Earn a Masters Degree in Religion Online

Earning a masters degree in religion online immerses you in a rich exploration of how culture, human nature, and interpersonal relationship connect to religion and faith. When you earn a religious studies masters degree, you’ll take one of two possible paths: one that involves an in-depth and interdisciplinary approach to understanding religion across contexts, or one that examines one or two specific areas of religion.

In addition, you’ll likely delve into religious history, theory, and modern-day or practical application.

What Will I Study When I Earn a Masters Degree in Religion Online?

The possibilities are vast! Consider that thousands of religions—or personal or institutionalized systems of faith-based attitudes, beliefs, and practices—exist throughout the world. Given that, you could take your studies in a number of directions. In addition you might have different options in an online degree program, such as the ability to self-pace your classes according to when it's best for you to squeeze in some study time.

Key areas of study in religious studies

  • Spiritual Systems: Spiritual systems include the beliefs, traditions, rituals, and cultures of religions across the spectrum. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sufism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Shamanism are just a few examples of what systems students might study.  
  • Catechesis: Catechesis essentially means to hand on or pass along the word of God. Said another way, it means to educate people about Christianity’s core attitudes, beliefs, and practices. 
  • Theology: Theology is the study of the nature of religion, faith, and God. Interdisciplinary in nature, theology can focus on any religion or belief system as it pertains to God or a higher power.
  • Ministry Studies: Ministry is essentially the vocation of a minister, or a person who is authorized by a religious organization to perform ceremonies, sermons, and other religious duties.
  • Interfaith Action: Interfaith action is an emergent focus of study within religious studies. Given the increase in religious conflict and influence throughout the world, there is a great need for professionals who have the social, political, and religious knowledge necessary to collaboratively engage as “interfaith ambassadors.”  
  • Consciousness Studies: Consciousness studies entail dissolving the line between the spiritual and physical world. It explores ideas of interconnectedness and unity. It explores the human condition, or human nature, and possibilities for personal, social, and global transformation. 
  • Chaplaincy: Chaplains are lay representatives of religions, from Christianity (traditionally) to Judaism and Islam. Chaplains are scholars in their religion, and they may perform services, advise and support members of their religion, or serve numerous other functions.
  • Divinity: To be Divine means to be holy and sacred. Thus, divinity is the study of the holy and sacred, especially in the realm of religion. 
  • Religious Leadership: Leadership in the realm of religion often pertains to service in religious, community, faith-based, and advocacy positions. 

Despite the breadth of areas available to study, you’ll likely find that online masters in religion degrees share many aspects.

Common characteristics among religious studies programs 

  1. They will likely be interdisciplinary, including courses in subjects such as religion, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, history, and psychology.
  2. They will likely teach you about the practical application of your subject so that you understand how what you’re learning exists in practice.  
  3. They will likely offer a global perspective, one that helps you understand your area of study as it relates to cultures throughout the world.

What Types of Religious Studies Masters Degrees Are Available?

Religious studies masters degrees engage students in two years of specialized study. As such, considering what type of masters degree in religion online best fits your interests and goals is key. Here are some types of religious studies masters degrees available online:

  • The Master of Arts in Religious Studies, Religion, Comparative Religion, or Religion Interdisciplinary Studies: This kind of masters degree covers religion more broadly, including the origins, history, and influence of multiple religions.
  • The Master of Arts or Science in the Bible, Ministry, Christianity: Masters degrees in these areas emphasize a particular system of religion and a focus within it, whether on a particular denomination or on philosophy, tradition, practice, education, or faith within the religion.
  • The Master of Arts or Science in Theology or Divinity: A masters degree in one of these areas allows you to examine religion, faith, and sacredness themselves. Instead of looking at a particular religion or its contexts, you might examine why people are drawn to religion or how and why religion exists and persists.   
  • The Master of Art or Science in Counseling/Chaplainry: Masters degrees in areas like these help students prepare to serve as counselors within a religious context. A masters degree in this area could focus on a particular faith or simply emphasize providing counseling within a context of faith, divinity, and tradition.
  • The Master of Catechesis or the Master of Art in Religious Education: Masters degrees in these areas engage students in a curriculum designed to help them teach and share religion and religious practices.
  • The Master of Arts or Science in Consciousness Studies: A masters degree in this area invites students to look at consciousness—that spiritual space where humans perceive God or a higher power—and connect it to the mind, body, and society.

These are all relatively common types of degrees and titles you'll see when you look for a masters degree in religion online. 

Some emerging subjects that lend themselves nicely to a masters degree in religion online include:

  • The Master of Arts in Interfaith Action
  • The Master of Arts or Science in Christian Entrepreneurship
  • The Master of Arts in Religious Leadership in Muslim or Christian Contexts 

Programs in subjects like these are a response to increased religious tensions, locally and globally, and a desire to better understand how people of distinct faiths interact and live amongst one another. These programs also help people develop leadership and business skills for faith-based organizations and businesses that operate in an increasingly global context. In short, degrees in these areas help people understand and respond to current events in religion and society.

How Is a Masters in Religion Online Structured?

A religious studies masters degree program will likely contain three elements:

  1. Core coursework
  2. Elective coursework, and
  3. Comprehensive testing or research

Amongst these three elements, students typically must earn between 45 and 60 credit hours to obtain a masters degree in religion online.

In some cases, students work with a faculty advisor to design a program tailored to meet their academic goals. This helps students develop their area(s) of expertise. In other cases, students have to take a specific set of courses, sometimes with a cohort, to meet program requirements. In still other cases, students balance freedom and structure by taking elective and required courses to earn their masters degree in religion online.   

Some programs, depending on their intended outcomes and purpose, connect students with religious leaders or mentors and give students opportunities to do internships and applied learning. Students might also select a specialization, concentration, or field of study and work directly with expert faculty or advisors.

Core and Elective Coursework for a Masters Degree in Religion Online

Through books, articles, and case studies, students dive into the subjects and topics of their programs. Assignments might include journals and research papers or interactive discussions about weekly or unit readings. However the work is done, students complete an array of core and elective coursework that steep them in the core knowledge, theories and debates of those academic subjects. Elective coursework can help students explore the more nuanced elements of their subjects and their spiritual, intellectual and professional interests. Collectively, their coursework can prepare them with specialized knowledge in their field of study.

Some subjects you might study in through your core and elective coursework include:

  • Spiritual systems, such as Sufism, Taoism, Buddhism, Shamanism, and others
  • History of Religion in the U.S., a specific nation, or the world
  • Models of spiritual consciousness
  • Transpersonal and eco-psychology
  • Scripture
  • Ethics
  • Ritual, liturgy, and worship
  • Religion and society; religion and culture
  • Christian, Islamic, or other leadership
  • Doctrines of God, Sanctuaries, and the Sacred
  • Readings in religion (Book of Daniel, Revelation, Hindu Vedas)  
  • Prophets and gospels
  • Conflict management

This is just a sampling of the possible subjects you might study through your core and elective curriculum.

Comprehensive Testing and Research for a Masters Degree in Religion Online

Many programs require students to take a comprehensive exam or research and write a thesis. A comprehensive exam might be written or oral, or both. A thesis typically requires extensive independent research and writing. Students work under a supervisor or mentor during this process and, in a culminating ritual, students often defend their thesis orally. Through comprehensive exams and theses, students demonstrate their ability to learn, reflect, and apply what they’ve learned in their programs.  

To help you gain the knowledge and skills you need to conduct research and write extensively in the field of religious studies, you’ll likely take courses in subjects like:

  • Research methods in religious studies and theology
  • Research methods in biblical studies or studies of other holy books
  • Research theories in religious, social, and cultural studies
  • Faith-focused scholarly inquiry
  • Advanced writing in religious studies

Some programs offer students less traditional ways to complete their programs. For example, instead of taking an exam or writing a thesis, students might design and submit a research proposal, a short research paper, and a syllabus or two that captures what they would teach in an educational setting. Or they might describe their research interests in detail, write a short paper, and develop an up-to-date curriculum vitae, the academic equivalent of a professional resume. Options like these may be specifically offered to students learning how to teach or lead in academic settings. In programs that emphasize reading original texts, students might have to prove reading proficiency in languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, or Greek, to graduate.

Some courses students might take to prepare to meet requirements like these include:

  • Pedagogy and teaching religion
  • Hebrew, religion, and religious texts
  • Research methodologies for teaching and ministry

Specializations, Concentrations, and Focuses in Religious Studies

Specializations, concentrations, and focuses are commonly one in the same but may be referred to by any one of these titles. They allow students to further focus their studies in an area of interest or in an area that enhances and deepens their knowledge of the primary subject they’re studying. Here are some examples of potential specializations (AKA, concentrations and focuses):

  • Interfaith Engagement
  • Social Transformation
  • Word and Worship
  • Biblical Studies
  • Islamic Studies
  • Christian and Muslim Relations
  • Spirituality
  • Philosophy and Ethics

Imagine any of these and other specializations embedded within the primary area of studies listed above. A person earning a masters degree in religious studies, for example, might specialize in Biblical or Islamic studies. A person earning a masters degree in interfaith action, meanwhile, might concentrate on relationships between Christians and Muslims. A person studying counseling and chaplainry might focus on philosophy and ethics. Specializations, concentrations, and focuses basically allow students to establish a deeper level of skills and knowledge.

Some more specific subjects students might study as part of their specialization include:

  • Science and the nature of reality
  • Myths and symbols
  • Dreams and sleep
  • Spiritual activism
  • The Buddha, Christ, or Muhammad and their teachings
  • Meditation and healing
  • Healing traditions
  • Great religious minds
  • Asian, African, or Indigenous religions
  • Religion and pop culture

What Kind of Work Might I Do with a Religious Studies Masters Degree?

When you earn a masters degree in religion online, you might apply your skills and knowledge in a variety of settings. For example: ministries, missionary organizations, social services agencies, non-profits, universities, non-governmental agencies, or faith-based organizations.

  • Social and community service managers earned a median annual wage of $64,680 in 2016.i
  • Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists earned a median annual wage of $44,170 in 2016.ii
  • School and career counselors earned a median annual wage of $54,560 in 2016.iii
  • Social workers earned a median annual wage of $46,890 in 2016.iv
  • Archivist, curators, and museum workers earned a median annual wage of $47,230 in 2016.v
  • Postsecondary teachers earned a median annual wage of $75,430 in 2016.vi
  • Historians earned a median annual wage of $55,110 in 2016.vii
  • Sociologists earned a median annual salary of $79,750 in 2016.viii

Get Ready to Explore Religion’s Depths and Nuances!

Pursuing your masters degree in religion online begins with your first step. Make it a worthy one, and find your perfect program. As you’ll see on this page, there are program options for people with interests in all of these areas of religious studies. Find one you like and request additional info. It’s that simple.

By earning a masters in religion online, you can begin to develop the social, political, and religious perspectives necessary to research, educate, and serve in various roles across religion’s fields and occupations. You can also develop your skills to reflect and collaborate with others to better understand and share historical and modern-day meanings of religion, spirituality, and sacred practice.  By exploring religion as a field of inquiry, you can explore one of the foundational components of global culture and the human condition. 

i. bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm | ii. bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm | iii. bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm | iv. bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm | v. bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/curators-museum-technicians-and-conservators.htm | vi. bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-1 | vii. bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/historians.htm | viii. bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists.htm