Online religious studies programs

The questions of where we come from and where we're going have intrigued humans since the beginning of time. Online degrees in religious studies are one way people can explore these and other profound questions of our existence.

Some religious studies degrees are academic in nature and seek to understand how religion has shaped the history of the world and how it continues to affect modern society. Others choose to earn a degree in religion for spiritual reasons. They may wish to go into ministry or work for a religious organization but need a certain level of expertise first.

Regardless of which path interests you, there are plenty of schools offering traditional and online degrees in religious studies. The chart below highlights some common specialties in the field as well as how many schools offer degrees at each level:



Associate Degree

Bachelor's Degree

Advanced Degree

Christian Studies





Jewish Studies





Islamic Studies





Religious Studies





Biblical Studies





Pastoral Studies















Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Entry level religious studies programs

Every professional needs to start on the ground floor, and that's no different for those working within the field of religion. Here's a closer look at some of the most common education levels for those in entry-level jobs.

  • Certificate or diploma: These short term programs can often be completed in less than a year, and they may be offered on the general topic of religious studies or focus on a specific subset of the field, such as Biblical studies. Undergraduate certificates or diplomas can be useful for those who want to work in ministry or obtain entry level positions in religious education.
  • Associate degree: An associate degree is a step up from certificates and diplomas in that it offers the opportunity for students to explore the subject of religious studies in greater depth. Typically completed in two years, an associate degree in religious studies could be used for an entry level job or as the foundation for a four-year degree.
  • Bachelor's degree: These four-year degrees can also be a good starting place for work in ministry or with non-profit organizations. However, a bachelor's degree in religious studies can also be a springboard to careers in other fields such as law, journalism or government. Like other degrees in the humanities, religious studies programs offer a well-rounded education focusing heavily on communication and critical thinking, skills valued across a variety of industries.
  • Master's degree: People who already have a bachelor's degree in another field and want to switch careers to religious education or similar occupations may find a master's degree is their best option. Although it is an advanced degree, it may lead to entry-level positions for those who don't have prior education or experience in the field.

Entry level religious studies programs may be available both on-campus and online. While there are benefits to each option, online degrees in religious studies are increasingly selected by students who want to continue working while they study. In addition, those with families also appreciate the opportunity to study online and at times convenient to them, rather than traveling to campus several times per week.

Advanced-degree religious studies programs

For those who already have a degree in religious studies or experience in the field, a graduate degree can be a way to advance one's career. Graduate studies let a student specialize their expertise or gain the credentials needed for certain positions.

  • Master's degrees: Earning a master's degree in divinity or theology may be required in certain faiths for someone to become a member of the clergy. In addition, a graduate degree may be the preferred education for professionals who want to work as a director of religious education or in a similar position.
  • Doctoral degrees: A doctoral degree is typically required of anyone who wants to work in academia as a professor. These programs can be intense and may require students to learn one or two languages in addition to English so they can read and analyze older texts. Some Ph.D. programs combine a master's degree with doctoral studies so students can conveniently earn both.
  • Graduate certificate: Graduate certificates are the final advanced education option for religious studies students. These may allow professionals already working in the field to specialize their knowledge through a short-term educational program. Some certificates may also be appropriate for those who want to study religion for personal, rather than professional, reasons.

As with entry-level degree programs, advanced degree programs are available online. At this level, online degrees in religious studies may require students to log-in at certain times to participate in real-time class discussion or activities. However, every program is different so you should carefully review the class requirements and any on-campus requirements before enrolling.

Even if an online program does have some of these requirements, students may still find the format more convenient than traveling to campus for class. In addition, since only some schools may offer specific specializations in the field, online degrees give students from across the country access to programs that would otherwise be out of reach.

Types of religious studies careers

Not surprisingly, those interested in studying religion may be wondering what they would do with their degree after graduation. The chart below shows some of the common careers pursued by religious studies graduates.


Employment (2014)

Average Salary (2014)

Expected Job Growth (2012-2022)





Directors, Religious Activities and Education




Religious Workers




Philosophy and Religion Teachers, Postsecondary




Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

However, these certainly aren't the only options. Religious studies provide students with a broad range of skills that can be used in other fields as well. They may go on to law school or business school, or graduates may find their studies make them excellent communicators and suitable for work as marketers, educators or writers. Others may work in the non-profit sector or become missionaries.

Common misconceptions about religious studies degrees

Don't assume you know everything about religious studies programs. The following are some common misconceptions about this field of study.

Misconception: You have to be religious to study religion.

  • Fact: Some people study religion because they personally have deep spiritual beliefs. However, unless you are studying for a pastoral or clergy position, there is no requirement to hold a certain faith to enroll in a program. Many students select religious studies because it helps broaden their understanding of the human experience, something valuable to people of all faiths.

Misconception: Religious studies has a narrow focus.

  • Fact: Not necessarily. While some programs are designed to reinforce specific belief systems, others take an objective look at faith traditions from across the globe. Those who study religion in this way must also study history, geography and politics among other subjects. This ensures students graduate with broad knowledge and transferrable skills.

Misconception: Advanced degrees in religious studies are all the same.

  • Fact: Students can choose from a number of different master and doctoral degrees and each may have a different focus or objective. Some are specifically for those intending to become clergy or go into ministry while others are geared toward research and academia. Before enrolling in a graduate degree program, students should understand the curriculum. Here are the advanced degree programs available:
    • Master of Arts in religious studies
    • Master of Theological Studies
    • Master of Divinity
    • Ph.D. in religious studies
    • Doctorate of Theology
    • Doctor of Ministry

How can I enroll in an online religious studies degree program?

It isn't difficult to enroll in online degrees in religious studies. You can by start by looking through the institutions on this page to find one offering a degree program fitting your career goals.

Then, take a moment to fill out the simple form to request additional information. A school representative will be in touch with you shortly to discuss your career goals and explain the application process.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition,
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014
3. Long-term Projections, Projections Central
4. Why Study Religion? Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania
5. Why Study Religion? American Academy of Religion
6. What Can You Do With a Major in Religious Studies? University of North Florida
7. Pursuing Graduate Work in Religion and Religious Studies: Eleven Frequently Asked Questions, California State University-Chico
8. Stages of Education, American Academy of Religion

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