Religious Studies Degree and Certificate Programs

Oct 13, 2019

Individuals interested in exploring the role and impact of religion in society may explore various degree options, such as an undergraduate certificate, bachelor's degree, or master's degree program.

Essential Information

Religious studies programs allow students to examine religious history, theory and the cultural impact of religion from a secular viewpoint.

Certificate programs provide entry-level training as well as a path for future study. Certificates can be taken as a standalone program; they can also be taken alongside or after an undergraduate or graduate degree program. A Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies provides an overview of religious traditions and the role of religion in past cultures and current events. A master's degree qualifies graduates for senior-level careers including community organizers and chaplains.

Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies

These programs generally focus on the impact of religion on modern society and do not promote or endorse any particular religious beliefs or traditions. Lessons cover past and current religious traditions and practices throughout the world. Classes explore the history of religion by examining its primary texts and artifacts as well as analyzing the ideas and actions that have shaped religious development. These programs emphasize religious traditions and literature and their impact on contemporary society.

Possible subjects in the religious studies curriculum are:

  • Religious definitions
  • Talmudic literature
  • Eastern religions
  • History of Catholicism
  • Islamic traditions

Master's Degree in Religious Studies

Master's degree candidates focus on advanced religious theories and practices from ancient history through modern times. They have the opportunity to specialize in topics such as applied theology, divinity and ministry. Programs may result in a Master of Arts or Master of Philosophy, and they feature classes that combine theoretical and practical knowledge of the various religions practiced around the world and the role that religion plays in society. Many programs require students to develop proficiency in two scholarly languages, normally French and German, as well as mastery of traditional texts in their chosen field of specialization.

Prospective applicants for a master's program in religious studies must have completed prior coursework including history and foreign languages, in addition to professional work experience in a religious discipline.

Areas of study may include:

  • Ancient Christianity
  • Old and New Testament
  • Religious ethics
  • Theology
  • Asian religions

Certificate in Religious Studies

Certificate programs in religious studies provide training for entry-level positions such as fundraiser, counselor and educator in religious- and faith-based organizations and churches. They also can provide a path for further study at the college or university level. These programs generally emphasize the role of religion in human affairs, including culture and politics. Certificates can be obtained on campus or online.

Course topics include:

  • Sociology of religion
  • Religious ethics
  • Modern theology

Popular Career Options

Graduates are equipped to seek managerial and senior-level positions in areas in which religious teachings are applied. Some career options include:

  • Chaplain
  • Non-profit organization director
  • Religious camp manager

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Degree holders are generally qualified to seek positions in disciplines including health and welfare ministries, social services, education, nonprofits and community organizing. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual salary for a religious activities and education director was $40,810. From 2018-2028, the BLS predicted 5% employment growth for these professionals, which is slower than average compared to all other occupations.

Bachelor's, master's, and certificate programs in religious studies focus on the history and traditions of religions from around the world. Religious studies degree holders may become educators, counselors, ministers or social service workers.

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