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Useless Degrees

May 13, 2010 | 9 Comments

Post to the Host:
You do a masterful job of presenting the life-long woes of the English major. However, I will graduate next month with a degree that I believe is far more employment-challenged. Might you have career suggestions for someone with a Master's degree in Applied Theology?

Jeanne E. P.
Talent, OR


My dear theologian, The world is waiting for you. Economists are bewildered, politicians are confused, we humorists are less and less funny, the American people seem more devoted to unreality than ever before, and it's time for theology to clear things up for the rest of us. I assume that the "Applied" means that you won't be looking for a church job. You'll be heading out into the everyday world where the theological rubber meets the pavement. I think you should send your resume to Goldman Sachs and tell them in a hundred words why they need a theologian on staff. An applied theologian. You. It is still a Judeo-Christian world they operate in and nine out of ten Americans say they believe in God, so a big company ought to have a place for you — when in Rome, go with someone who speaks Italian. If Goldman Sachs turns you down, try UBS, try WalMart. We do not have a staff theologian at PHC but it wouldn't be a bad idea. What is the good of all those sad songs, the lost cowboys, the lascivious private eye, the languorous tales of prairie life? How does this contribute to the soul? You could guide us down these murky pathways, Jeanne. And I hope you wouldn't mind answering the phone and listening to audition CDs and popping popcorn. All part of the job.


As someone who has a Masters degree in Pastoral Theology and Ministry, I discovered you could not support a family on the part-time jobs you could find in that genre. The best idea is to go back to school and get another degree, accounting or business, so you can eat and have a place to live.

I was a pre-theo once but glad I changed my major to Drama and English. They have stood me pretty well. David

My wife has an MDiv., ThM., and ThD, so that is a lot of Theology. She brings critical thinking to religion, which is awkward for those brought up rooting for their denomination or congregation or non-affiliation. Religion, once thought to be receding from public life, is "applied values," something science and economics have not reliably provided. I say bravo to the new major. Employers will recognize her value is in her values.

Dear Jeanne,

I have two "McDonald's" degrees: a BA in English and an MA in Theology (I'll save you the drudgery of repeating the joke). I spent 30 years in sales and marketing, but for the past 7 have served as a Chaplain for an inpatient hospice facility. When I worked in the business world, it was not uncommon for someone to remark that my English degree didn't seem all that relevant to my work. My reply was that I didn't seek higher education as an employment strategy; rather, that it opened up the mind of a mediocre student from the white suburbs to a world that he never knew existed during his "growing up" years. Plus, it provided me with insights into the human condition which served me well as I worked among people whose lives were just as full of challenge and joy as was mine. In fact, the appreciation of their--and my--sense of contingency in an increasingly complex and unstable world led me to a discernment that I was being called to accompany my sisters and brothers, especially those living at the margins, on our common spiritual journey through life. And following what Joseph Campbell termed as "bliss" (which I have understood as God's will for me) has brought to this point. What to do? Wait for God, but not in the sense of sitting around waiting for some kind of magical intervention in the course one's daily existence. Rather, engage in what one of my senior colleagues terms "active waiting," by which he means moving in a direction until God points out another one through the circumstances of one's life.

I don't know if any of the above is more than a morning ramble, but I do want to reiterate that if your education was good, it has developed you in ways that you will perhaps only appreciate a few years down the line. You will not see the world as you did formerly, because you have been "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (cf. Romans 12:2). This, by the way is a verse I have heard Garrison recite more than once, so I have a sense that he might agree with what I have written.

Peace and all good to you,

Fr. Larry

I wanted to say what Father Larry said so eloquently - and yes, I too have a McDonald's Degree - and am so very happy for it.
Press on - no time spent learning is ever a waste.

Well-- Krista Tibbets hasn't done too bad with her theological acumen. Give it a shot!

McDonald's Major=Bookstore Major, but bookstores are much more fun. And free reads!

I once knew someone in the midwest who studied theology. When I told him I was Muslim, he said yeah muslims used to be jews. So it's true: When you're a theologian who happens to know one fact about Islam that isn't true, then, well, you've officially acquired the most useless degree this world has to offer.

IMHO, the world of bodywork is also a wonderful option for a theologian. If, Jeane, you have *any* interest in massage therapy, occupational therapy, sports injury rehab and the like (and can stand a tad more schooling), having someone of your spiritual depth and understanding addressing an individual's corporal needs (physical/spiritual issues are not mutually exclusive) can be breathtakingly helpful.

The daughter of a minister, myself,I have noticed (in my 10 years of practice) what being a reluctant (though persistent) follower of the Lamb has done for my clients...certainly it has deepened my faith, and enabled me to "be there" in a way for people who would never discuss spiritual matters otherwise.

And -- I was an English major in college. I use this degree every single day. So I agree with Fr. Larry.

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