Graduate Degrees in Religion in Southern California

May 29, 2019

Students who wish to pursue graduate study in religion will find a diverse array of program options and degree concentrations within Southern California.

Those who wish to pursue a graduate degree in religion must consider several factors, including the purpose of the degree and whether they wish to pursue graduate study at an institution affiliated with a particular denomination. Read on to learn more about three common degree options in religion, and five universities in California where students can pursue graduate study in this field.

Graduate Degree Options in Religion

Master of Arts

A Master of Arts (M.A.) in Theology is a foundational academic degree, and can help students develop a comprehensive understanding of scripture or prepare for further graduate study. A series of core and elective courses as well as independent research are typically required to earn the degree. The M.A. can typically be completed in 2 years of full-time study. Applicants may be asked to provide transcripts, recommendations, and essays.

Master of Divinity

The Master of Divinity, or M.Div., is a master's level degree that is typically the preparation required for careers in ministry or pastoral roles. The M.Div. can be completed in three to four years of full-time study. Courses in Biblical interpretation, ethics, and ancient languages including Greek and Hebrew are often required. M.Div. application requirements may include references, essays, and transcripts. Those who are applying to Catholic seminaries to earn the M.Div. may also be required to have the recommendation of their diocesan vocation director.

Doctor of Philosophy

Students who wish to pursue careers in teaching and research may wish to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D. Students pursuing the Ph.D. complete foundational courses, seminars, and directed readings. In addition, the completion of comprehensive examinations and a dissertation are usually required. Language skills in Biblical and research languages are typically expected. Applicants may be asked to hold an M.Div. or M.A. before beginning a Ph.D. program. They should plan to submit transcripts, GRE scores, and a writing sample.

Southern California Universities Offering Graduate Degrees in Religion

Fuller Theological Seminary

Fuller Theological Seminary is a large, multidenominational, evangelical seminary located in Pasadena, California. Fuller provides courses of study leading to the M.Div., M.A., and Ph.D. as well as several other graduate degrees. The M.Div and M.A. can be completed on campus or online. Courses in the master's level program may include topics related to worship practice, context, interpretation, and homiletics. Additional requirements for the M.Div. might include small group formation, and an apprenticeship. Students in the Ph.D. program are expected to develop skills in teaching and research. They may choose from several areas of concentration, including Christian ethics, systematic theology, or worship and preaching.

Claremont School of Theology

The Claremont School of Theology is an ecumenical school of theology in Claremont, California. It is formally affiliated with the Methodist church. Students can pursue an M.A. in Theological Studies with a focus in Islamic studies and leadership. A thesis is required to complete this degree. An M.A. with a focus in comparative studies is also available. Claremont also offers the M.Div. Students enrolled in this program can choose a focus in ministerial leadership, which is offered on-campus or online, interfaith chaplaincy, or Islamic chaplaincy. Ph.D. programs in religion and practical theology are also available.

Southern California Seminary

Southern California Seminary, in El Cajon, is a private institution that offers the M.Div. The program can be completed on-campus or online. A capstone project involves writing a research paper on a major issue of Christian doctrine. A chaplaincy specialization for those who wish to work in settings such as the military or hospitals is available. Other available degrees include an M.A. in Philosophy and Apologetics and a Doctor of Ministry.

St. John's Seminary

Located in Camarillo, St. John's Seminary is a Catholic seminary offering graduate degrees in religion. Men preparing for the Catholic priesthood can earn the M.Div. at St. John's. The program follows the guidelines set forward for priestly formation by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Students are expected to participate in spiritual foundation such as participating in Eucharistic adoration and the liturgy of the hours. The pastoral field education program provides opportunities for parish ministry. Lay people can pursue an M.A. in Pastoral Ministry.

University of Southern California

Students can pursue a Ph.D. in Religion at USC, a large research university in Los Angeles. Concentrations are available in Christian studies, Asia Pacific religions, and global Islam. Courses may involve religions of Japan, mysticism, and the Bible. Research institutes housed within the USC department of religion include the Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture as well as the Archeological Research Center.

Earning a graduate degree in religion can prepare students for careers in scholarship or religious ministry. Several universities in Southern California offer programs of study for those interested in these degrees.

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