Online Masters in Religious Studies Programs

A variety of online seminary schools and universities offer Master's in Religion online programs for those who need to earn their degree in an on-the-go lifestyle. Online Masters degree in Religious Studies programs discuss how to understand world religions, sacred texts and church ministry functions. Theology and religious studies students may acquire the knowledge of world religions, faiths, beliefs, rituals and sacred texts to understand the impact of religion on individuals, communities, nations and global events.

Why earn a masters degree in Religious Studies Online? Masters in Religion Onlinewritten by Rana Waxman

Masters in Religion Online Programs: Overview

Masters in Religion online programs study the religious thoughts and practices of a single faith, or take a deep look at world religions side by side. A comparative religion online degree often explores the literary works and traditions of several major religious belief systems. Students explore the beliefs and tennets of different faiths such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Single faith programs dive into theological studies, pastoral counseling, ministry leadership and more.

Online Masters Degree in Religion: MDiv, ThM, MTS MA,

The primary Master's in Religion online programs include Online Master of Divinity (MDiv), Masters of Theology (ThM), Master of Theological Studies (MTS), and Master of Arts in Religious Studies (MA). Most of the online Masters in Religious Studies programs are available in a variety of focus areas such as Biblical Studies, theological studies, pastoral counseling, Christian ministry leadership and more. Since each degree has specific courses, objectives and requirements, students should carefully reflect on their personal and professional goals to choose a program.

Online Master of Divinity Degree Vs. Master of Theology Degree

Two of the online Masters in Religious Studies degrees that may seem alike

are the Master of Divinity (MDiv) and the Master of Theology (ThM). There are, however, differences between a master of theology and a master of divinity to learn about.

Online Master of Divinity (MDiv)

An online Master of Divinity (MDiv) is thought of as a professional Masters degree for someone who wants to pursue a career in the ministry as an ordained priest, pastor, minister, or church leader. In many schools, an MDiv online degree is a three-year full-time program that melds theological, pastoral and spiritual formation.

Students might explore the topics and concerns that come along with the typical activities of the ministry, pastoral counseling and teaching. Curricula could roughly include 75 credits of inter-related courses, electives and action research in a local church, ministry or chaplaincy. Foundational courses typically explore the cultural contexts of ministry, Christian scripture (Bible), Christian Theology and global Christian history. Spiritual formation courses are designed to help students develop themselves as mentors and leaders as well as develop their own spiritual self-awareness. Finally, MDiv online students typically take core Praxis courses which stack practice onto theory.

  1. Mission
  2. Congregational Leadership
  3. Christian Worship
  4. Christian Proclamation
  5. Congregational Spiritual Formation
  6. Congregational Relationships

Online students might take their courses through a web platform although the practical component might involve activity and feedback from a local church.

Admission Requirements: In some universities, students must have a Bachelors degree with a minimum GPA. Applicants typically furnish transcripts and references, a Church endorsement form, and statement of ministry purpose. It is usually stipulated that a candidate must be involved in an appropriate ministry or secure placement in such a ministry for the duration of the Master of Divinity program.


When surveyed about their education, 67% of Children’s Ministers reported they had a Masters degree.i

Online Master of Theology (ThM)

An online Master of Theology (ThM) is an educational degree. It is commonly earned after an M.Div. Consequently, students could immerse themselves in the study of religion and scripture from an academic point of reference and to acquire knowledge. For some, the ThM might serve as a platform to continued education in a doctoral program. Others may use the Th.M. to complete their final, fourth year of theological study in preparation for ordination.

Online students may take about 24 credits of courses which could translate into roughly one year of full-time study. Master of Theology curriculums could provide students with the opportunity to examine specific issues more deeply or to continue to refine their ministerial skills. Students may have some freedom to take the courses that fit with their goals, and might choose to take part in a ministry practicum or write a thesis.

Theology courses might zero in on the history, language, reasoning and philosophy of a faith. Those who want to focus on academic development and inquiry might choose to concentrate studies in the following general areas.

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

Others who have ministerial and practical aims might study to develop their pastoral skills through courses in preaching, spiritual direction, or cross-cultural ministries.

Online Masters of Theological Studies (MTS)

By comparison, an online Masters of Theological Studies (MTS) is a scholarly degree. It may appeal to someone who wants to earn their doctorate in religion, conduct advanced research, or publish in the field of religious studies.

An online MTS degree program might require students to complete about 36 credits. Through their core courses, students could deepen their biblical and theological knowledge as well as their ability to critically assess doctrines. Online students might take their courses one at a time, in a set sequence. See below for some examples of course topics.

  • Creative Bible Teaching
  • Biblical Theology
  • Leadership Theory
  • Evangelism

Admission requirements typically include either a Bachelors or Masters degree, minimum GPA, transcripts and references. Refer to individual schools for more information.

Online Master of Arts in Religious Studies

An online Master of Arts in Religious Studies degree typically includes a specific emphasis along with an interdisciplinary course of study. Often, students are required to complete about 36 credits of core courses and a strong emphasis on one primary area within the coursework. An online Master of Arts in Religious Studies degree program is considered a more academic program, although the targeted area often does have real-world applications. Many schools offer a thesis and non-thesis option. A thesis could entail independent inquiry. A capstone project could include a ministerial portfolio and creation of a five-year plan for future ministry and personal development.

Areas of emphasis vary between schools, and might include the following tracks.

Children, Youth and Family Ministry: Students who pursue an online MA in Children, Youth and Family Ministry could focus on effective ministry skills and Christian faith formation. Coursework could include a class in communication and preaching where learners explore the role of biblical narratives in youth and family ministry. A course in child and adolescent development could help students plan programs for children, teens and their family. Students might also examine the biblical bases for visionary leadership and work to develop practical skills.

Church Planting and Multiplication:  A focus in Church Planting and Multiplication could consist of courses that are planned-out to help students develop the practical skills needed to plant a new church, campus or venue. Students could study to cultivate their vision as well as gain enhanced knowledge in theology. For instance, coursework could help students to refine their calling, character and competencies through spiritual formation, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and relational aptitude.

Church Revitalization: A focus in Church Revitalization could help students to understand how to assess the health of a church and its congregation, diagnose problems and prescribe interventions. Students could also deepen their biblical, theological and church history knowledge while they study to expand ministry skills. Coursework might provide insight into how to integrate new members, manage conflict and present the gospel in local, cross-cultural and global contexts.

Leadership: A focus in Leadership could help students build strategic leadership and managerial skills. Students learn techniques to identify their own leadership strengths, develop these qualities in others, and meet diverse needs of congregants. A course in missional growth could provide students with the opportunity to explore nonprofit leadership, church leadership or church planting.

Pastoral Ministry: A focus in Pastoral Ministry is structured to help students fulfill some course requirements to work towards ordination. Students could study the Bible, Christian history, Biblical Theology and Evangelism. Courses in counseling and family ministry cover the models of care, counseling, and ministry programming for families.

Worship Arts: A focus in Worship Arts is intended to help students refine their ministry skills. Students analyze new worship styles and cultural theories as well as the biblical, theological and historical roots of music and arts in congregational worship. Other topics might include the history of technology and the impact of social media on church and society.

Spiritual Formation: A focus in Spiritual Formation discusses things like the historical, Biblical, and theological backgrounds of spiritual formation in more depth and analyzes how they are used in current local church context. Courses could cover spiritual practices, traditions, and the theology of prayer.

Pastoral Counseling: A focus in Pastoral Counseling focuses on how to use a biblical foundation to counsel others. Coursework immerses students in the theories of psychotherapy and the Christian worldview as well as crisis intervention and marriage and family counseling. Students may take additional coaching courses to develop these skills. Coaching could help individuals identify and meet financial, personal and professional goals.

Pastoral Counseling/Military Resilience: A focus in Pastoral Counseling/Military Resilience is designed for the individual who wants to minister to service members and their families. Coursework could emphasize the resilience of leaders and caregivers, the strength of military marriages and families and healthy transitions from active service to civilian life. Other topics might delve into the mental and behavioral health of service members. Students also study basic theories and techniques in pastoral counseling.

Christian Apologetics: A focus in Christian Apologetics covers the philosophical, historical, and biblical knowledge to defend the rationality of Christianity. Students analyze Scripture for personal ministry to strengthen their grasp of the Bible. Possible featured courses could include topics such as faith and reason, miracles, hermeneutics, and the Old Testament.

Human Services Counseling: A focus in Human Services Counseling focuses on how to understand human behavior in ministry. Courses dissect things such as group dynamics, multicultural issues, and interpersonal communication. Also, students have the option to further emphasize core interests such as youth or student ministries. Whatever the focus, students could foster their own mission and vision in order to effectively teach and preach.

Theology: An online MA in Theology discusses the doctrines and heritage of the Catholic Church in great depth. Students work to develop a deeper appreciation of the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament, as well as the historical and social contexts of these texts. Other courses scrutinize the foundations of Christian religious experience and worship. Studies often focus more narrowly on pastoral theology, sacred theology, or diaconal studies. Students who pursue a Master of Arts in Theology might engage in independent inquiry.  

Why Earn a Masters Degree in Religion Online?

An online Masters in Religion program is designed for those who currently serve or volunteer in the ministry. That said, the format and structure of each program may be a bit different. Some programs may be entirely online with recorded lectures that take place in a virtual classroom. Others might include some type of brief on-campus intensive where seminary students might come together for an orientation and to meet faculty and classmates. In online religious studies programs with a professional ministry focus, studies may address how to apply weekly homework assignments to their local ministry context.

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