Iowa Schools for Masters in Religious Studies Degrees

Master's in Religious Studies Schools offer various on-campus programs in theology, divinity and different aspects of religious thought and practice. Religious Studies investigates world religions from a variety of perspectives. Curriculums often include the interpretation of religious texts, the sociology and psychology of religion, and the impact of religious movements ancient and modern.

Masters in Religious Studies Schools: Overview

There are different types of Masters in Religious Studies schools as well as several distinct Master's degrees to consider. Some of the more academically focused Masters in Religious Studies degrees are available through a University’s Department of Religious Studies. These programs could highlight both breadth of knowledge in several religious traditions as well as room for concentration in select areas of faculty expertise. Several universities may have canonical or ecclesiastical faculty, which means that the school is empowered by the Vatican to grant ecclesiastical degrees. Other, professionally oriented programs may be available through seminary schools.

What Is the Seminary?

Seminaries, sometimes called divinity schools, are graduate-level institutions that might provide instruction for individuals who intend to enter or ministry-related professions. Many seminaries do offer both professional degrees as well as academic degrees. The academic seminary programs could appeal to students who don’t anticipate vocational ministry, but desire an advanced education in theology, biblical languages, and/or religious history. Seminary schools may be accredited by the Association of Theological Schools Commission on Accreditation.


When surveyed, 10% of Youth Ministry Directors said they had a Master's degree.i

Masters in Religious Studies Degrees

Some of the primary Masters in Religious Studies

programs are the Master of Arts (MA) in Religious Studies, Master of Theology (ThM) and Master of Divinity (MDiv). While at first glance it may seem these are the same, each degree program could delve into different aspects of religious beliefs and behaviors.

Master of Arts in Religious Studies

A Master of Arts (MA) in Religious Studies could help students build the research, knowledge base and cross-cultural skills to further their education in a doctoral program or pursue a professional (non-ministry) career path. To earn their MA, some schools may require students to complete about 45 credit hours of coursework in core and elective topics. This could take about 2-years of full-time study, though credits and length vary.

Required courses could include a class in theory and research methods. Also, students may need to choose three religions to study from the following options: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. Outside these core areas, MA Religious Studies students might take the bulk of their courses in one area of emphasis. Then, to cap their studies, students may choose either a Masters thesis, special research project, publishable journal article, or comprehensive exams.

Areas of emphasis really depend on Masters in Religious Studies schools but often cover comparative religion, philosophical inquiry, scriptural analysis or a focus on one major religious tradition. See below for some examples, and refer to individual schools for current emphases.

Sacred Texts: Students immerse themselves in the study of the sacred texts for one of the major religious traditions such as the Hebrew Bible or Christian Testament. Or, opt for a comparative approach.

Critical Theory and Religion: Students take courses in post-World War II theories of religion from a range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities.

Religion and International Studies: Students focus on the role of religion in the context of globalization and might study the theory of religion that relates to multicultural studies.

Philosophy of Religion: Students take courses that study one or more philosophers from each of the two historical periods: ancient and modern (Plato to Kant), late modern and postmodern (Hegel to the present).

Lived Religions: Students may ground themselves in the historical, social, and cultural forms and practices of the world's various religions, which might also include new, indigenous, or African religions.

Master of Arts in Jewish-Christian Studies

A Master of Arts (MA) in Jewish-Christian Studies could instruct students in the history, theology, ethics and scriptures of the Jewish and Christian faiths. This type of comparative religion Masters program might help students develop their ability to address two complex religious traditions.

In some Masters in Religious Studies schools, students may be required to complete about 36 credits, with the option to write a thesis. Courses might emphasize the interdisciplinary study of sacred texts, and place them in their historical and socio-religious world context. Course options, which could vary, might include the following topics.

  • Cross-Cultural Analysis for Jewish-Christian Studies
  • Medieval Jewish Thinkers
  • The Teachings of Jesus

What Is a Masters Degree in Theology?

A Master of Theology (ThM) is an advanced degree that could provide students who have earned a Master of Divinity (MDiv) to further their studies. Theology as an academic system usually delves into the Christian faith in detail. This is done through the study of the Bible, the history of Christianity, its key thinkers and its influence on ethical questions and the actions of its believers.

In some Schools of Theology and Ministry, students may take 24 credits total, usually over the course of one year, or part-time in up to two years. The focus of a ThM degree program is often flexible to meet the interests of each student. Thus, students may have the opportunity to explore specific issues more deeply, or to continue to develop ministerial skills. Each track may involve distinct courses.

Biblical Language Focus: Those who want to focus on academic development and inquiry might complete an emphasis in a theological discipline and culminate their studies with a written thesis. Interested students might further explore courses in the following topics.

  • Biblical Studies
  • Church History
  • Historical-Systematic Theology
  • Moral Theology
  • Pastoral Theology Spirituality

Ministerial Focus: Students who want to focus their Master of Theology in ministry and practical pursuits might choose a Church ministry focus. Courses in this track could aim to help students cultivate pastoral skills and knowledge. Students may also take some credit hours in supervised ministry and write a paper with a ministerial focus. Topics of study could therefore expand on the following.

  • Preaching
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Cross-cultural Ministries
  • Leadership

Master of Theological Studies (MTS) 

A Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program could expose students to the academic study of various disciplines of theology. Theological studies look at prominent theological systems and movements. Students might, for instance examine the development of Christian life and thought throughout history, as well as discuss biblical revelation.

Unlike the ThM, applicants for the MTS may not need to have earned a MDiv. In fact, interested students may pursue a MTS degree out of intellectual curiosity, or to enrich their personal or professional life. This is also what might distinguish it from a MDiv.

A Master of Theological Studies curriculum could entail the completion of about 48 credits, which may take about two years of full-time study. Core requirements may involve general theological literacy and competence (in fields such as biblical studies, systematics, moral theology, and Church history). The rest of the credits could be comprised of a rich range of electives.

Consequently, students might explore deeply and broadly the languages, literatures, thought, institutions, practices, normative claims, and structures of a variety of theological fields and religious traditions.

What Is a Master of Divinity Degree?

A Master of Divinity (MDiv) is a three-year comprehensive professional degree program. It typically melds a broad study of applied theology with supervised ministry and spiritual formation. Applicants to some MDiv Schools may need one year of full-time post-collegiate ecclesial ministry or its equal, and some courses in philosophy. Admission requirements do vary.

MDiv programs are often suited to students who want to prepare for ordained priesthood or for full-time lay ecclesial ministry in the Church. Students who pursue a MDiv might therefore focus on topics such as the ones below.

  • Pastoral Counseling
  • Cultivation of Faith
  • Church History
  • Scripture
  • Moral Theology

In their practicum, students undergo a field experience in which they observe and explore ministerial work in different contexts, deepen practical skills, and reflect on how their experience relates to theological study. Often, supervisors oversee a student’s work and, then, students could discuss and synthesize the hands-on practical component with others in classroom meetings.

Why Earn a Masters in Religious Studies Degree on Campus?

Many campus programs are offered in a seminar style format, which means students might learn to debate with others about key theories and viewpoints. These disciplines often demand rigorous scholarly thought and the ability to interpret data concisely. Students might therefore study to understand, analyze and reflect critically upon humanity through ideas, texts, beliefs, faiths, and actions.

Take the Next Step

Search for Masters in Religious Studies Schools in a preferred city, state or country. Set filters to look specifically at Masters in Theology programs. Or, scroll through all of our sponsored programs and easily apply to the ones that appeal to you with the on-page form. Get started now.


Find Schools