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Did you know that recent college graduates will hold 12 to 15 different jobs over their lifetimes? The Philosophy and Religion major equips students with the foundational and transferrable skills that most employers are looking for:

  • thinking critically
  • communicating skillfully
  • working with people of diverse viewpoints and backgrounds

Our alumni apply their training in philosophy and religion to a variety of fields and sectors. They are lawyers and business leaders, educators and journalists. They fight terrorism, serve religious communities, and work in international development and humanitarian aid.

  • The Pre-Law program supports students as they prepare themselves to apply to law school and pursue legal careers.
  • The Pre-Theology program supports student as they prepare for graduate studies in theology or divinity in order to pursue careers as religious leaders, counselors, chaplains, and more.

How alumni are using their degrees in Philosophy & Religion:

Lauren (Brittigan) Armbruster, class of '18: Systems Engineer at The MITRE Corporation

Lauren Armbruster photo

Lauren Armbruster is currently working as a systems engineer at The MITRE Corporation, a government sponsored think tank in McLean Virginia. Her major in Interdisciplinary Religion is an asset to her developing career by preparing her to assess divergent perspectives and engage in critical problem solving. The MITRE Corporation offers extensive benefits and advanced academic opportunities that Lauren plans to take advantage of in pursuit of a Master's degree in the fields of intelligence or international affairs. Lauren was also an Intelligence Analysis major and research intern with the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace during her time at JMU. She looks forward to engaging with current students for recruitment and networking opportunities.

Jake Salem, class of '17: U.C. Irvine's post-baccalaureate program for Psychology

Jake Salem photo 

I was a Religion major at JMU, focusing on Western traditions, before graduating in the spring of 2017. As a religion major, I gained the skills necessary for critical thinking, reading, and writing. Also, through studying scholarship of the Bible and Quran, I was introduced to ideas that have stayed with me and continue to influence the way I think about the world and everyday life. Lastly, and I think most importantly, I learned just how central religion and spirituality are to every culture; so, I can understand and empathize with other people I meet more effectively. I gained all of this, while at the same time exploring my life-long interest in religion.

I was somewhat apprehensive to become a religion major, as I was under the impression that there were not as many career opportunities as, say, for someone who majors in business or political science. While this may (or may not) be true, my uncommon major has made me stand out among my peers, and has even allowed me to obtain an assistant position at a Georgetown University psychology lab, as they do research on the cognition of religious belief.

More recently, I have gained acceptance to UC Irvine’s post-baccalaureate program for psychology, and intend to pursue a Ph.D. afterwards. I look forward to a future, hopefully, in academia, and am thankful for the classes and faculty in the JMU Religion department that gave me the critical and interpersonal skills to get me there.

Najeeha Khan, class of '17: JMU Engagement Fellow with Valley Scholars Program

Najeeha Khan '18 co-organizes community dialogue about Islam

Khan and Barker photo

from the Winter 2018 issue of Madison:

Recent graduates Najeeha Khan (’17), an international affairs and religion double major, and Kayla Barker (’17), an Honors student and sociology major, grew up in Greene County, in central Virginia, and went to the same high school. Their friendship grew at JMU, despite different interests and majors. Then, an event back home spurred them to form a partnership for a very special reason—civic engagement.

In November 2016, they learned about an event, “Understanding the Jihad Threat,” being held in Greene County. It was garnering plenty of reaction, both positive and negative, in their hometown and beyond. They worried that misinformation, or a one-sided presentation, could be problematic.

“There weren’t a lot of people my age practicing my faith in my hometown,” says Khan, a Muslim. Both she and Barker were aware that ignorance was fertile ground for fear.

As president of the Muslim Student Association at JMU, Khan had been taking the initiative to organize campus events to educate and build awareness of the need for open dialogue. “I have learned from religion classes at JMU how nuanced and complex religious interpretation is and what that learning looks like,” she says.

Both Khan and Barker felt that they had to do something to counter the negativity that had arisen back home. What if they brought the model of constructive dialogue they had learned at JMU to their hometown?

Read the rest of the article here. Najeeha is now a JMU Engagement Fellow with the Valley Scholars program.

Valerie Stocking, class of '17: Masters Degree in Experiential Education at Minnesota State University

Valerie Stocking

Valerie Stocking is currently enrolled at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota, pursuing a Master’s in Experiential Education. This program is focused on the idea that we learn best through experiences and reflection, and can lead to several different career paths. Valerie is working at the university as a Graduate Assistant in the Adventure Education Program, managing the university’s rock wall and challenge course programming. She will graduate in the spring of 2019 and hopes to pursue a position at a university adventure program. Valerie is incredibly grateful for her time at James Madison University as a Religion major. She knows it has some of the best and brightest educators and appreciates the wonderful exposure to critical thinking, scholarship, and respecting people’s experiences and opinions.

Rosemary Williams, class of '17: Masters of Arts in Religion at Yale University Divinity School

Rosemary Williams

Rosemary Williams is a scholar and musician whose work focuses on the intersections between musics, religions, liturgies, and spiritualities. Beginning in the Fall of 2017, she will attend Yale Divinity School in collaboration with the Yale Institute of Sacred Music to study for a Master of Arts in Religion with a concentration in Liturgical Studies. While at James Madison University, Rosemary pursued dual degrees in Music Performance and Interdisciplinary Religion, served as Music Minister at Canterbury Episcopal Campus Ministry, and performed in the orchestra for numerous student opera productions. Rosemary holds memberships in Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Theta Alpha Kappa, and Phi Sigma Tau.

Sara Scherer, class of '14: Law student at George Mason University

Sarah Scherer

Majoring in Philosophy and Religion was one of the best decisions I made as an undergraduate at JMU. Aside from being intellectually challenging, the courses exposed me to a variety of belief systems. It was through this process that I improved my critical thinking skills and learned how to address complex issues in creative and effective ways. Perhaps more importantly, my studies at JMU led me to become a more curious and compassionate individual.

My time at JMU has prepared me very well for a career in law, which I am currently pursuing at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. After graduation, I will be working as a law clerk for the Honorable Michael F. Devine at the Fairfax Circuit Court. I plan to pursue a career in criminal defense and criminal justice reform.

Kelsey Ostergren, class of '13: Intern at the Center for Religion and Diplomacy

Kelsey Ostergren

As a JMU undergraduate, I initially began as just a History major with a concentration in Secondary Education. However, after a year or so, I decided to drop Secondary Education and pursue Religious Studies too, taking various religion classes and finally deciding to add the major my junior year. Both studies developed my reading, writing, critical thinking, and analytical skills, and more importantly built up my knowledge about history, different cultures, and Life in general. The Religion degree especially helped me to understand the diversity in cultures and religion and gave me a better ability to recognize those in people and places around the world. I would definitely tell any student to take as many religion classes as possible, even outside of standard requirements, as well as take advantage of the department and what it does for students, like engaging with faculty or participating in career fairs and resume workshops. You only go to undergraduate once, and you have many opportunities to explore, learn, and grow, and Religious studies is a great way to do this.

Currently, I am interning at the Center for Religion & Diplomacy, an organization that seeks to solve conflict through methods implementing religion and identity. I plan to pursue a Religious degree at a Master’s or Ph.D. level in either conflict resolution with a religious aspect or religious diversity in modern America with a focus on Christianity.

Neal Devdas Samudre, class of '13: Masters of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary

Neal Samudre

I am currently attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, working towards a Masters in Divinity degree. The Religion faculty at JMU equipped me to make a positive impact on the world. They did so by first allowing me to see the perspective and worldviews of different religions around the globe. From there, my studies moved me to gain more depth into understanding my own faith, from doctrines and theology to its history. This was a crucial progression for my education seeing as it helped me develop more clarity on why I believe what I believe. From this understanding, I can use my education at JMU as a springboard to leap into a role of being an agent of change in the world.

My time as a part of the Religious Studies program has already given me a glimpse of the world-changing potential it gives its students. During my time in the program, I have published numerous articles to national magazines as well as receive a full-ride scholarship to attend seminary in Boston. On top of that, I am currently working on publishing a book, which will release in April 2014.

The JMU Religion Department encourages its students to make big waves in the global community; I am truly proud to say that I am one of many results of this tremendous love, encouragement, and support.

Connor Brindley Gwin, class of '12: Masters of Divinity at Virginia Theological Seminary

Connor Gwin

The Religion Department at JMU completely prepared me for my studies in seminary. While some of my classmates at Virginia Theological Seminary are struggling to understand concepts and terminology, I come to class with a firm grasp of the basic elements of religious studies. Because of the Religion Department at JMU, I came to seminary already "speaking the language" of theological education - which is an amazing advantage. From the Introduction to Religion courses all the way up to the Capstones, the faculty of the Religion Department prepared me for my Graduate studies and my future career as a Priest in the Episcopal Church. Their teaching and assistance was invaluable and I am thankful for it everyday.

Anna Owens, class of '12: Office Service Specialist for VA State Police

Anna Owens

Choosing to major in Religion was the best decision I made as a student. You are all extremely fortunate to have access to some of the most fascinating classes offered by an incredible group of professors. My biggest piece of advice is to go to office hours! I currently work as an Office Services Specialist for the VA State Police in the Drug Enforcement Section. I never imagined working in this specific position but the skills I learned in my Religion Studies continue to help me perform in my job.

William Alexander Grasmeder, class of '10: Ph.D. in Economics at George Mason University

William Alexander Grasmeder

My name is William Alexander Grasmeder. I'm a computer programmer for the Center for the Study of Neuroeconomics at George Mason University. When I tell my colleagues in my Economics Ph.D. program that I have a religion degree, they usually ask if I wish I had chosen a different undergraduate major, such as Economics or Business. On the contrary, a religion degree provides me with unique insight and contextualization skills that few people have, thereby providing a leg up as an economist (to say the least). I rely on my training as a religious scholar and philosopher almost every day as something to keep me grounded, help find meaning, and give me direction in my work.

Samuel Funkhouser, class of '09: Masters in Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary

Samuel Funkhouser

Graduated May, 2009, B.A. Philosophy and Religion

Valedictorian of College of Arts and Letters

Master’s of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary

Working in Family Counseling with plans for a Ph.D. in Religious Studies

I am very grateful for my time spent as a Religion Major at JMU. When I graduated from JMU, I enrolled in the M.Div. program at Princeton Theological Seminary, and it soon became apparent just how well prepared I was for graduate studies in theology. Because of my previous coursework at JMU, I was able to test out of or get credit for a number of introductory classes, to the point that one of the classes I took during my first semester at Princeton was an upper-level Biblical Studies course on Ezekiel (in which I was more comfortable than many of the third-year Princeton students). I knew Hebrew well enough when I started seminary that I was able to serve as a teaching assistant for Biblical Hebrew during my second year—and was one of only a few non-Ph.D. students to do so. But most importantly, the reading, research, and writing skills that I developed in my capstone courses at JMU made for a very smooth transition to graduate school. The faculty of the Religion Department equipped me with the skills necessary for success in seminary, and instilled in me a passion for the academic study of religion—a passion that has now led me to consider Ph.D. studies as well.

Michael McKinney Hickman, class of '09: Instructor in English Department, JMU

Michael Hickman

As an undergrad, I dual majored in Religion and English. Both majors helped me refine my critical thinking skills, and Religion helped me step outside novels to interpret cultural and religious texts, films, and related writings. The pair pushed me to become intellectually flexible which strengthened my academic endeavors overall. Also, I felt comfortable discussing religion and its implications in ways I never had before; as I delved into religious studies, I often ‘nerded out’ about religion to others because many are misinformed or misguided (which often leads to distorted or bigoted worldviews). I majored in Religion simply because I was interested in it; however, I came to realize that the world is infused with religious thought which led me to better contextualize and question the world.

After graduating, I began the terminal English M.A. program at JMU, and during my second year, I had the opportunity to teach GWRTC 103. Once I finished that program, I began teaching full time as an adjunct. My time as a Religion major provided a deeper understanding of history and human motivation which, in turn, helps me push my students to better grasp humans’ complexity. I want them to cultivate their critical analysis skills in order to better dissect the world, as I came to do through this major.

Ashley Nicole Tickle, class of '09: Masters of Arts in Religious Studies at University of Iowa

Ashley Ticket photo

I entered JMU as a biology major. I decided my sophomore year to change my major to Religion. I did this for many reasons, one being that I have always been drawn to learn about other cultures and belief systems. Religion and spirituality have always been an integral part of my life. I come from a small rural town with very little diversity and this degree gave me a chance to learn about other people’s beliefs and cultural practices. I enjoyed my studies in this program so much that I want to become a professor and inspire others just like my professors inspired me. I am currently pursuing my M.A. in Religious Studies at the University of Iowa and will hopefully complete my doctoral studies there within the next few years.

GeorgeAnn Palmer Valentine, class of '08: Pharmaceutical Sales

Palmer Valentine

I am often asked why I chose what could be considered an unusual course of study. Originally when I came to JMU I wanted to study Philosophy and go on to law school. However, after taking a few of courses in Religion as electives, I was drawn to the subject. I enjoyed the fact that the religion courses provided worldview and demanded very critical thinking. Learning cultures through their religion was fascinating, and I was able to look at the world differently. I felt that through my study of religion I could relate to and understand others in a way in which I could not before.

Upon graduation, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in professional pharmaceutical sales instead of a law degree. Throughout my interview process I was questioned on why I chose Religion. When I took the hiring managers through the process of religion as a study of worldview and culture they were immediately impressed. My religion degree continues to serve me well as I interact with all types of people from every walk of life. My understanding of culture and other people's worldview allows me to operate in a way which encourages open communication and healthy business relationships. I would highly recommend the study of Religion to students looking to enter the business world.

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