Online Degree Programs in Religious Studies

Although it may seem like a niche field, religious studies is actually a versatile degree program that opens the door to job opportunities across multiple industries. Some students use a bachelor's degree in the field as a springboard to graduate studies in social work, law or business, while others choose to continue to a master's degree or Ph.D. in religious studies.

Both undergraduate and graduate religious studies programs are available online, though the curriculum might vary depending on the institution. Some schools offer degrees that are intended for those of a particular faith. Others provide a broad look at religion across multiple faith traditions. Finally, some institutions may intend coursework to prepare students for specific religious studies graduate programs, such as those offered in a seminary.

With such a wide variety of religious studies degrees available, students should carefully review their options and select a school that's philosophy is most in line with their career objectives.

What degrees are available in religious studies?

Degrees in religious studies are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Schools may also offer certificates, though those who plan a career in academia or a professional field will mostly likely need a degree, rather than just a certificate, to further their studies.

A bachelor's degree in religious studies offers a liberal arts education that may lead to any number of careers. Some individuals may combine a religious studies major with a complementary minor such as philosophy, English, history or a foreign language. Individuals with an undergraduate degree in the field may immediately enter the workforce or go on to graduate studies.

Religious studies graduate programs tend to be more focused and specialized. Students should carefully consider their career goals when selecting a master's in religious studies program. Some are designed to prepare students for a Ph.D. in religious studies while others are intended to meet the needs of those planning a career in ministry.

Students looking for the best religious studies program can choose from the following degrees among others.

  • Master's degree in theology
  • Master's degree in religion and society
  • Master's degree in pastoral studies
  • PhD in religious studies
  • Doctor of Ministry

Other master's religious studies programs may focus on a particular religious tradition such as Christian spirituality, Islamic studies or Jewish heritage.

Religious studies program rankings may be useful in selecting a degree program. According to First Things, a journal published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, the Duke Divinity School and Notre Dame University have two of the best religious studies programs in the nation. Meanwhile, U.S. News and World Report says Amherst College, Wellesley College and the University of California-Berkley are all high-ranking institutions offering religious studies degrees.

For adults who have work and family obligations, online graduate degrees in religious studies are available as well. Loyola University, Fordham University and Cornerstone University are a few of the schools offering an online master's degree in religious studies or a similar field.

Are there financial aid options available to pay for a religious studies program?

Students enrolled in religious studies programs typically have access to the same financial aid resources as students enrolled in other courses of study.

Money may be available from the following sources:

  • Federal grants, such as Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
  • Federal loans including parent, subsidized and unsubsidized options
  • State grant or scholarship programs

In addition, private scholarships are available from a number of organizations. For example, Theta Alpha Kappa, the National Honor Society for Religious Studies and Theology, offers several awards for both undergraduate and graduate students. The American Academy of Religion also offers its own grant and award programs.

What's the job outlook for careers in religious studies?

Jobs for religious studies graduates should remain steady or grow in the coming years. From 2012-2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the following job growth nationally in careers related to religious studies.

  • Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary: 19.6 percent
  • Clergy: 9.8 percent
  • Religious workers 8.9 percent
  • Directors of religious education and activities: 8.4 percent

Students with a Ph.D. in religious studies may have the greatest job opportunities with employment for postsecondary teachers expected to climb significantly during the next decade.

A 2014 report on employment trends published by the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion found the majority of posted postsecondary teaching jobs were located in the Midwest, Great Lakes and Southeast regions of the United States.

Sources:

Employment Projections 2012-22, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
http://data.bls.gov/projections/occupationProj

"A 2012 Ranking of Graduate Programs in Theology," R.R. Reno, First Things, Nov. 2012,
http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2012/11/ranking-theology-programs

"Why Study Religion," American Academy of Religion,
http://www.studyreligion.org/where/skills.html

"Job Advertisement Data 2011-2012," Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion,
https://www.aarweb.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Career_Services/AARSBLJobsReport2011-2012.pdf

Best Liberal Arts Colleges 2014, U.S. News and World Report,
http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-liberal-arts-colleges