What good is a degree in biblical studies if you earned it at an institution that did not teach you to think about the questions taken up in biblical literature against the background of the history of ideas of both the ancient and modern worlds?
A degree in biblical studies – or a text-based degree in religious studies - is not much more than a piece of paper if it does not develop your ability to collate and analyze data in cross-disciplinary fashion – at a minimum, linguistic and literary analysis; hermeneutics; political theory; philosophy of religion; comparative law, theology, and eschatology; the history of the text’s reception within Judaism and Christianity and the wider culture.
It is better not to get a degree in biblical studies if it does not push you to take an approach beyond the reductionisms of historicism (history is whatever happened once upon a time within a discernible sequence of causes and effects) and structuralism (what matters are the symbolic structures to which all artifacts of culture, including myth, ritual, and history-writing, attest).
What good is a degree in biblical studies if you earned it at an institution that did not teach you to work collaboratively? If it did not teach you to “cultivate humanity” by coming to an understanding of societies, cultures and civilizations different from one’s own?
If you can’t make sense out of ancient Israel and the movements to which the writings of the New Testament and the Talmud and Midrashim are a witness, what chance is there that you will make sense out of the hopes and fears of your next-door neighbor in the global village?
Moderns are just as God- and god-prone, not to mention superstitious, syncretistic, and incoherent in their beliefs as were the ancients. Why should it be otherwise?
Friedrich Schleiermacher laid out the ineluctable claims of transcendence to the cultured despisers of religion in his day. Charles Taylor urges a second look at the varieties of religious experience in our day (this review essay by Todd Ream is a handy intro). If Schleiermacher, William James, and Taylor got it even half right - and there is no doubt they did - a degree in biblical studies, if taught in cross-disciplinary fashion, attunes one’s ear to the pulsating center of the human predicament in the present no less than in the past.
If you learned to “cultivate humanity” while earning a degree in biblical studies, you are ready to make a unique contribution to the modern world. Whatever job you end up having, in the academic, religious, government, non-profit, or for-profit sectors, you will be well-equipped.
A degree in biblical studies in that sense is just as good as, if not better than, a degree in classics or philosophy.
A degree in classics or philosophy, many argue, is excellent preparation for “public service.” That’s why both are taught in the high schools that prepare for university in Europe. Beyond that, how helpful is a university Classics degree? Very: ask the mayor of London or the author of the Harry Potter series if that doesn’t make sense to you - details here.
Biblical studies if taught in a responsible way is excellent preparation for a life of service. Especially, I suggest, if the course of study is undertaken out of pietas. For a definition of pietas, go here and here, though I think Henrik Wagenvoort’s essay in which he discusses humanitas and pietas insofar as they became buzz words in Latin antiquity is the best starting point from the point of view of political theory.