Posted on Monday, August 24, 2009
When Arun Sarkar first laid eyes on a paperback that spelt Justice as Fairness: a Reinstatement boldly on the cover, three years ago in his school library, little did he realise that the book would garner him a lasting passion for philosophy. As he flipped through the tome on political philosophy authored by John Rawls, Sarkar realised that philosophy was not such an abstract subject after all. “Philosophy is at the root of almost every other subject, and gives me a different perspective even to economics,” says Sarkar, a third-year student of economics at Loyola College, Chennai, who however did not opt to consolidate his passion for philosophy with a degree in the subject, and instead spends much of his spare time reading up on the subject. Sarkar, like many other students, is of the opinion that a degree in philosophy concludes with scarce career options. Nevertheless, there seem to be several students who disagree.
“An increasing number of students are opting for a degree in philosophy over the last few years. Conversely, the career options that follow a degree in philosophy are also multiplying,” declares Madhumitha Chattopadhyay, Head of Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Although, the most palpable career option is to become an academician, working as a researcher is also a viable option, especially with comparative philosophy catching on as a subject. “These days, as philosophy touches upon other subjects like sociology and psychology, students take up examinations like the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) and IFS (Indian Foreign Service) on a parallel, or become reporters and critics in media, as a degree in philosophy increases their analytical abilities,” adds Chattopadhyay.
S Panneerselvam, Professor of Philosophy, at the University of Madras commenting on the availability of government jobs says, “Some government run organisations like the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Administration Department (Government of Tamil Nadu), and some nongovernmental organisations prefer employing people with a background in philosophy. Besides, students of philosophy can readily become secretaries to temples and the like.”
Many students seem to traverse fields and become psychologists, counsellors, and even work in software companies. “Philosophy has a cognitive, ethical and religious aspect, so students of philosophy also have the option of joining the ethical cell of software companies, or augmenting their career options with a degree in another subject. Apart from becoming political journalists or psychologists, students can work as researchers in organisations like the Ramakrishna Math that carry on research in the field of religion. Philosophy gives them strong logical abilities as well, as the subject delves in symbolic representations and logic,” says Professor A Raghuramaraju, Head of Department of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, “But the monetary aspect may not be very appealing.
Academicians can expect a pay package of around Rs 30,000 per month.” Despite this, many students still seem to favour the subject. “Philosophy gives us strong understanding capabilities. Some of my classmates are studying law now, and one is doing an MBA, and I would say that a background in philosophy is what pushed us to excel in these fields,” says Shalini Rai, who holds a bachelors’ degree in philosophy from St Stephen’s College, Delhi.
Course content and eligibility
While the content of philosophy courses varies with the college or university and level of study (undergraduate/ postgraduate), any course in philosophy would usually include topics like Indian philosophy and the Vedas, Western Philosophy, the Pre-Socratic era, Greek Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy and Religious movements. “Courses in philosophy are historical accounts of various human thought processes over the centuries, but they allow the student to analyse and question these processes in detail. Besides, subjects like psychology, logical reasoning and sociology will be broached upon,” says Chattopadhyay.
After completing Class 12 or its equivalent, students can apply for an undergraduate degree in philosophy, (subject to eligibility and entrance processes of individual colleges and universities). Students wishing to pursue a postgraduate degree in philosophy are usually allowed to choose a topic of specialisation. Students from the humanities stream are preferred but students from the science and commerce fields are also eligible to apply.
While, in many universities, religious studies departments (like Vaishnavism, Christian Studies or Islamic Studies) function as subsets of larger departments like Philosophy, several universities have devoted separate departments for religious studies. Almost all of them offer religious studies only at a postgraduate level, and most courses in any religion incorporate lessons in comparative religion. “With so much religious conflict around us, there is a need for students to educate themselves in both philosophy and religion, and gain clearer insight into both fields,” opines Dr N Muthumohan, Professor, Department of Guru Nanak Studies, and Chairperson, School of Religions, Philosophy and Human Thought, at Madurai Kamaraj University – (which offers courses in Saiva Siddhanantha, Inter-religious Relations, Christian Studies and Islamic Studies).
Christian studies: “Apart from seminaries and several Christian institutions that offer to teach Christian studies, there are not many universities that offer Christian Studies at the postgraduate and doctorate level. Even fewer colleges like the Sarah Tucker College, Tirunelveli, offer Christian studies at the undergraduate level,” avers Dr G Patrick, Lecturer, Department of Christian Studies, University of Madras. Most courses on Christian studies generally include studies of the history of Christianity, Christian scriptures, values and ethics, and usually allow students an insight into comparative religion by including lessons about other religions and religious customs. Student’s who take up Christian studies can train to become a Pastor, take up administrative positions in Churches, carry on research, or work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). “NGOs like World Vision prefer applicants with a background in Christian Studies as it is related to their field of work,” explains Dr Patrick.
Islamic studies: Islamic studies usually comprises of the study of the Koran, the status of Islam in today’s world, and ethics. While some universities offer this as a postgraduate specialisation, many offer Islamic studies at the undergraduate and diploma levels also. “Apart from becoming lecturers, students can also work with organisations like the Centre for Peace and Spirituality (CPS). Besides if a student is fluent in English and Arabic, there exist many opportunities in universities abroad, especially in the Arab countries,” says Farida Anam, Reader and Assistant Professor, Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi. “Some of us also make documentaries and the like,” avers Sadia Khan, a third-year student of MA Islamic Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, who is currently making a documentary on spirituality.
Presidency College, Kolkata
Jadavpur University, Kolkata
Lady Shriram College for Women, Delhi
Madras Christian College, Chennai
University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad
Loyola College, Chennai
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