Studying Philosophy / Theology

Hi.

I have been accepted to to study at the Dominican University College in Ottawa, Canada - I will be studying philosophy and theology.

Needless to say I have well-meaning friends and family telling me how impractical this is, how people with philosophy degrees all end up working at Starbucks.

Recently I had a discussion about this with a busybody great-aunt - I told her that Jesus told us to “take nothing for the journey” - which I take to mean, in this case, that thinking about study in purely practical terms is not the right thing.

I got yelled at for being an arrogant brat who compares herself with Christ.

Am I being arrogant quoting the Gospel in this way?

I don’t want to be a doctor (too squeemish) or a lawyer (I can’t lie without giggling) or an engineer (boring).

Whatever you want to study is fine, as long as you have some concrete plan for how you are going to fund your education and support yourself and you are not planning on relying indefinitely on handouts from relatives, or complaining when you graduate with huge loans and cannot get a well-paying job.

If your great-aunt is not being called upon to support you, it is none of her business why you chose a particular major.

Having said that, I’m sure Jesus is fine with people who choose to study medicine, law, and engineering. He has doctors, lawyers and engineers among his great saints, just like he has philosophers and theologians.

It would probably be best if you did not frame your choice of a major as somehow following Christ better than the guy who chose a major based on practicality, perhaps because he was more focused on wanting to support a wife and children or aged parents, or because he grew up poor and would like to have more economic certainty in his life.

There is nothing extra special or holier about your choice of a major, and it is not likely to pay well, but if you have taken that into account and made appropriate plans for your life and how you will become self-sufficient, then there’s no problem with your major either.

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Bloom where you are planted. Whatever you study you can use it for the better meant of others.

I thought of it as following Christ, never thought it was a better way of following Him than anyone else’s. Different things in the Scripture inspire different people in different ways.

But I suppose I can see how someone might misinterpret what I said.

And there is nothing shameful in working at Starbucks. I know my relatives, any hand-outs come with a major guilt trip that is just not worth it.

That’s true, but you can work at Starbucks without an expensive degree and just study philosophy and theology on your own time for pleasure and personal enrichment, if that’s your thing.

Degrees are basically investments and signaling devices to employers. It’s fine if you want to study philosophy and theology, but it’s not weird that people might ask you how you plan to pay the bills. If you’re just going to end up in a job you could’ve gotten without the degree, you’re better off skipping the degree and just studying your passion on your free time. There are so many free courses or courses you can audit out there that if you just want the personal growth and knowledge you can do that for next to nothing.

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You should only become one of those if it interests you. (Those who find engineering exciting and/or satisfying would make the best engineers.)

What do you like to do?

How about teaching philosophy or theology?

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Are you doing this because you enjoy it, or because you think it’s the ‘holy’ thing to do?

If the latter, cease and desist immediately. You have chosen a bad premise from which to choose your major and will be stuck with a degree in something you don’t enjoy and aren’t even passionate enough about to sustain you when times are rough. Doesn’t help that it’s quite impractical as a field of study to begin with.

If you are passionate about philosophy and theology, and don’t really feel like you can make it in another major, then by all means pursue your degree. If you were my relative my advice would be to think carefully about your life plans. Try to set down a contingency plan now just in case something goes wrong and you need direction during a bad time.

Are you open to studying something more practical and self-sustaining, while pursuing philosophy and theology as a minor? I don’t know about you, but in my country’s universities we usually have a set of free electives which we can use to pursue a minor or specialisation.

Are you open to working as a researcher or writer? Do you imagine yourself working in academia, writing philosophical and theological books and texts, grading exams, etc, etc…

If that doesn’t appeal to you, please rethink your decision. The premise on which you based this major life decision seems to me to be quite misguided. There is nothing particularly holy about majoring in theology and holy people can be found across the whole range of majors. Rather, base your decision on interest, practicality, affordability, and whether you have a special passion for the field. The part of your post where you claimed that “thinking about study in absolutely practical terms is not the right thing” is absolutely wrong and there is nothing in Church teaching that prevents an individual from basing their decision on financial and practical reasons. Lots of individuals come from poorer backgrounds and don’t have the luxury of pursuing ‘idiosyncratic’ majors that don’t have high practicality. These individuals aren’t wrong to choose based on what would make them and their future families more economically secure.

If you were my relative, I would ask you to rethink. Your decision seems to have been based on an incorrect notion that pursuing an impractical field of study is something Jesus wanted for everyone. He didn’t. He himself worked as a carpenter.

Do think carefully, and please consider practicality and interest this time.

God bless and good luck down the road.

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