Online PhD in Religion: Program Information

Learn about online PhD programs with religion courses. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

Essential Information

Those seeking a doctoral degree in religion may be able to complete some courses online, but fully-online Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in this field of study are quite rare. Ph.D. programs in theology & apologetics can be found entirely online. Some programs require on-campus attendance.

Partially online religion programs may be designed for practitioners of a particular faith, and concentrations in pastoral leadership or theology may be available. A Ph.D. is required for some careers, such as those in postsecondary teaching, but may not be necessary for clerical positions.

Ph.D. in Religion

Very few accredited religion doctoral programs are completely online, and national or regional accreditation may be uncommon. Online religion degrees tend to be specific to a certain religious creed or belief structure, most commonly a Christian denomination, and membership in that specific religion may be required. Online religion doctoral programs do not generally include critical thinking topics like comparative religion that campus-based Ph.D. programs often do.

Program Information and Requirements

Generally, a Ph.D. program lasts a minimum of three years. Several programs allow some online work but also require in-person class attendance. Ph.D. programs generally require that a student have a master's degree prior to acceptance.

Common Courses

Course work for a doctoral degree is specific to the concentration for the degree. A degree aimed toward a career in the ministry includes courses related to specific ministerial and preaching techniques or the history of ministry. Students can specialize in forms of worship or evangelism or pastoral leadership. There are also programs for the study of theology itself.


Hermeneutics is the interpretation of religious works like the Bible. Students may learn the interpretation according to the specific religion with which the school is affiliated, or the course may approach the interpretation of religious works more generally.


Apologetics studies defense of the Christian faith against people who do not believe in it. Many Ph.D. programs, depending on the religious aspect of the school, offer this as a class in a ministry-focused doctoral program.

Theology of Worship

This course is a study in the ways and methods of worshiping in a church or other setting. The class is designed to explain the religious or Biblical background for worship practices.

Pastoral Counseling

For people interested in a counseling career, this class or series of classes provides the methods of helping people in times of stress. Pastoral counseling is generally provided on a religious framework.

Expository or Evangelistic Preaching

Prospective ministers must learn how to preach. This class includes public speaking as well as how to prepare and deliver a sermon to inspire and encourage people to belong to a religious institution.

Career Information

Doctoral degrees in religion or ministry can prepare graduates for careers in ministry, religious education, pastoral counseling or chaplaincy. A Ph.D. in religion could be used to become a college professor in religious studies or a minister in a specific church, or a pastoral counselor. A Ph.D. is not considered essential for ministry work but may help in acquiring a job as a faculty member or a counselor.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( the median annual wage for a member of the clergy was $44,250 as of May 2015. The BLS projected job growth of 6%, about as fast as the average for all occupations, from 2014-2024. A Ph.D. would be helpful in getting a job as a college professor, although it may not be required. Postsecondary philosophy and religion teachers could expect job growth of 12% from 2014-2024, the BLS projected, and they had median annual earnings of $66,380.

Continuing Education Information

Continuing education, ordination and approval requirements for careers with religious bodies, particularly vocations within the clergy, are generally under the auspices of the denomination's governing body rather than the civil government, and vary according to the organization. Counselors practicing independently are required to hold state-mandated counseling certifications, but licensing may not be required for a pastoral counselor working for a church or hospital.

While fully online Ph.D. programs in religion aren't common, individuals can enroll in partially online programs or those in related majors in preparation for roles as clergy, faith counselors or professors. Common course topics include worship methods, speaking techniques and biblical analyzation.

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