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Religion Degrees and College Majors

Get information about the study of religion at the associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Read on to find out about the curriculum at each level, along with continuing education possibilities and career options for graduates of these programs.

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Essential Information

Ranging from the associate's to the doctoral level, religion programs prepare students for careers in religious leadership, teaching, counseling and research. Some programs are affiliated with a particular religion and are designed to train clergy within that faith. Other programs are designed to give an overview of religion as it relates to philosophy, politics, world history, humanities and the arts.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs offer foundational studies in religion, with courses in doctrine, world religions and religion history. Some undergraduate programs prepare students for religious scholarship, while others are aimed more towards preparing students for church leadership roles and graduate study. Many master's degree programs emphasize both religious research and faith-based leadership, and some require courses in a foreign language. Doctoral programs are designed for aspiring church scholars.

Associate's Degree in Religion

Associate degrees in religion are often offered by religious-based, primarily Christian, institutions. Courses may be offered in traditional classroom settings or online. Curricula are typically religious-based and are designed to enhance spiritual growth, as well as professional development. Most associate degree programs require high school diplomas or GEDs for admittance.

Program Coursework

Associate degree programs in religion are often designed to give students comprehensive religious knowledge through in-depth study of texts and principles, as well as skills that can be used in a professional setting, such as communication or computer literacy. Coursework might include:

  • Religious doctrine
  • Public speaking
  • World civilization
  • Social science
  • Interpretation of religious texts

Popular Career Options

Associate degree programs in religion can train people for a variety of leadership and administrative positions within religious organizations. Career options might include:

  • Sunday school teacher
  • Religious program coordinator
  • Church administrator
  • Ministry outreach

Continuing Education Information

Ordination requirements vary by faith, but often include a bachelor's or master's degree, in addition to the completion of seminary training specific to that faith. Additional postsecondary education and certification will also be required for people pursuing careers in education or counseling.

Bachelor's Degree in Religious Studies

Bachelor's degree programs in religious studies typically present students with a broad overview of a variety of religions and belief systems. Degree programs examine the relationship between religion and society, in addition to providing detailed information about many of the world's most influential religions. Students explore the origin of religion and its historical role in civilization, as well as its present-day impact in areas ranging from art to politics. Programs in religious studies are often combined with majors and minors in philosophy and humanities. Admission requirements to bachelor's degree programs in religious studies usually include high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores.

Program Coursework

Religious studies bachelor's degree coursework encompasses religion, humanities, art, social science, politics, history and science. Specific course topics may include:

  • Ancient history of Israel
  • Theology of Islam
  • Politics and religious theory
  • The role of women in religious history
  • Modern religious philosophy
  • Catholicism in the modern world
  • Religious philosophy of East Asia

Popular Career Options

Religious studies bachelor's degree programs can provide a solid liberal arts background, which may be used in a variety of religious and secular careers. Career possibilities can range from journalism to nonprofit management. Job titles might include:

  • Religious writer
  • Curator of religious collections
  • Educator
  • Nonprofit administrator
  • Religious program director

Continuing Education Information

In many states, students who wish to pursue religious teaching careers must obtain a teaching certificate. Some schools also offer combined bachelor's and master's programs, which may be completed in five years.

Bachelor's Degree in Religion

Bachelor's degree programs in religion are often offered by religious colleges and universities and typically focus on the faith associated with that particular school. In addition to in-depth training in texts, principles, history, origins and doctrine of a particular faith, bachelor's degree programs in religion provide an overview of other religions. They also offer instruction in liberal arts, communications, social sciences and history. Many students in these programs pursue clergy careers.

Education Prerequisites

In addition to meeting admission requirements of the institution, some bachelor's degree programs in religion require a personal statement of goals. Additionally, many programs require that students adhere to the principles of a particular faith while enrolled at a religious-based institution.

Program Coursework

Bachelor's degree programs in religion often emphasize the history, text and doctrine of a particular religion. Many programs are accredited by organizations such as the Association of Theological Schools. Coursework may include:

  • History of Christianity
  • Introduction to the Old Testament
  • Religions of the world
  • The teachings of Muhammad
  • Education and religion
  • Modern theological thought
  • Principles of religious leadership

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( predicted 18% job growth, which is slightly faster than average, for clergy professionals from 2010-2020 period. In May 2012, the BLS reported median hourly wages for clergy of $21.18, or $44,060 per year. As of that date, religious organizations were the largest employers of clergy. Other major employers included hospitals, home care services and nursing care facilities.

Continuing Education Information

The BLS considers the master's degree the most significant source of postsecondary education in this field. Graduate degrees in religion can lead to careers in counseling, education or ministry.

Master of Arts in Theology

Master's degree programs in theology provide professional training for students seeking religious leadership careers. Programs are often affiliated with a particular religion and are intended to give students in-depth knowledge about the theories and practices of that religion, as well as an overview of various belief systems and cultures. Programs emphasize leadership and organizational skills, theological reflection and the application of religious principles within and outside of the ministry.

Education Prerequisites

Admission to master's degree programs in theology generally requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, with undergraduate coursework in religious studies. In addition to college transcripts, many programs require that students submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test scores, as well as a personal statement of goals and letters of recommendation.

Program Coursework

Master's degree coursework in theology examines the teachings, text and history of a specific religion, as well as the ethics, practices and beliefs of many faiths. Coursework prepares students to work with many cultures, and programs often have a foreign language requirement. Additional topics might include:

  • Ethics and theology
  • Faith and society
  • Theology and feminism
  • Spirituality and religious mysticism
  • Ministry and leadership
  • Comparative religion

Career Options

Graduates of master's degree programs often become ordained clergy within their faith; however, many choose to work in social service careers or education. Job titles might include:

  • Minister
  • Teacher
  • Counselor
  • Religious school administrator
  • Missionary

Continuing Education Information

A doctoral degree in religious studies or theology may be required for students pursuing tenure-track educational positions or careers in research. Many master's degree programs in theology are designed as a stepping-stone to doctoral degree programs.

Ph.D. in Theology

Doctoral degree programs in theology, religious studies or divinity may be affiliated with a particular religious organization or faith; however, curriculum often focuses on a particular aspect of religious study, such as scripture, religious thought or the examination of religious issues. Concentrated study allows students to develop expertise in a particular area that may enhance careers in education or research. Doctoral degree programs may require a residency and completion of a dissertation.

Education Prerequisites

Completion of a master's degree program in theology or a related field is generally required for admission to a doctoral degree program. In addition to submission of GRE scores, college transcripts and letters of recommendation, doctoral programs typically require an academic writing sample.

Program Coursework

Doctoral programs offer in-depth analysis of such areas as texts, history, philosophy and theory. Fields of study may include:

  • Semitic languages and ancient texts
  • Theology of the Old Testament
  • History of the Islamic faith
  • Study of Hinduism and the Vedas
  • Religion and literature
  • Science and religion

Career Options

Common career options for Ph.D. graduates in theology include the following:

  • Researcher
  • Professor
  • Religious ethicist
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