Online Degrees in Catholic Theology: Program Information

Find out about online catholic theology courses and in which degree programs they're most commonly offered. Get course descriptions, program info and online requirements to make an informed decision.

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Essential Information

In the Catholic faith, students generally choose a degree based on their purposes or goals; a man who wishes to become a diocesan priest, for example, will generally pursue a Master of Divinity from a diocesan seminary. Individuals seeking to become university professors will need a doctoral degree. Several schools offer these graduate programs.

Master's degree programs in Catholic theology may be offered online or in a hybrid format that combines online and on-campus learning. Doctoral programs, which have a heavy focus on research, may be almost totally completed online. Distance education courses require an up-to-date computer with a fast Internet connection. Applicants may need a bachelor's degree in religious studies or a related field, as well as acceptable scores on the GRE.

In a master's degree program, students may be able to choose a concentration such as church history or educational leadership. A master's degree program can usually be completed in about three years. Course topics may include the Bible, Middle Eastern archeology, languages and electives based on the student's career goal. An internship and research papers may be required.

In a doctoral degree program, students work with advisors to craft a program of study and research their field of interest for a dissertation. A doctoral degree can take as long as ten years to complete. Courses and research may cover topics such as the teaching of the Bible and the history of Christian doctrine.

Master's Degree in Catholic Theology

The Master of Arts degree in Theology, Master of Theology degree and Master of Divinity degree are advanced degrees for those usually preparing for a life of religious service or preparing to teach at the college or university level. Courses are largely in the fields of religion, and some programs offer concentrations within the degree program, such as Old or New Testament, church history, educational leadership or systematic theology. A bachelor's degree in religious studies or a related field and acceptable scores on the GRE are prerequisites.

There are 72 Catholic seminaries in the United States, according to CatholicSeminarians.com. Future priests will choose to attend a seminary that matches their choice to be either a diocesan and religious order priest.

Program Information and Requirements

A typical master's degree program takes 2-3 years to complete. For students interested in distance-learning, there are programs available both online and in hybrid format. Students need access to a computer with Internet. Instructors blend traditional text with contemporary online teaching tools, such as audio and video presentations. Communication with instructors and fellow classmates is conducted via email. Since some classes may require research papers, word processing capabilities are required.

Common Courses

Courses at the master's level cover a wide variety of specialized topics in religion, such as Old and New Testament, history of the church, history of Christian theology and religion in contemporary society. The curriculum is specifically designed to prepare students for certain career paths in religious service and leadership or religious education. Often, independent research and academic papers are a large part of a master's degree program in theology.

Old Testament

This course explores the history and literature of the Old Testament in depth. Special topics of discussion and interest include creation, covenant, the rise of the prophetic movement and exodus. Students look at the people, kingdoms and empires of the Old Testament, using maps as aids.

The Apocalypse in Writing

Students look at the rise and development of apocalyptic literature according to certain religious communities. Focus is on the geopolitical, literary and socio-historical context of the works with special attention to the book of Revelation. Students practice interpretation of literary material for ancient and contemporary meaning.

Ancient Near Eastern Archeology

This course offers a briefing in basic archeological techniques and offers an archeological perspective on the historical events and cultures of the ancient near east. Some special topics of interest include Babylonia, Sumerian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Grecian and Roman cultures and their influence on the ancient Far East.

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Doctoral Degree in Catholic Theology

Individuals looking to teach at the college or university level will usually find a Doctor of Philosophy a prerequisite. A doctoral program is comprised almost entirely of courses and seminars in topics related specifically to religious studies. In addition, a doctoral program usually consists of heavy self-directed research that culminates in a dissertation. The degree program focuses on pastoral practice and theological development for future full-time pastors. Students integrate the study of classic theologies and how they can be translated to, shared with, and embraced by modern society.

Program Information and Requirements

A doctoral degree program typically takes 5-10 years. Individuals interested in distance-learning may complete the bulk, if not all, of their studies online. Hybrid degree programs combine online instruction with short, on-campus residencies. Students will need access to a computer with high-speed Internet access. Communication with instructors and classmates is conducted via email.

Common Courses

Doctoral studies are predominately self-directed in conjunction with an advisor. Seminars and directed research make up the bulk of a doctoral program in theology. Students cultivate a knowledge and practice of being a modern religious leader and educator.

Christian Doctrine History

Students study the inception, historical development, modern clarification and formal statements of religious thought from the time of the Apostles to the present. Special topics include the trinity, sin, grace, atonement, salvation, Christian life, religious sacraments and millennialism.

Religious and Theological Pedagogy

This course looks at biblical theology from an instructor's point of view. Students study current successful teaching methods in the context of diverse world views and learning styles. The class focuses on communicating ancient theologies to contemporary society.

Biblical Ethics

Students look at unique theoretical issues of Christian ethics, such as abortion and reproductive ethics, social responsibility and racial reconciliation. It also looks at the modern Christian ethical viewpoints of war, politics, marriage, modern technology and government. Modern case studies are used as a basis of study.

Career Information

Master's Degree in Catholic Theology

Graduates with a master's degree in theology often find employment as assistant pastors, youth pastors, or some other role related to religious service, religious leadership or religious education. Some may even venture into media, such as radio or television, writing or public motivational speaking. A 2015 survey by salarylist.com reported the average annual salary of assistant pastors to be $33,138. An October 2016 survey by Payscale.com reported the average annual salary of senior pastors to be $57,095. A 2016 survey by simplyhired.com reported that motivational speakers make an average annual salary of $64,542.

Doctoral Degree in Catholic Theology

Most students with a Ph.D. in Catholic Theology serve as high-ranking members of the clergy or professors at the college or university level. The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reported in May of 2015 that there were only 23,820 religion and philosophy professors. The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reported the average annual salaries of these postsecondary teachers to be $75,140.

Online programs in Catholic theology are available at the master's and doctorate degree levels for students wishing to work as pastors, clergy or even religion and philosophy professors. Students will study general Christian theology and biblical studies, as well as research specific areas of interest for a thesis or dissertation.

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