Illinois Masters in Theology Online Programs
Masters in Theology Online Programs bring faith-oriented graduate education to you, whenever and wherever you need it. Focused on finding answers to life’s biggest questions, theology masters programs combine religious philosophy with metaphysics, church teachings, and scholarship. Masters programs may be academic in nature—focused on helping you to advance religious study and scholarship—or applied, helping you bring your expertise back to your church community.
Why Earn Your Master's in Theology Online?
By choosing to earn your theology degree online, you could access your classes at home, in the office, or on the go, meaning your education could fit into your life, and not the other way around.
Masters in theology online programs may be an especially attractive option for students who are already actively engaged in religious education, ministry, or church leadership roles, because they may not necessitate stepping back from vocational responsibilities. But those aren’t the only type of students that may gravitate toward these programs. The flexible nature of online study means these program could attract students from all walks of life.
Online theology masters programs typically administer courses through an online module. Students are generally able to use their own laptop or tablet (provided it’s compatible and has internet access) to access their courses through a web browser. In most cases, the schedules are also flexible, meaning students could log in when it’s convenient for them each week to complete their course assignments, ask questions, or participate in discussions.
That said, if you prefer an experience more similar to what you’d find in the classroom, that option may be offered online too! Some programs offer synchronous scheduling, including live-streamed lectures and discussions in real time, bringing the personal
experience of classroom learning to your computer.
At many schools, online courses are even taught by the same faculty as you’d find on campus. Additionally, you may have access to the same or similar resources as students in a campus-based program. That includes online library and research services, technical support, career and academic counseling, and more! And if your online program is affiliated with a physical school, you may have access to those resources as well.
What Is An Online Masters in Theology?
Masters in Theology Online Programs center on the concepts that drive faith and practice: This includes the nature of god and the soul, and what all that means for people like us. In simple terms, theology seeks to understand the divine. As such, many online theology degree programs are discussion-oriented, to create a forum for students to study texts, scholarship, and religious teachings, fostering a deeper understanding through analysis and debate. This sets it apart from other similar degree programs, like religious studies, ministry, and in some cases divinity.
Theology vs. Religious Studies
Theological and religious studies are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin. Both focus on faith-based religious topics, and are often offered by religious-affiliated universities. Both could be applied to help strengthen a faith community. Both may incorporate study of religious texts and teachings. However, the way they approach those subjects is different.
Religious studies masters programs focus primarily on the organizational structure, belief systems, and practices by which people exercise their faith. In other words, they look at people’s relationship with theological concepts, and the cultural context surrounding it. Online theology masters programs, on the other hand, focus on exploring the concepts in and of themselves.
Theology vs. Divinity
The difference between theology and divinity masters degrees is less cut-and-dry than theology vs. religious studies. In fact, in many cases, they’re used to describe the same concepts—e.g. a theology program offered by a divinity school. That said, they don’t always mean the same thing, and some schools might even offer two different programs by those names.
When they’re not being used interchangeably, divinity masters programs tend to be more practice-based. In other words, while they may share concepts with theology, they may focus on bringing that expertise to a church community in a ministry or educational context. Divinity masters programs may also be leadership-oriented, especially if they’re designed for clergy and other church leaders.
How to Choose an Online Masters in Theology
When choosing your preferred online masters degree in theology, there are a few different factors to consider. Each theology masters program is unique. A program’s curriculum, not to mention this approach to covering said curriculum, may be influenced by its objective, the school offering it, their religious affiliation (if any), the types of students the program is designed to help, and more. By putting careful thought into each of these factors, you might narrow down your list of options and identify schools that may be aligned more closely with your needs and interests.
The first factor to consider when choosing your preferred masters in theology online is your experience, and how it aligns with the school’s curriculum and admission requirements.
Some masters in theology online programs are designed broadly, open to anyone with an accredited bachelors degree and sufficient academic performance, even if all their experience is in another area. Other programs may look for students with a bachelors degree in a related field (e.g. ministry, theology, or religious studies) and/or experience working in a church or in religious education.
The level of presumed experience for the students in a program could have a direct relationship with the way the material they cover and how they choose to do it, so make sure the schools you pick are a good fit for you.
Theology masters programs typically have one of two objectives: to support continued study and scholarship, or to support application of knowledge in the field, among one’s faith community. Scholarly programs like the former are likely to focus more on research skills, academics, writing, and fluency religious scholarship. In other words, they aim to prepare students to continue using their expertise to explore the nature of the divine in an academic setting.
Meanwhile, applied theology masters programs equip students to take their expertise out into the community, in a variety of roles like religious education, ministry, clergy, and other church leadership roles.
Some—though not all—online theology degrees are affiliated with or informed by a specific religious or faith tradition. In fact, some programs may even require a statement of belief or affiliation with a church as a prerequisite for enrollment.
Regardless of whether the online theology masters program you choose is overtly affiliated with a specific tradition or asks that of its students, many theology programs do approach the material with a presumption of belief in certain basic religious tenets.
Types of Online Masters in Theology Degrees
Depending on the type of school you attend (what faith tradition the programs adhere to, if any, whether they are online seminary schools or schools of divinity) you might choose between several different types of theology degrees. Listed below are several of the options you might encounter in your search for an online theology masters program, as well as a short description. Bear in mind that each school’s offerings may be unique, and may not align in all respects.
- Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS): A somewhat broad degree-type, Master of Arts in Theological Studies programs may support scholarly and applied interests. Students in these programs might aspire to continued study, or practical application working in a pastoral context. Depending on the objective of the individual program, prerequisites may vary.
- Master of Divinity (MDiv): Often offered by divinity schools and seminaries, Master of Divinity online programs tend to be practice-oriented, focused on applying theology expertise within a church community. Because of its professional focus, the prerequisites and required coursework may vary between schools.
- Master of Theological Studies (MTS): Master of Theological Studies Programs, unlike online MDiv programs, are typically academic. That means that they center on understanding and discussing theology scholarship, performing research and scholarly analysis, and contributing to the body of scholarship through new work. MTS programs may help students prepare for future study at the doctoral level.
- Master of Theology (Th.M): Because this is often offered as a post-masters degree, Th.M. programs may require a related masters degree as a prerequisite to enroll. Master of Theology programs tend to be scholarly, and may be an option for students who want to expand their research experience in preparation for a doctoral program. However, some ThM programs are designed to be terminal.
- Master of Sacred Theology (STM): Like ThM programs, the Master of Sacred Theology is often offered as a post-masters program, requiring applicants to have previously completed a related master's program. These programs are often found in Roman Catholic universities, and are sometimes bestowed as an honorary title within the Dominican order. STM programs tend to be scholarly in nature, and may support students in preparing for doctoral programs if their previous masters degrees were not sufficiently research-oriented.
The school you choose may offer one or several of the above degree types—or even one not listed here. Be careful to review the specifics of the program you choose, as it might be a little different from what is described here. If you’re not sure what the best degree-type is for you, talk to your advisor or a mentor, and review the typical prerequisites for the careers you’re interested in.
Potential Theology Careers
Religious careers are more than just a job—they’re a vocation. Whether you’re studying theology to support a calling you’ve already answered, or are just getting started, a range of fulfilling opportunities might be out there waiting. The specific options available to you could hinge on a number of factors. These could include your professional background, level of education, and your religious tradition.
Here are a few examples of the paths you might choose to take.
- High School Religion Teacher: $58,030 2016 Median Payi
- Theology Professor: $68,360 2016 Median Payii
- Clergy: $45,740 2016 Median Payiii
- Religious Education & Activities Director: $38,610 2016 Median Payiv
While each of these paths is unique, they share a common goal: to help guide people and families in their spiritual lives, and provide important religious services to your church community. The minimum requirements for each potential role may vary widely depending on the context and individual preference. For more information about paths open to you, reach out to your school’s career advisement services or your theology department.
Find Masters in Theology Online Programs
If you want to earn your masters in theology online, start searching for programs today. Review the sponsored program listings collected here. Once you find one you think sounds promising, click on the name of the program to learn more about it and get in touch. Then schedule your meeting or visit, or even start your application. Good luck!
| [ii] bls.gov/oes/current/oes251126.htm | [iii] bls.gov/oes/current/oes212011.htm |[iv] bls.gov/oes/current/oes212021.htm