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Online Schools with Religion Degrees: How to Choose

Many faith-based academic institutions offer online degree programs rooted in their systems of belief, and most online religion programs in the U.S. are oriented toward Christianity. Read on to explore your online school and program options for studying religion.

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A wide variety of online undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the field of religion studies are available, and students should consider what kind of degree they wish to pursue, the format of the program and their career goals when making a decision. Here we explore these considerations and a few of the available programs and schools.

How to Select an Online Seminary School

Many religion studies programs offer surveys of major world faiths, providing historical and cultural contexts as well as insight into how religions and societies affect one another in areas such as culture, politics, art and law. In the U.S., online religion programs often focus on Christianity. Often offered by 4-year schools, these programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students should weight the award level and program format with their career goals.

Award Level

Prior to choosing a school, individuals seeking a degree in religion studies should determine their educational goals. Online religious studies programs result in bachelor's and master's degrees. There are also certificate programs and other for-credit programs for part-time students, as well as options for those who are interested in learning but not in achieving a degree.

Program Format

Online religion programs vary in terms of scheduling and participation requirements; prior to applying, prospective students should consider what type of content delivery, pacing and engagement they're expecting. Classes may be offered on a quarter or semester system depending on the school. Within that framework, courses might be synchronous or asynchronous. With the former, students usually follow a standard semester schedule and are held to fixed assignment due dates. With the latter, participants have more flexibility as to when they complete and submit work.

Students communicate with teachers and classmates mainly via discussion groups and e-mail. With a synchronous program, they may watch live streaming video or meet their professor and classmates online at certain times throughout the week. With a synchronous schedule, discussion often primarily takes place through message boards.

Career Goals

Before selecting a school, those seeking a religion degree should identify their career goals and talk to a program representative about what kinds of jobs they'll qualify for upon graduation. Advisers may be able to list the types of jobs and salaries that the program's alumni have gone on to pursue. They may also be able to list certification and continuing education options stemming from the completion of a certain degree program.

In most cases, graduates of studies in religion may work as church leaders, such as ministers and pastors. Sunday school teacher, missionary and chaplain are other potential career titles. Educational requirements for positions vary by faith, church or agency. Those with religious studies training may also be looked upon favorably by employers seeking individuals with strong leadership, social service and communication skills.

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List of Online Religious Studies Programs and Courses

Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry

Bachelor of Arts programs are usually presented in the context of a particular Christian faith, and they prepare students to pursue ordination as a minister of that faith. Those who don't to enter the ministry may earn the degree as a vehicle for spiritual growth. All graduates are expected to use their learning to live in service to Christ and their faith.

Students may choose electives of special interest, such as how to teach Bible study and philosophical reasoning. In addition to the core curriculum, general education topics reflect a focus on the ministry that includes composition, ethics and public speaking. Core education includes:

  • Pentateuch and former prophets
  • Paul and the early Church
  • Christian theology
  • Pastoral ministry

Master of Divinity in Spiritual Leadership

Online pastoral programs are designed for those who want to be ordained; students are usually already serving in the ministry in some way, such as in a congregation or on a missionary assignment. They must also hold a bachelor's degree that includes some religion education. The Master of Divinity course deepens their knowledge of theology and of their particular faith through lectures, readings, seminars and supervised practice of pastoral activities.

Students also learn about Christian rituals such as weddings and baptisms. Printed and electronic textbooks may be required purchases in addition to tuition. This level of training is typically necessary to meet the educational requirements to pursue ordination within a church. Along with Christian history and theology, topics include:

  • Theories and practices of spiritual care
  • Religious education
  • New Testament in context
  • Christian ethics

Master of Arts in Christian Education

Training leaders to provide religious education to today's youth is the purpose of this master's degree program. In addition to classes in the phases of psychological, spiritual and moral development in childhood and young adulthood, coursework also address a person's role in family systems and community. Emphasis then shifts to developing effective youth ministry programs, at which point students may choose to focus on teaching in religious schools or working within a church setting.

Students participate in seminars, discussions and, under the guidance of a mentor, they may practice preaching and counseling. Prospective participants must have a bachelor's degree with some emphasis on religious studies; previous ministry experience, including volunteer work, is encouraged. Course topics include:

  • Soteriology
  • Sanctification and ecclesiology
  • Eschatology
  • Trinitarianism

Schools With Online Programs in Religion Studies

Regent University has an online Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry program that can be taken fully online or on-campus. Core classes discuss topics in discipleship, ministry, theology, church history, Christian ethics and more. Students do have the opportunity to participate in an internship to gain real-world experience.

Crown College provides an online Bachelor of Science in Christian Ministry, Master of Arts in Christian Studies, Master of Arts in Ministry Leadership and Master of Divinity program. Any of the three master's programs is able to be combined with the bachelor's program for an accelerated learning track. This allows students to earn both degrees in as little as three or four years for transfer students with 60 credits, or five years for Crown students. Coursework depends on the degree, but in general provides students with a strong theological and biblical foundation.

The Denver Seminary offers a fully online Master of Divinity program that requires 78 credits. The official program begins in the fall of 2017, but most of the courses have been available online since fall 2016. Students will need a computer with a webcam and microphone for classes, and must have a bachelor's degree and 2.5 GPA to apply to the program.

There are many online school options for students wishing to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in various areas of religion studies. Award level, program format and career goals should be some of the considerations for deciding what program is best for you.

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