A variety of programs fall under the heading of religious studies. For example, divinity schools and university philosophy departments offer comparative studies of different belief systems. Individual religious institutions, on the other hand, provide specialized doctrinal training to further educate faithful members and to prepare some for leadership roles within their denomination. Other majors with religious studies courses may include religion and culture, spiritual studies and religious education.
Laypeople as well as ordained church leaders may enroll in fully online or hybrid certificate programs in religious studies, which are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Successful program completion, however, does not typically entitle graduates to licensure or any clerical status. Some graduate programs may require students to hold a bachelor's degree.
Undergraduate Certificate in Religious Studies
Undergraduate certificate programs in religious studies are readily offered online, but they're often found with different names. Titles may include terms such as religious education; religion and culture; and spiritual studies.
Programs come in both fully online and hybrid formats. Students usually finish all coursework within one or two years.
Requirements and Information
Distance learning students will need access to a computer and the Internet. Lectures are delivered on DVD or over the Web. Students use e-mail or online courseware to complete assignments and communicate with their instructors.
Students may find online undergraduate certificate programs specializing in Christian ministry, Biblical theology, Old Testament studies and New Testament studies. Many courses consist of directed independent study and rely upon a written summary of material learned, rather than a final exam, for a grade. Some common courses are listed below.
Bible study classes vary considerably. Courses may concentrate on one or more books in the Bible; the Old or New Testaments in general; Biblical themes and images; or modern Biblical commentary.
This course introduces students to the major world religions, their histories, fundamental doctrines and practices. Historical and primitive religions are also discussed.
Ministry and Pastoral Care
Students learn how to offer counsel and spiritual guidance in this class. Role-playing exercises in simulated pastoral care situations give them a chance to test their knowledge and skills.
This course demonstrates that ethics are not universal; the foundations for ethics vary for every religion or culture. Students examine the similarities and differences of major ethical systems.
Sociology of Religion
Sociological aspects of religion include the effect of family on religious preferences, the growth of cults, the treatment of women and the interplay with politics. The correlations between religions and social classes or ethnic identities are also discussed.
Graduate Certificate in Religious Studies
Post-baccalaureate students may participate in graduate certificate programs. Most graduate level programs are offered entirely online. They are self-paced, but students are expected to finish all coursework within one or two years.
Information and Requirements
Online technological requirements are the same as those listed for an undergraduate program. Most schools support both Windows and Mac platforms and use commercially available distance learning software packages.
Graduate level programs are designed for post-baccalaureate students from both religious as well as non-religious fields of study. Community leaders and school teachers are among a number of degreed professionals who may find these types of programs helpful as the religious demographic in America grows increasingly diverse. Coursework may include the following classes.
Coursework starts with the alphabet and grammar of Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew languages, then compares passages from several translations of the Bible. Students are encouraged to use external resources, such as those found on the Internet, to familiarize themselves with Biblical languages.
Muhammad and Islam
The life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad are summarized in this course. Islamic beliefs and practices are also presented and contrasted with those of other religions.
This course provides a review of Jewish history, the sacred texts, the geographical displacement of the Jewish people over time and Jewish culture. Students should have some experience with the Hebrew language before taking this course.
Philosophies of China
Confucianism, Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and the I Ching are reviewed in this class. Students learn how each influenced Chinese society over the years.
Applicants with a background in religious studies may find job opportunities in faith-based organizations; community charities; museums; historical societies; social service agencies; and the media.
Depending upon the school, some online courses may be transferable to bachelor's or master's degree programs in religious studies, philosophy or the social sciences.
Undergraduate and graduate certificates in religious studies are available online for students wishing to study world religions, ministry, biblical languages and more. Most graduates find work in faith-based organizations.