Theological Degree as a Layperson

Thank you for your responses.

Have you thought of being a teacher who specializes in Religious Education ?

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Yeah, you could possibly pursue a career as a professor/instructor at a seminary. Many of my professors and/or class instructors in seminary were lay people. I’m not sure all the education necessary, but pretty sure it would require a masters degree in the field, as well as a degree in education. Not sure about all the requirements, but something to look into with what you are considering.

Why the restriction of being a lay person? Perhaps this interest is being driven by a calling to the priesthood. Your 16? Don’t rule it out yet, way too early.

Church positions and Catholic university positions as a theologian require much more than just a degree. The main thing you will need is a highly developed network of people already in the system who want to see you come on board, including influential theologians, professors and clergymen.

In other words, you have to be a familiar and welcome face to the people who are making the hiring decisions. Good positions tend to go to people who are in the know and in the loop already, especially clergy. It’s really tough for “outsiders” to break in, with one possible exception.

That exception is for people who have a proven track record for raising large amounts of cash, meaning fundraising or grant writing. A lot of a professor’s time is spent writing grants to fund their research and that of their students.

In terms of career utility, degrees in religion and theology rank at the bottom of the scale. Graduates outnumber job openings by a very large factor. By far most graduates never work a day in the field. The degrees are also not very portable to other fields, either.

You really need to talk to someone in the real world about realistic career choices and the educational requirements needed to pursue those choices. The types of people you should be talking to are those who make hiring decisions in the field.

There is one red flag in your previous posts that gives me reason for concern. You have a very wide Romantic streak, and that could be a huge disadvantage on the job market.

One poster asked you in another thread, “Do you love England, or an idealized picture of England from years and years ago?”. You may have an idealized picture of a career in the Church, as well. And when you discover that your idealized picture does not match up with the stark reality, you will be in for a major disappointment. Life is cruel to people with Romantic mindsets, especially in environments where cash is tight.

Before you make any career decisions in that direction, you should have a clear picture of the realities of church careers as a layperson, especially the aspects that appeal least to idealistic Romantics, like funding and financial matters.

In other words, evaluate your decision in terms of investment and realistic financial opportunity. And remember, your investment includes the cash needed for tuition and life support for many years, but also many years of your life as well as the sacrifice of alternative educational pathways that are more likely to end in a career that is more lucrative and satisfying. Including acquiring skills in fields other than theology that are more needed in the Church.

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Give yourself time for your life to settle and for your discernment to progress. Unless you have been drawn toward a certain career path, a period of discernment is needed, as young lives are in a state of flux. Nothing worse than to direct your education toward something that you ultimately find dissatisfying.


To be clear, I did not say you are not fit to pursue a degree in theology, or to become a priest. I said that any decision you make should be based on solid information from those who know well the stark reality of careers in the Church, and not on Romantic or idealistic thinking.

You’re at the point in life when you are going to have to make hard decisions about you career and path in life. You should be seeking out solid advice from those who are more familiar with life in the real world. Starting with your parents and your pastor or spiritual advisor, and going on to people who are actually working in the fields you are interested in.

Two rules:

Any career choice does not make any sense at all if it doesn’t make sense in dollars and cents.

Any career choice doesn’t make any sense if it does not bring you any satisfaction, both on the job and in your private, social and spiritual life. And a large part of satisfaction is earning enough to live a comfortable life, provide for your family or other dependents, like your parents in their old age, enjoy your hobbies or other interests outside of work, provide for your eventual retirement, and, generally, become a productive member of the community you live in and the world at large.

These rules will help you narrow down your choices so that you are able to focus on those that are actually best for you.

Wishing you all the best!

Your teachers ought to have made you aware by now that a subject you choose to study at degree level does not necessarily need to be related directly to a future career option. Subjects such as law, medicine, dentistry, and architecture are clearly related to specific career options. Most other subjects, however, can be applied to a whole range of options. If you study theology you could use your degree to get into a range of different careers, such as law (via a conversion course), the civil service, the armed forces, the police, social work, prisons and probation service, accountancy, management or strategy consultancy, a graduate management training programme, human resources, journalism, publishing—the options go on and on.

I think the main thing is to find a subject that you will enjoy studying for three or four years, that you will be able to study at a good university, and for which you have the necessary aptitude to get a good degree. After that, the world is your oyster. If you have a passion to study theology and you get a good degree from a good university you do not need to become a theologian. Thinking of people I know who have theology degrees, and excluding teachers and academics, I can think of at least one of: publisher, nurse, branding consultant, estate agent, solicitor, investment professional, payroll manager, museum curator. I certainly also know of one theology graduate who became a police officer. I can think of at least one current member of the UK House of Commons who is an Oxford theology graduate.

I suspect the other poster had ideas and attitudes when he was 16 that changed. I had a lot of idyllic ideas when I was 16. If you have always felt as attached to the priesthood as the church itself, and you have an interest in theology, its way, way too early to say you are not fit for the priesthood. Pray about it. And 16 is definitely not too young of an age to start talking to diocesan and religious order vocation directors. Seek out a spiritual director who can help guide you through discernnment. Don’t let a guy on the internet deter you at this stage, especially when that was not likely his intention.

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Had not even read this when I wrote my last sentence. Spend just as much time thinking about your vocation in life, ie marriage or the priesthood, as you do your careeer.

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I’m not sure what would make you think that you would not be fit to pursue a degree in theology. Pursuing a subject at degree level is not the same as following a religion or having a vocation. If you were to study theology, where did you have in mind? I think you are from New Zealand but have close ties to the UK if I remember correctly. Would you intend to study in NZ or the UK (or somewhere else entirely)? You will find that most degree courses these days encourage you to focus on two or more of the major world religions and also broaden your horizons by allowing you to study religion from the perspectives of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and so on. I can tell you that one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known was a theology graduate of the Victoria University of Wellington.

Very cool. God bless you!

A few years ago I would unhesitatingly have recommended Cambridge over Oxford, as the Oxford course was not very good (for example, students were required to study the whole of the “Theology and Ethics of the New Testament” over the course of eight weeks, while the teaching of biblical languages was covered by a 16-week course in the first year). However, the Oxford syllabus has been completely overhauled in recent years and is now excellent. You can choose a degree from Theology and Religion (the basic theology course), Philosophy and Theology (a long-established course whose popularity owes much to Oxford’s refusal to teach philosophy on its own as an undergraduate degree subject), and Religion and Oriental Studies (a new course combining theology and Oriental languages).

You are certainly right that Oxford has traditionally had a strong reputation for its role in religious life, although I think you would find plenty of religion in Cambridge too. Oxford has perhaps for a long time benefited from the reputation of the Oxford Movement and the most recent Oxford Group, as well as for having produced a number of high-profile converts to Catholicism, e.g. Evelyn Waugh.

The university certainly benefits from having a number of permanent private halls run by different religious organisations. You have the Dominicans at Blackfriars Hall, the Jesuits at Campion Hall, and the Benedictines at St Benet’s Hall (the only one you would be eligible to apply to). The former Franciscan Hall, Greyfriars, merged into the Baptist college, Regent’s Park. There are also the evangelical Anglicans at Wycliffe Hall and the Anglo-Catholics at St Stephen’s House. The university has a Catholic chaplaincy which is run by the Jesuits. Students who do not attend the chaplaincy are most commonly affiliated with the Oxford Oratory. Like Cambridge, Oxford also has a University Church, although unlike Cambridge, Oxford also has an Anglican cathedral, which is part of Christ Church (which uniquely is both a university college and a cathedral). Pusey House, which shares premises with St Cross College, is not technically part of the university, but behaves as though it were.

Cambridge has a Theological Federation, but as an undergraduate it would probably have relatively little impact on you as it is mostly concerned with training for ordained ministry. There is of course a Catholic chaplaincy, which is based at Fisher House.

As far as I am aware, Newcastle does not have a theology department. However, Durham, which is not far from Newcastle, does has a very famous theology department as well as having a very famous cathedral. The university also has a Centre for Catholic Studies, although its activities are aimed at postgraduates and academic research. It’s possibly your best option for a theology degree in the UK outside of Oxford and Cambridge, although there are other options, e.g. King’s College London.

I missed that thread when it was active. Just went back and reviewed what you wrote. I see no reason for your regret. I know lots of people in the US who take great pride in being Irish, or German, or Italian, or Scottish and they likely are much further removed from their ancestral country than you are. And I know for a fact they have much less in common culturally than you likely have with the English. Yea, perhaps you a little removed and have a slightly idealized vision of the country. Guess what, I am not of English decent and I have a really idealized vision of England also (I have visited it a lot). I find it such a great tragedy that the English were lost to the reformation. Like Belloc, I doubt if the schism of the protestants would have had near of a lasting and large impact if England would not have been lost, and that was such a near run thing. The English as Catholics would have helped a bunch in the last 200 or so years. Indeed, even as it stands, we owe the continued existence of Western Civilization to the English.

Do NOT allow anyone on here to talk you out of being a priest or theologian.

No one can truly know you from just your posts.

That’s why there are vocation directors and spiritual directors/advisors

God Bless

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Keep praying and pursing God’s will for your life. There are things you can do with a theology degree besides teaching and lecturing. I know lots of people with theology degrees that do lots of different things: life coaching, website development for Catholic entities, writing/editing for a Catholic publisher or news outlet, development/advancement for Catholic apostolate, parish staff, etc. There are many options besides high school or university theology teacher.

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The problem with that thread wasn’t taking “great pride” in having English heritage or even being “a little removed” from or having “a slightly idealized vision of” England. It was the fact that the version of England and the English Catholic Church portrayed seemed to consist mainly of outdated and inaccurate stereotypes.

For example, the nobility and the landed gentry represent a tiny proportion both of the population of England and of the membership of the Catholic Church here.

It was also unwise to seem to suggest that there is anything particularly English about being a Eurosceptic right-wing Tory and admiring Margaret Thatcher. Especially troubling is the implication that holding these points of view is somehow more English or more patriotic than holding the contrary positions. Margaret Thatcher remains the most divisive figure within living memory. She was forced from office not by the socialist opposition but by her own Cabinet colleagues. Of course, there are people who admire Mrs Thatcher, but they actually live in Britain, they live with her legacy, and they are prepared to live with the consequences of their choices. You can perhaps see that it is a little irritating when somebody who lives on the other side of the world and was not alive when she was prime minister uses admiration of Mrs Thatcher as a measure of Englishness and patriotism.

As I said at the time, Catholicism in this country has tended to align most closely with the Labour Party, a perfectly English and patriotic position to hold (just think of that great patriot and Englishman Ernest Bevin).

It was perhaps unwise for somebody to identify himself as a “British patriot” and supporter of Brexit when he in fact lives in New Zealand and will not be affected by it. Again, there is nothing particularly English or patriotic about supporting Brexit. Those of us who believe that Britain is better off inside the EU do so because all of the best available evidence indicates that Brexit will damage our trading relationships with Europe and the wider world, reduce net European migration which makes a vital contribution to our economy and public services, weaken our national security, lessen our influence in Europe and the world, destabilise the peace process in Northern Ireland, reduce the funding that has helped to make our universities among the very best in the world, and deprive our children of opportunities that previous generations have taken for granted. We want Britain to remain in the EU because we love our country and want what is best for it.

The “English Catholics” thread also reflected a somewhat peculiar view of New Zealand, for example, referring to its Anglican Church as “the Church of England”.

Thank you very much for the advice.

God Bless.

You sound like a fine and honest young man. You will find your path.
God bless you

A more practical application of it is in healthcare. Catholic hospitals need Mission Leaders and Chaplains.

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