Increasing Number of Students Major in Religion Nationwide

August 10, 2006

Source: The Record

On August 10, 2006 The Record reported, "Hiroshi Obayashi, chairman of the religion department at Rutgers University, has watched the number of religion majors and minors triple during the past 10 years. Princeton University has experienced a similar trend. 'We have seen an increase over the past several years -- in the class of 2002, we had 12 majors,' Martha Himmelfarb, former chairwoman of Princeton's religion department, said in an e-mail. 'The numbers have risen to about 30 a year -- 30 in the class of 2006, 33 in the class of 2007, and so far 28 in the class of 2008.' This boom of interest is not confined to Rutgers or Princeton. The American Academy of Religion reports a 25 percent increase in religion majors from 1996 to 2000 and a 15 percent increase in the total enrollment in religion classes nationwide. Obayashi believes student diversity is causing the heightened interest. 'The increase in the popularity of religion studies can be attributed to a demographic change that is increasingly multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious, particularly in New Jersey,' he said. Additionally, Obayashi said there is a growing recognition that religion majors are not limited in their choice of career. 'A common misunderstanding is that religion majors become future clergymen,' he said. 'Most become investment bankers, lawyers, doctors, social workers, teachers ... in other words, all the things any liberal arts major would do,' said Himmelfarb."