Online Religious Studies Graduate Programs

Online Religious Studies Programs could allow students to easily access courses in theology, ministry leadership, spirituality, and comparative religions at the graduate level. Some programs focus on practical skills while others, on scholarly research.

Why earn a graduate degree in Religious Studies Online?written by Rana Waxman

Online Religious Studies Programs: Overview

Online Religious Studies Graduate Programs are available at the Masters and Doctoral levels. Individuals who want to pursue graduate studies, but not a full-fledged degree, might consider an online religious studies certificate. At the various degree levels, students could deepen their faith, reflect on diversity, and meaningfully relate religious theories to various contexts.

There are a wide range of online Religious Studies Graduate Programs to choose from. Students are often able to select a focal area in the following categories

  • Biblical studies
  • Christian Counseling (Pastoral Counseling)
  • Ministry (Leadership)
  • Theology
  • Religious Studies (General or Comparative Religion)

Because of the diversity of online religious studies grad programs, students could choose an area that mirrors scholarly or professional goals.

Online Seminary School or Online Divinity School?

The various types of online Religious Studies Graduate Programs are often reflected in where the program is housed, and whether it is run by a theological seminary or university department.

An online seminary school typically educates students for leadership roles in Christian ministry, such as pastors, missionaries, counselors, and others. Its curriculum could highlight study and exploration of the Bible and theology, spiritual formation, and practical tools for church ministry.

An online divinity school is usually affiliated with a university, and is typically a theological or religious studies division (department) within the university itself. Students could therefore take courses that explore the secular study of religions, earn a degree in comparative religion, or seek a pastorally-focused program.


The most common industries that employ Religious Studies majors, by number of employees are Colleges, Universities, Religious Organizations, and Elementary & Secondary Schools.i

Online Religion Degrees

In its wider context, a religious studies degree might be a way to examine beliefs, faiths, ethics, and traditions throughout history. Coursework varies by program and schools, though online religious studies degree programs typically support studies that go wide and deep.

For instance, students may take multiple required courses but also work with an advisor to tailor their studies to an area of interest. While one should refer to individual schools to see exactly what courses they offer, a few examples of potential topics are listed below.

  • Classical Theories of Religion
  • Contemporary Religious Ethics
  • Religious Traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam)
  • Black Theology
  • Literary Texts (e.g. Mahabharata, Talmud, Bible)

What Is a Degree in Theology?

Theology is defined as the “study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.”ii Online Theology degrees are therefore typically planned-out for people who want to augment their knowledge and develop their skills in religious leadership and the practice of ministry in daily life. Coursework for a theology degree might cover several key topics.

  • Biblical Studies
  • Ministry
  • Religious Studies
  • Divinity

What Is the Study of Divinity?

An online Divinity degree typically involves the study of Christian theology and could prepare graduates to practice in the pastoral profession. Coursework for a divinity degree might cover topics such as:

  • Liturgy
  • Scripture
  • Pastoral Theology
  • Canon Law

Online Ministry Degrees

Online ministry graduate programs could focus on the office, duties, or functions of clergy. Some accredited online ministry degrees might help current pastors develop a deeper grasp of biblical principles and refine their ability to engage congregants.

Candidates might therefore choose an area of emphasis such as family and youth ministry or chaplaincy. Some of the course topics that might be studied in an online ministry degree program might include the content listed below.

  • Old and New Testament
  • Conflict and Crisis
  • Pastoral Counseling
  • Worship
  • Preaching


Online Christian Counseling Degrees

Online Christian Counseling graduate programs could help pastors provide psychological guidance through a faith-based lens. Students could study biblical counseling principles and strategies to meet the needs of others.

Students who pursue their pastoral counseling degree online may need to complete an on-campus intensive, but might complete most coursework through their online platform. In some online Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling programs, students are also required to choose a cognate. Some examples are provided below.

  • Addictions and Recovery
  • Marriage and Family
  • Discipleship
  • Crisis Response
  • Military Resistance

Online Masters in Religious Studies Programs

Online Masters in Religious Studies programs might award a Master of Arts (MA) in Religious Studies, Master of Theology, Master of Divinity, or other related degrees. Each of these degrees could explore a distinct aspect of religious thought and practice.

Online Master of Arts in Religious Studies

An online Master of Arts (MA) in Religious Studies could be either a “professional” MA degree or an “academic” MA degree. Professional MA degrees usually aim to prepare students for a specific ministry role. Examples of this type of program could include a Master of Arts in Worship Studies or Master of Arts in Family and Youth Ministry.

For instance, MA in Worship studies learners might examine the language and musical constructs of a region to share the Gospel with its groups, whereas MA in Youth and Family Ministry students might learn to deliver guidance to children, teens, and parents.

Academic MA programs usually aim to provide students with a deep and broad grasp of theological disciplines and more narrowly, in a focused area. Some Academic MA programs are designed to prepare students for additional academic study such as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

Core Courses: Students who pursue a Master of Arts in Religious Studies online might explore core courses in areas such as history, religion and society, and scriptures. Other courses could expand on theology, ethics, spirituality, worship, and the art of the ministry.

Concentration: Online students might then work with an advisor to choose electives and an area of emphasis. Each area usually involves a series of courses related to it, which could help a student customize their studies. These focus areas differ between schools, but could delve into some of the following subjects.

  • Biblical Studies: Students who pursue a MA in Biblical Studies typically study the books of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, genres, themes, and cultural contexts.
  • Islamic Studies: A focus in Islamic Studies might delve into the history, beliefs, and practices of Islam, the Prophet, and its sacred scriptures, most notably the Qur’an.
  • Spirituality: Students who focus on spirituality might explore reflective prayer, practice, diversity, and one’s personal journey for meaning.
  • Theology and Ethics: Students who highlight courses in theology and ethics might examine biblical sources, historical traditions, and current issues.
  • Religious Studies: This focused area of study is usually designed for students who want a very flexible curriculum.

To complete their online MA degree, students may have to complete a final paper, project, or thesis. Completion of a thesis is usually suggested to students who want to continue toward earning their PhD.

A typical MA might take a full-time online student up to two academic years to complete. It is often between 30 and 60 credit hours in length and requires a bachelor’s degree (or its equivalent) for admission.

Online Master of Divinity (MDiv)

An online Master of Divinity (MDiv) is regarded as a first professional degree. It is designed to prepare people for a ministry profession in the church or pastorate. Typically, this type of degree zeros in on activities and duties of the ministry along with pastoral counseling and teaching.

Studies often include scriptural studies, pastoral theology, Hebrew, liturgical studies, canon law, philosophy, and more. A typical MDiv ranges between 70 and 100 credit hours and might take a full-time student about three academic years to complete.

Applicants to a MDiv program typically need a bachelor’s degree (or its equivalent) for admission. The Master of Divinity could prepare students to pursue a Doctor of Ministry.

Online Master of Theology

An online Master of Theology (ThM) is generally a one-year academic degree that some students might pursue after they have completed a three-year Master of Divinity program. As a postgraduate degree, the ThM is considered by the Association of Theological Schools to be the minimum requirement to teach bible or theology at an accredited Bible college.

That said, it could serve a variety of aims. Further study at the doctoral level, teaching, or focused study on the research and academic side of the religion are some examples.

Online PhD in Religious Studies Programs

Online Doctorate in Religious Studies programs might award a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Ministry (DMin), Doctor of Education (EdD), or a related degree. As with the masters level programs, students could choose an academic or professional path.

Online PhD in Religious Studies

An online PhD in Religious Studies is a research doctorate intended to enhance the knowledge base of a discipline through intensive original research. Most PhD programs in theology, biblical studies, church history, or pastoral theology require applicants to have a relevant master’s degree from a seminary or university.

A reading knowledge of several languages is often required. The PhD degree might take full-time students 3 to 8 more years of coursework and/or research as they could require candidates to teach in their area of emphasis. Also, most online PhD programs require students to spend time in residence, thus there may be fewer options for the online format.

Online Doctor of Ministry (DMin)

An online Doctor of Ministry (DMin) is a professional doctorate that could help students build skills in application-oriented research for a ministry setting. As its focus is oriented to the practice of ministry, candidates might study to identify problems and challenges in ministry settings. Then, they use the research they conduct to apply current data to create fresh solutions.

Despite the online element, distance students may get to interact with church leaders, as some programs could require on-campus visits.

Concentrations: Typically, students who pursue a Doctor of Ministry online choose an area of emphasis. Each area could entail a series of about four courses, and are known to vary between schools. Below are some generalized examples.

  • Church Revitalization: A focus in Church Revitalization might help students build on skills to address issues that impact a church or ministry as well as communicate a Biblical/Christian worldview.
  • Discipleship: A focus on discipleship could help students expand their grasp of theology, evangelism, and leadership.
  • Pastoral Counseling: A focus on pastoral counseling might not prepare students to pursue licensure, however, it might provide tools necessary for giving guidance in a church or ministry setting to families, individuals, and couples.

Applicants to an online DMin degree program typically need a nationally or regionally accredited Master of Divinity degree or its equal. They also may be asked for a resume that indicates some level of experience in a full-time ministry after graduation from the MDiv program. It may be necessary as well to have a current place of ministry where one might carry out a ministry-related final project.

Online Doctor of Education (EdD) Organizational Leadership

An online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Leadership is a terminal degree in education where students might anchor research in Christian Ministry studies. Students could learn how to analyze and apply research to issues such as change management in ministry. As a result, coursework could focus on research design, data analysis, current trends, and leadership.

Online Graduate Certificate in Religious Studies

An online Graduate Certificate in Religious Studies could help students expand their knowledge in areas such as biblical studies, chaplaincy, spirituality, and more. Students in some online religious studies certificate programs might complete about six courses in a singular topic. For instance, individuals who pursue a Graduate Certificate in Biblical Studies might exclusively focus on the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, or other Bible Courses.

Applicants typically need a Bachelors degree, and might have similar admissions requirements as Master’s candidates. Credits from a certificate are often eligible for transfer into a University’s Masters program in a related subject.

Why Consider Online Religious Studies Programs?

Some online Religious Studies Programs are designed to mirror their campus counterparts. Though at the same time, they strive to be more accessible for students who live too far or are just too busy to attend. They can be just as rigorous, with lots of written communication but just with noor very littleface-to-face interaction.

Students who pursue an online graduate degree in religious studies usually attend classes virtually, do research using the Internet, exchange e-mail, and take part in online discussions. Even assignments and tests are typically submitted online. Consequently, those who want to study anytime, or anywhere might find online Religious Studies programs more convenient than their on-campus counterparts.


Online degree-seekers could earn an online religious studies degree at a regionally or nationally accredited university or seminary. Furthermore, some schools might offer specific degree programs that have been accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools or another similarly recognized agency. Accreditation is one means for a school and/or program to show it meets quality standards.

Take the Next Step

Easily compare online religious studies programs. Choose your degree level (Masters, Doctorate, Certificate) and review the sponsored programs in your category. Then, apply! All you do is request information directly from schools with the on-page form.

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