of religions and belief systems. This combination has allowed me to engage with a wide spectrum of people from all different nationalities and backgrounds. These engagements go beyond the superficial since I am used to discussing ideals that may be drastically different than my own.

Dylan Deal '01

Dylan Deal '01
Head of Upper School, Bayside Academy
"The exposure to great thinkers has helped me with what Keats called "negative capability." I enjoy the unknown. And, since so much of this life is unknown, I think my experiences learning and teaching religion have helped me endure the sufferings inherent to being alive. Studying and appreciating religion has helped me have a softer soul. I am certain I am kinder because of it–it encourages me to be self-aware, compassionate, just generally more thoughtful."

Carrie Levy ’05
Associate Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of West Chester
"I absolutely treasure my religion major from Davidson. It was my first real experience of looking at religion both inside-out and outside-in, as deeply personal and highly sociological, as culturally-bound and transformative, as rooted in particular times and places and also prophetic in its message. I think the department gave me the language that I needed to navigate many different worlds and to befriend and work alongside people with vastly different views of what it means to be "religious.""

Azalea Tang outside in winter

Azalea Tang '14
Graduate study in social work

"Studying religion enhanced my appreciation and ability for many ventures that make me eternally grateful for the teachers I had. I continue to seek the depth of learning from my everyday encounters that I experienced with the Davidson College Religious Department. In other words, religious studies taught me that I will always be a student, and that everyone is my teacher."