Online Degrees in Religious Studies


"In a world shaped not merely by 9/11 but by Iraq, Bosnia, Kashmir, and the West Bank — and not merely by abortion, but by gay marriage, intelligent design, euthanasia, and stem cells — Americans increasingly accept the idea that we need better to understand the diverse range of religious phenomena," the American Academy of Religion (AAR) wrote in a report titled The Religion Major and Liberal Education.

The report goes on to say that religion has always been an inescapable part of politics, economics, foreign policy, social mores and domestic interactions. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright felt so strongly about the role of religion in diplomacy that she wrote in her book, The Mighty and the Almighty, that, "no American ambassador should be assigned to a country where religious feelings are strong unless he or she has a deep understanding of the faiths commonly practiced there." The College Board agrees, stating that being open-minded and respectful of beliefs other than your own can be important traits for students of religious studies.

As a mostly theoretical field, online religious studies degree programs may suit individuals who need the flexibility they provide to adhere to work family and other commitments.

An online religious studies degree may allow graduates to work in environments where there may be a need for someone who understands religious diversity. There can be diverse roles available to such an individual in governmental and non-governmental organizations, business, public administration, healthcare, counselling, diplomatic services and more. Listed below are some occupations along with their associated duties:

Sociologists:

  • Studying social issues to solve social problems and formulate public policy
  • Collecting data, analyzing it and presenting their findings in the form of research papers, articles, and presentations

Social Workers:

  • Identifying and helping people and communities in need of help
  • Helping people to overcome challenges in their lives by referring them to appropriate resources and following up to see if their situations have improved

Human Resources Managers:

  • Overseeing an organization's recruitment, interview, selection, and hiring processes
  • Handling staffing issues and serving as a link between an organization's management and its employees
The oft-assumed connection between religion and the humanities has resulted in a need for greater reflection on how students are negotiating religiosity in STEM fields.

Religious studies is no longer only a precursor to seminary studies for pastors, priests and rabbis but a liberal arts major that has become increasingly important in today's world for careers in journalism, international business, policy analysis, the law, education, health care, human rights, the diplomatic corps and even in intelligence agencies.

The table below lists careers associated with religious studies along with relevant wage, employment and job outlook using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career
Employment
(2018)
Average Salary
(2018)
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
Sociologists2,710$90,2908.9%
Human Resources Managers143,580$126,7007.1%
Social Workers, All Other57,440$62,6605.6%
Source: 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.
Scholars and researchers continue to discover that spirituality does not operate in a vacuum, but expresses itself in concert with other identity categories such as race, gender, and sexuality. These pronouncements have only ramped up over the last year, as some have called for greater equity and inclusion in interfaith spaces.

Online religious studies degrees and certificates are available at the undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels. Undergraduate degrees in religious studies may lay the foundations for individuals to enter graduate school, branch into another field or enter the workforce. Depending on the school and the religious studies program master's degree programs can offer terminal degrees, degrees for students preparing to enter doctoral programs while others are directed toward those called to religious careers. Doctoral programs can prepare graduates to enter academia as professors or researchers or prepare them for scholarship in their fields of specialization.

What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?

An online certificate program in religious studies may allow students to explore the aspects of one religion or take a multifaceted approach to help them understand the impact religion has on our lives.

Typical duration: One year of part-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED

Typical coursework: As with all educational programs, the curriculum for an ESL degree varies from school to school. However, most programs typically cover the same basic core principles, such as cultural communication, language production, second language acquisition, ESL instruction methods, and student assessment theory. Specific courses may include:

  • Introduction to linguistics
  • Language and society
  • Methods of structured English immersion for elementary education
  • Methods, materials, and technology for learning a second language
  • Modern grammar

Possible electives: Medieval philosophy; introduction to social work; group dynamics and communication

What can I do after earning a certificate in religious studies?

A certificate in religious studies may act as a stepping stone toward an online religious studies degree or allow you to gain the basic skills needed to work in faith-based organizations and outreach programs.

Far from being a niche interest for religious professionals, spirituality and religious diversity are being re-established as powerful currents in higher education that, when stewarded appropriately, can have a formidable impact on student outcomes, campus climate, and the college experience as a whole.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

A religious studies associate degree online program can give its students an introduction to the major religions and belief systems around the world. They may gain a perspective on how these religions play a part in the interaction between communities and politics across the globe.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED

Typical coursework: Curricula include general education topics, which can help develop critical thinking, communication and other soft skills, along with core coursework. Some courses that may be included in your online religious studies degree program are:

  • Introduction to religion
  • Islam
  • Life and teachings of Jesus
  • Tribal and ethnic religions
  • World religions

Possible electives: Introduction to ethics: moral values in today's society; philosophy of religion; religion in American history

What kind of jobs can I get after earning an associate degree in religious studies?

An associate degree in religious studies may help individuals develop the critical thinking, writing, discussion and research skills they need to advance in their careers. Credits may also be transferred toward a four-year degree in the same or associated field. They may also be able to hold positions as a:

  • Children, family or youth pastor
  • Community outreach leader
  • Museum technician and conservator
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Social science research assistant

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?

Students enrolled in an online religious studies bachelor's degree program can learn to understand how religion is far more than just a belief system and how it impacts -- and is impacted by — nearly every element of human society, including history, philosophy, psychology, politics and cultural practices.

Typical duration: Four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED

Typical coursework: Apart from general education courses, topics may explore how different religions influence the daily lives of individual people as well as societies at large. Courses you may take include:

  • Introduction to Buddhist traditions
  • Quests for meaning: world religions
  • Religion in the United States
  • Religion, culture and public life
  • World views and values in the Bible

Possible electives: Ritual, symbol, and myth; witchcraft and heresy in Europe; comparative mysticism

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a bachelor's in religious studies?

Graduates with a bachelor's degree in religious studies may qualify for employment in a broad range of fields including religious organizations, education, research, politics, and business to name a few. They may also be able to advance their education with a graduate degree in religious studies or another field. Some possible occupations include:

  • News reporter
  • Religious leader
  • Community specialist
  • Social worker
  • Religious education director

What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?

Apart from a Master of Arts in religious studies, those called to religious careers popularly opt for a Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) or a Masters in Divinity (M.Div.).

Although students enrolled in an online religious studies master's degree program usually need to choose a concentration or a specialization, they may also study a range of topics that gives them a broad perspective on how interreligious dialogues take place, explore the diversity of religion and touch upon contemporary religious issues.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree in religious studies or a related field, GRE

Typical coursework: Topics can vary depending on the specialization chosen. However, some topics may overlap. Potential courses include:

  • Christian thought in early centuries
  • History of religion
  • Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha
  • Methods and issues in the study of religion
  • Spiritual models of social action

Students may also have to complete a master's thesis in order to satisfy the requirements of their online religious studies degree program.

Possible electives: History of Judaism; age of reformation; problems of evil and suffering

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a master's in religious studies?

A master's degree may prepare students for leadership roles in religious organizations, community outreach programs, academia, business and more. Opportunities may include research, resolving conflict, social work and policy making roles among others. Potential occupations include:

  • Pastoral leader
  • Minister
  • Religious school teacher
  • Foreign service officer
  • Humanitarian worker

A graduate certificate in religious studies may suit working professionals or career changers who are looking for advanced education in the field but do not have the time or financial resources to commit to a two-year master's degree program. Graduate certificates may help such individuals qualify for promotion in their current jobs or change their job profiles entirely or simply change focus in an existing role. As graduate certificate programs are typically focused on just a couple of aspects of religious studies, they can take a much shorter time to complete than a degree.

Typical duration: One year of part-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree in religious studies or a related field, GRE

Typical coursework: The classes you take can vary greatly with the focus of your online graduate certificate program in religious studies. Some examples of courses include:

  • The Bible and US Public Schools
  • Religion and modernity in the West
  • Islamic political thought
  • Queer studies from a multi-religious perspective
  • Mental illness and oppressions

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

Doctorates may have a specific focus, some types of which include:

  • Doctor of Theology: most often focused on Christian theology
  • Doctor of Ministry: a professional doctorate for those in the Christian ministry
  • Doctor of Religious Education: prepares graduates to teach or administer religious education programs for members of faith communities

Doctoral degree programs in religious studies help enable scholars interested in studying the interplay between religion and society delve deeper into the comparative and interpretive aspects of religion. Ph.D. doctoral programs in religious studies may necessitate language requirements so that students can explore religious texts in the original language and read scholarship from various countries.

Typical duration: Three to seven years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Master's degree in religious studies or a related field, GRE

Typical coursework: Online doctorates in religious studies tend to concentrate on a specific religion, such as Christianity for example. Coursework varies depending on your area of concentration along with research methods, analysis and writing courses. Some courses you may take include:

  • Classical theories of religion
  • Digital humanities
  • Introduction to college teaching
  • Research methods in religious studies

Dissertation: Most programs include two to three years of directed reading and discipline-specific coursework, after which students prepare for comprehensive examinations, which can be both oral and written. Finally, students move on to the dissertation phase, where they address a specific issue in their area of expertise and write a work of original scholarship.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a doctorate in religious studies?

Graduates of online doctoral degrees in religious studies may qualify for positions in research and academia or high-level leadership positions in various faith-based institutions, social work, think-tanks or policy-making organizations to same a few. They may also work as consultants for businesses, non-profits and governmental organizations.

Accreditation

Attending an accredited religious studies program can important to a student's academic success as well as their career prospects. Accreditation can demonstrate that their course of study has been vetted by independent agencies to ensure that they meet the high educational standards necessary in today's professional world. Attending an accredited school can also be important for receiving federal financial aid, transferring credits, or as a prerequisite for professional certifications and licensures.

Accreditation may be regional, national or programmatic. Programmatic accreditation may be earned from bodies like:

Specializations

Students of online religious studies degree programs may be able to choose from a host of different specializations allowing them to focus their studies in an area of their interest. Many specializations may include specific religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islamic studies, Asian religions, or more generalized studies in the philosophy of religion, ethics, theology or modern religious thought. Some options for specializations include:

  • Comparative and historical studies of religion
  • Religion and modernity
  • Religion and science
  • Religion, society and power
  • Religions in the Americas

Certifications and licensures

Licensures may be mandatory depending on the state you work in as well as your field of work. For example, those employed as counsellors may require counseling licenses.

Professional certifications on the other hand may not always be necessary, but they can serve to demonstrate your knowledge and dedication to your chosen specialty in the religious studies field. Some employers may also prefer hiring candidates holding such certifications over those without. Some examples of professional bodies offering certifications include:

Students earning their religious studies degrees online may find there are plenty of scholarships and financial aid programs available to eligible individuals that can help ease the financial burden that is associated with attending college. Some scholarships to help you get started in your search include:

Other resources for those aspiring to work in the field of religious studies

Article Sources
Article Sources

Sources

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