Want to Save the World? Enter the Priesthood
Effective altruism is now spending a great deal of time on improving prospects for the future. This is chiefly by avoiding extinction risks, but there are other strategies as well, e.g. moral circle expansion. In any case changing institutions looks like a promising way to improve the world. What are the longest-lasting institutions in the world? Certainly high among them is religion. For this reason, it seems to me that expanding religions' moral circles (especially old religions with a tendency to grow) is a highly-neglected strategy for improving the world.
I've seen posts in effective altruism (e.g. this one) about outreach to religious groups, but I always saw them as a sort of diversity and inclusivity message: to grow a movement, you need to welcome all sorts of people. It's important to welcome and include people, of course, but this seems to be dramatically underselling the prominence of religion in virtually every society. The Catholic Church is around 2,000 years old, and while it and its religion have changed, many of its core themes continue to influence and frame society. Progress might be slow for a movement that smacks of secularism, but as much as religion is lasting, it does evolve. If you are interested in social change not for its rapidity but for its duration, then religion seems critical.
There are already several organizations doing exciting work in this vein, notably Effective Altruism for Christians, which has a conference every year and an impressive website; Buddhists in Effective Altruism; SARX Christians for animals; Animals in Islam; and Jewish Veg.
One obvious reason many people might not think this is important is the view that as people become richer and more educated they become less religious. I think this is mostly true, but at the same time, religious fertility is higher, and religion continues to spread in Muslim-majority countries and maintain its hold in India. This predicts a growth in the percentage of religious people in the coming decades. The future, in short, is far from clear.
So what should we do? Is there room for an 80,000 Hours career profile on religious involvement? The easy idea one might have based on this argument is to do outreach to religious communities. I suspect that outreach from outsiders will be limited in its impact. A better route is for do-gooders involved in the world's influential religions to work to cultivate that spirit within these communities.