Career Prospects

Apart from pursuing an academic career, there are numerous (often unknown) career paths for Religious Studies graduates. Every semester graduates of our programme are invited to share their career profiles with an interested audience. In their stories, they focus on the role the Religious Studies course has had on their professional lives. Thereby, our current students can get to know different career perspectives and receive tips and tricks for their own professional career.  

Below you can find our growing archive of career profiles.


Quo vadis III (November 21, 2017) 

Perspective 9: The "Ombudslady" (Wiener Krankenanstaltenverbund) 

Elisabeth Hofstätter was originally trained as a Biomedical Analyst and has been working for many years—currently as Ombudslady—at the Vienna Hospital Association (KAV), a company with more than 30,000 employees. She had always seen the religious themes of death and the hereafter as directly related to her work in health services. She therefore decided in 1993 to pursue a degree in Religious Studies. However, at that time, the Individual Diploma Programme in Religious Studies had not yet been initiated, which was the reason she initially enrolled in Indology, Tibetology, and Buddhist Studies (with a religion-specific focus). In 1999, Elisabeth was one of the first to seize the opportunity to enrol in the Individual Diploma Programme in Religious Studies. Three years later, she was the first to graduate with her diploma thesis on "Die Göttin Kālī in Ost und West: Von der blutrünstigen Stammesgöttin zur Galeonsfigur der Frauenemanzipation" [The Goddess Kālī in East and West: From the Bloodthirsty Tribal Goddess to the Galeon Figure of Women's Emancipation]. She completed her academic career with a Doctorate in Indology, an additional Diploma in Psychology of Religion, and a Doctorate in Palliative Care and Organisational Ethics. In her second dissertation, she wrote about "Spiritual Care" with a religion-specific focus.

Elisabeth reports that during her career she has sought coping strategies for the multicultural diversity of staff and patients, with the aim of minimising or preventing conflicts. In achieving this, the topics of religion and intercultural communication have always played a major role. When the need for appropriate training was recognised, she was able to establish herself as an expert in the intercultural and religious field, becoming responsible for covering this topic in the KAV. She compiled a corresponding course and offered training for KAV employees—especially for nursing staff, who were most confronted with the patients. Subsequently, a series of presentations entitled "Intercultural Competence Through Encounter with the Religions of the World" was launched. Various religions have been part of this hugely popular series: from Abrahamic religions, Hindu religions, and Buddhism to Sikhism and Chinese and African religions. In terms of content, a brief insight into the various doctrines was given, but the focus was then on the medical context (taboos, purity regulations, food bids), the topic of dying/death/grief, medical ethics (ingredients of medicines, handling autopsy, euthanasia), as well as the topic "women and religion." In 2006, Elisabeth received the Health Prize of the City of Vienna for this training series. Due to her high competence in religion, she was subsequently entrusted as a member of the palliative team at the Empress Elisabeth Hospital with the task of equipping two interreligious mourning rooms. In the course of this task, she personally approached many religious communities in order to present the intercultural and interreligious project and finally established herself as the direct contact person for the respective religious representatives. Finally, Elisabeth organised a grand dedication ceremony for these farewell rooms, during which representatives of the large religious communities present in Vienna handed over the premises to their purpose with a small ritual. Another milestone was a decree issued in 2003 on the wearing of religious headgear in the working environment of the Vienna KAV, to which she contributed significantly with her expertise and which continues to be valid at the KAV.

Today Elisabeth works in quality and complaint management at the KAV. When applying for this position, her religion-specific knowledge and her intercultural competence, which she had acquired in the course of her studies, had been the crucial elements that gave her an advantage over the other candidates. Intercultural and religious problems were the order of the day, and she was supporting their solution with her expertise. Consequently, she now acts as the expert and the first point of contact for religious and intercultural topics within the KAV. During her further success in her professional career (i.e., a position at the Directorate General in the administrative service), she was grateful to be able to rely on qualifications acquired during her studies. As in the past, she regularly holds her successful training for medical doctors and nursing staff, mainly on the topics of "Islam," "Intercultural Competence," and "Dying, Death, and Grief." Currently, relevant training courses are also being considered for the Medical University of Vienna.

In conclusion, Elisabeth describes Religious Studies as an initial mere interest and hobby. However, she knew how to turn her interest into a profession, because she recognised the need for qualified intercultural and religion-specific personnel for trainings within the KAV and could thus benefit from her studies on religion.

Perspective 8: The Language and Education Trainer (Don Bosco Refugee Work)

From 2002 to 2008, Cornelia Krisper was in the Individual Diploma Programme in Religious Studies and graduated with a thesis on "Herrgott und Brautseele: Die Geschlechterbeziehung als Metapher für die Gott-Mensch-Konstellation in der mittelalterlichen Frauen- und Männermystik des Christentums" [Lord God and Bridal Soul: The Gender Relationship as a Metaphor for the God-Man Constellation in Medieval Women's and Men's Mysticism of Christianity]. As a trained bookseller, she worked in bookstores while studying and subsequently was employed by a book publisher. After completing her studies, she trained as a teacher for German as a second and foreign language (DAF/DAZ), and as a basic education and literacy trainer for non-German speakers. She understood the latter as a kind of 'second pillar' in addition to her studies. At this point, Cornelia emphasises the importance of interweaving Religious Studies with other fields of knowledge and/or with practical experience. This serves to create a distinctive profile necessary in the present job market. Cornelia is currently leading an educational project at the Don Bosco refugee centre, which provides young refugees with basic education and German language skills. For Cornelia, the study of religion was initially born out of pure interest, without special career aspirations. However, her current professional activity allows her to reclaim study-specific skills, especially when dealing with the religious diversity that she and her staff face. Although Islam was not a focal point of her studies, now that the majority of her clients have Muslim background, she was able to independently specialise in the subject based on her wider Religious Studies competence. In general, Cornelia is frequently consulted by colleagues in an advisory capacity for everyday issues relevant to religion, especially when they are overwhelmed by situations in the classroom or are interested in background information on the religion of their pupils.

Cornelia could also bring in relevant skills as a graduate in a part-time job, which she was offered on the basis of her expertise in Religious Studies. Specifically, she teaches a module on "Religion" at the Berufsförderungsinstitut (BFI; Vocational Training Institute) as part of the course for future DAF/DAZ trainers. In this module, the participants will acquire a rich overview of different religious traditions, especially regarding their situation in Austria. A particular focus is put on the subject of Islam. However, religious rituals, religious pluralism in the classroom, and a general sensitivity to religion are topics that she generally turns to in her teaching. This shows that the high value religion has for many students is taken seriously by the educational institutions and is communicated through appropriate training schemes. 

Perspective 7: The Social Worker (Social Insurance Institution of Farmers)

Between 2006 and 2015, Franziska Altenhofer was in the Individual Diploma Programme in Religious Studies (MA). She wrote her diploma thesis on "Bestattung ohne Glaubensbekenntnis: Eine Analyse der Möglichkeiten von Bestattungen für Personen ohne Bekenntnis im ländlichen Raum Oberösterreichs" [Funeral Without Creed: An Analysis of the Possibilities of Burial for Persons Without Confession in the Rural Area of Upper Austria]. The media sector was an industry she was very interested in at the beginning of her studies. Therefore, she successfully applied for a four-month internship at the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting) in the Department for Religion. After this internship, she had decided against a career in the media, since her interest in religion had been further amplified. She therefore abandoned her initial study of journalism in order to concentrate exclusively on her Individual Diploma Programme in Religious Studies. Franziska reported some critical reactions in her environment due to the supposedly poor job perspectives stemming from such academic studies. However, she always confidently replied that she had to follow her interests already during her studies in order to find a job later on that would correspond to those interests. Another early focal point of her interest was the area of social work, which she also studied at the University of Applied Sciences in Linz. In addition, she worked in a shelter where she could introduce her religion-specific knowledge into the care of children from different cultures.

In general, she had been very active during her studies on religion outside from the seminar rooms as well, having participated in many field trips and weekend seminars, such as in the army or in prison, while also being an active participant in excursions abroad (Jerusalem and Togo / Benin). Each of these experiences offered important elements to her career path. It was specifically those excursions into the field which always aroused great interest in career discussions.

Both at the Department of Religious Studies and at the University of Applied Sciences in Linz, the topics of death, mourning, and the otherworld were recurrent themes in her studies. She also dealt with these topics in her final thesis. Her fieldwork-based religious studies ultimately were directly related to her first job after graduation at the Funeral Agency Linz AG. Despite the termination of employment, the profession of undertaker still represents a kind of dream job for her because of her interest in death and mourning, which resulted from the study of religion.

Finally, Franziska got a job as social worker at the Farmers’ Social Insurance Institution. She was offered the job because, on the one hand, she fulfilled the basic requirements for social worker education and rural background and, on the other hand, because of her studies and her previous knowledge on mourning, death, and related coping strategies. In her current job, Franziska is a rehabilitation consultant and works with clients who are seriously or terminally ill. For this reason, her studies focusing on death, grief, and otherworldly notions was particularly well-received in her application and ultimately constituted the decisive qualification over the other candidates. Religious scientific knowledge is extremely sought after and applicable in her professional field; especially since her clientele comes from a very tradition-conscious milieu, for whom religion still plays a crucial role. Many sick people are comforted when talking to someone who has completed a degree in Religious Studies. Of course, issues of religious criticism would also arise, since many clients would consider themselves to be in an unfortunate situation, often referring to themselves as “godless.” In such sensitive situations, content-related expertise is, of course, essential in addition to practical skills. Franziska sums up that she receives very positive feedback from her clients, their relatives, as well as from her employers about her competence in Religious Studies.

Quo vadis II (June 20, 2017)

Perspective 6: The Cultural Mediator (KulturKontakt Austria)

Sabine Forstner-Widter completed her individual diploma in Religious Studies (Mag. 2008) with a thesis on "Religiöse Elemente in Fantasy-Literatur als Bezugsquelle religionskompositorischer Weltanschauungen [Religious Elements in Fantasy Literature as a Source for Composite Religious Worldviews]." During her studies, she already started to work in the cultural sector and earned a great deal of professional experience, which helped her greatly to find a job following graduation. Her crucial advice for everyone who plans to work in the cultural field is to build a comprehensive professional network. Sabine tells that, in general, it is very difficult to gain a foothold in the cultural scene without having access to relevant networks. A first possible door opener could be an internship, which, however, all too often is on a voluntary basis. Generally, she states that the competences she gained through Religious Studies furnished her with a variety of skills that are conducive when working in the cultural sphere; such as the abilities of critical thinking and independent work, but also intercultural and religious expertise.

Furthermore, Sabine stresses the relevance of appealing applications and recommends to directing one's attention on a well-structured and generally aesthetic form; a criterion she herself applies today in her reviewing of job applications. Given that the field of Religious Studies is sometimes understood in a distorted manner, it is worthwhile—especially regarding the preparation for a job interview—to enlist the various competences one has achieved during one's studies and to name them appropriately. Sabine also advises all students to make use of courses in foreign languages offered by the university. Something she, unfortunately, omitted during her studies, and now regrets.

Perspective 5: The Art Historian (ÖAW)

Stefanie Linsboth completed her diploma studies in Religious Studies (Mag. 2011) with a thesis on "Todespersonifikationen und Geschlechterbilder in der Grafik des 20. Jahrhunderts [Personifications of Death and Gender Images in the Graphic Arts of the Twentieth century]" and she also holds a diploma in Art History (Mag. phil. 2012). During her studies, Stefanie began to work at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW)—first in the administrative and, later on, the scholarly area. Currently she is employed as a Ph.D. Fellow in a research project on the representation of Maria Theresia’s reign and works on her dissertation on the topic "Religiosität und Frömmigkeit in der visuellen Herrscherrepräsentation Maria Theresias [Religiosity and Piety in the Visual Representation of Maria Theresia’ Reign]."

Stefanie explains that it was very important for her to explore the vocational world already during her studies. Regarding her current employment, her background in Religious Studies trained her primarily in respect to methodology and theorising, since the discipline is excellent in training the students on how to appropriately handle religious diversity as well as culturality. In particular, her interdisciplinary experience—enabled by her two different degrees—was a most important element in enhancing her profile, which is highly appreciated in the professional arena, especially as an art historian. During one's studies, she stresses the need for a thematic focus on the one hand, and to work on the learning and practicing of "soft skills" on the other. As a student in a "protected habitat," one should thus learn to set aside any fear of public-speaking and making presentations and contribute as actively as possible in the various class discussions and during course seminars. This is especially relevant to students pursuing an academic career, because such skills are often needed in academe. Finally, Stefanie emphasises the importance of expanding any knowledge of foreign languages at an early stage (primarily English, and beyond, according to individual aims).

Perspective 4: The Newspaper Journalist (News)

Valerie Krb completed the individual diploma in Religious Studies (Mag. 2010) with a thesis on "Motive des Religionswechsels zur Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der Letzten Tage [Motifs of Religious Conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]." Already during her studies, Valerie realised that she has a predilection for treating religious topics through the lens of a journalist, wherefore she completed several internships at Der Standard, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and also at the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF). These experiences confirmed her career aspiration. Presently, following a stop at Wiener Bezirkszeitung, Valerie is an editor for domestic politics at News, where she regularly introduces topics of her field of interest. She explains that during the application processes she frequently stood out because of her relatively uncommon area of expertise, since in journalism pertinent knowledge is of high value. Yet, her journalistic skills were not gained only by practical work; she also visited the Austrian Medienakademie (KfJ) in Salzburg, where she earned her degree following her studies.

Valerie's recommendation for those who are also interested in working as a journalist is to actively generate a network of contacts since many jobs are not being allocated as is common, that is, via public advertisements, but by word-of-mouth recommendations. For the very same reason, she suggests submitting unsolicited applications. As she maintains, in order to properly shape one's own career profile, it is crucial to set a topical focus during one's studies and take additional training into account. Concerning one's résumé, Valerie advises to make sure to list all personal accomplishments, which have been gained throughout one's studies and—where applicable—fieldwork experience. She holds this to be invaluable, for more often than not, Religious Studies is mistaken for Theology and people (among them, of course, also prospective employers) are positively surprised when learning about the actual breadth and identity of our subject.


Quo vadis I (January 16, 2017)

Perspective 3: The Administrator (Microbial Ecology)

Barbara Urbanic completed the individual diploma in Religious Studies (Mag.a 2014) with her thesis "Apocalypse Now-ish: Protestantischer Fundamentalismus in den USA und das Ende der Welt [Apocalypse Now-ish: Protestant Fundamentalism in the USA and the End of the World]" and currently works as administrator at the University of Vienna’s Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science. As a student, she began to work as student representative and at Student Point, which forced her to productively combine working and studying. In hindsight, she sees this as an advantage because it helped her to develop useful organisational skills. Furthermore, she regards internships, working (full- or part-time), etc. as almost indispensable for every student’s career because it allows them to obtain important qualifications for professional areas that complement their studies. It is hard to compensate for this later in life. In Barbara’s experience, employers react very positively to a degree in Religious Studies. It shows them that the candidate is able to be self-organised and work independently; having written a thesis further emphasises this. During job interviews, the degree in Religious Studies often sparked a genuine interest in the discipline itself and herself as a graduate. Barbara would like to recommend to the Religious Studies students to go after the various opportunities at the University of Vienna—for example, the plethora of courses available throughout the University.

Perspective 2: The Radio Journalist (Ö1)

Kerstin Tretina received her degree in Religious Studies (M.A. 2016) with a thesis on "Sehnsucht nach Ganzheitlichkeit: Weshalb sind Formen von holistischer Spiritualität für Frauen besonders attraktiv? [Yearning for Wholeness: Why are Forms of Holistic Spirituality Particularly Interesting to Women]." Kerstin has always seen herself as a journalist (she began to work for the Kurier newspaper at the age of 18), which is why she enrolled in an undergraduate degree in Journalism at the FH Wien. There, the head of the programme drew her attention to the possible avenues in regard to future studies. A university degree seemed very attractive to Kerstin and, after enrolling at the University of Vienna, she quickly discovered her passion for Religious Studies. Internships at a television station and the ORF radio’s information division followed. Kerstin stresses that she always had a job, including while studying. At Ö1 she was introduced to the Religion division, became a freelance employee, and has been a member of the permanent staff since 2015. Among other things, she develops reports and shows focusing on the topic of religion. Her advice to Religious Studies students: Think about and, ideally, practice to present yourself in an effective way. She finds that supplementary qualifications, particularly in the areas of integration and migration, are extremely beneficial for a successful career. Students of Religious Studies are already experts in these fields; they just have to position themselves within these areas in a clear and precise manner. Furthermore, Kerstin emphasizes the need to show initiative, as well as be attentive and receptive. The media industry views Religious Studies very positively, notably regarding the objective way of thinking: students are well-advised to adopt this unbiased approach, to know one’s own position, to avoid drawing hasty conclusions, and instead forge a personal opinion and remain critical.

Perspective 1: The Librarian (Vetmed)

Georg Zippenfenig completed the individual diploma in Religious Studies (Mag. 2012) with a thesis on "Religion am Rand des Feldes? Eine Untersuchung zu funktionalen Elementen von Religion bei Fußballfans [Religion at the Edge of the Field? A Study on Functional Elements of Religion Among Soccer Fans]." He now works at the journal division of the library of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, as well as for several working groups of the Austrian Libraries. His interest in Religious Studies and religions in general emerged when he was very young. His answer to students of Religious Studies who are dealing with their future prospects is to get a clear sense of what this discipline actually is about and what it can be for you: This understanding is what you can build upon, using your own strengths while continuously trying to improve yourselves. Like Barbara Urbanic, he emphasises the broad spectrum of courses available to students at the University of Vienna. Georg stresses the need to have a good command of English for any future career, and advises students to take courses in English or improve their language skills in other ways. Ever since his transition from the University to the professional world, Georg has received only positive reactions to his academic expertise. When it comes to job applications, he recommends to highlight the advantages (utmost objectivity, general knowledge, intercultural competence) and uniqueness of an education in Religious Studies. Ideally, you will also manage to enhance your resume by becoming an expert in an additional field. In his case, this was a degree in Library Studies.