United States Theology Graduate Programs & Theology Graduate Schools

Theology graduate programs study the concept and nature of the divine, often taking a philosophical or critical approach in doing so. Overall, they seek to understand concepts like god, the soul, and other metaphysical concepts important to many religious traditions. While they’re often offered by schools of divinity, seminaries, and universities affiliated with a religious tradition, some theology programs may also be available through secular institutions. Students may earn theology degrees from masters to doctorate, and they might do so online, on campus, or in blended formats. The approaches taken by different programs may vary, depending on the nature of the school offering the program, the goals of that program, the faculty, and other factors.

How to earn a graduate degree in Theology

What Are Theology Graduate Programs?

Theology graduate programs are often interdisciplinary, incorporating skills and knowledge from subjects like history, philosophy, literature, ethics, and sometimes even psychology. In most cases, theology graduate programs are academic in nature, using scholarship to hone a greater understanding of the divine and our relationship to that idea. Programs like this might focus on philosophy scholarship, biblical criticism, rhetoric, and other skills related to performing and writing new theology research. That said, some programs may also be practice-oriented, designed to support religious careers like ministry, education, or in clergy.

Theology vs Religious Studies

Theology and religious studies are often confused. However, while they can be seen as two sides of the same coin, each field takes a distinct approach to understanding religious belief and the concepts that drive it.

  • Theology uses philosophy, critical thinking, and scholarship to try to understand the divine in and of itself. While this study could be accomplished from all different perspectives, many theology programs examine this concept from a perspective of faith.
  • Religious studies focuses primarily on the study of religious institutions interacting with that belief in the divine. They might examine the practice of faith in society, and how those things impact people’s lives.

In some cases, graduate programs may choose to combine aspects of both fields into a single program, particularly in programs focused on a single religious tradition. That said, religious studies programs are somewhat more likely to take a more removed or secular approach to scholarship, compared to theology.

Theology vs Divinity

In many cases, theology and divinity are used interchangeably to describe theology graduate programs. However, that’s not the case across the board. When they’re not used synonymously—for example, if a school offers both theology and divinity programs—the term “divinity” usually describes a more practice-based program. This may involve developing fluency with theology concepts, and learning to help others understand religious belief or theological concepts. Divinity graduate programs along these lines might look at the roles and responsibilities of members of clergy, in religious ministry, or religious education.

Types of Theology Graduate Programs

Theology programs may be available at the masters and doctoral levels, including graduate certificates. A variety of specific degree options might be available within each level, each one taking a slightly different approach to the subject matter. Below, please find a short guide to different types of theology graduate programs that might be available.

Masters Degrees in Theology

Masters in theology programs are fairly diverse. While they all center on the study of the divine, and are open to applicants who have previously earned a bachelors degree, the specifics on how they frame their study could vary considerably. For example, while some programs may be open to candidates holding any degree or with any religious background, others might require affiliation with a specific religious tradition (e.g. being a practicing Catholic, or adhering to a certain Protestant tradition), or even having a bachelor's degree in religion. Let's look at some of the degrees you could earn in theology masters programs.

  • Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS): This type of degree could apply to an array of programs. Some MATS programs may be designed to support clergy and others of religious vocations. Others might be open to lay people with comparatively less of a religious background, but who might look toward some kind of ministry-related career.
  • Master of Divinity (MDiv/MDv): Often issued by schools of divinity, seminaries, or other religious-affiliated institutions, the Master of Divinity is a professional degree typically aimed at students working or interested in careers in ministry or clergy. These programs are usually practice-based.
  • Master of Theological Studies (MTS): Programs offering a Master of Theological Studies tend to be academic in nature, focused on the philosophical and scholarly side of theology. Some of these programs may be designed to support further study at the doctorate level.
  • Master of Theology (Th.M): These programs are often treated as post-graduate, and may constitute a step between a Master of Divinity program and a doctorate. They’re typically scholarly in nature, focusing on conducting and writing theology research, and are sometimes designed to be terminal.
  • Master of Sacred Theology (STM): Like the Master of Theology, the STM tends to be seen as a post-graduate degree, or a stepping stone between an MATS or MDiv and a doctorate. These programs are often designed to help theologians and others in theology-adjacent fields prepare for a doctoral program.

Theology Doctoral Programs

As with masters programs, theology doctoral programs may offer an array of degree options, each one tailored for a specific need. Some of these degree types may be more commonly offered within (or exclusive to) certain religious traditions. The prerequisites to enroll may also vary. However, students might expect to need scholarly research experience, a related masters degree, and potentially a theology-adjacent career.

  • PhD in Theology: One of the most widely offered options, theology PhD programs are often scholarly in nature. They tend to focus on performing theology research that spas traditions, and teaching about theology in university settings. However, because it’s such a broad category, individual programs may vary.
  • Doctor of Pastoral Theology: This is a theological professional doctorate, typically comparable to the PhD. They’re often aimed to support those with prior education and experience in ministry-related careers, and facilitate theological education and leadership expertise.
  • Doctor of Sacred Theology: This is a less common doctorate type, offered within the Catholic Church’s pontifical university system. They tend to be scholarly in nature, and look toward teaching theology or canon law in a Catholic university.
  • Doctor of Divinity: Sometimes compared to to a Doctor of Theology or ThD, the Doctor of Divinity is a theological research doctorate. In addition to its status as an academic credential, the Doctor of Divinity is sometimes conferred as an honorary degree for significant accomplishments related to ministry.
  • Doctor of Canon Law: As with the Doctor of Sacred Theology, the Doctor of Canon Law is specific to Catholicism and may be conferred by schools within the pontifical university system. While this degree does not typically qualify somebody to practice civil law, it could be seen as the religious equivalent of the Juris Doctor (JD).

Theology Graduate Certificate Programs

Theology graduate certificate programs are non-degree programs focused on specific issues, topics, or skill sets within theology. They’re often offered as masters certificates; however, post-masters and doctoral certificates may also be available. Some example topics include theology education, Catholic canon law, biblical and theological studies, and more. These programs are typically concise, consisting of a fraction of the courses required by a degree program at a comparable level.

Theology Program Formats

Theology graduate programs may be offered in several different formats, each designed to meet the needs of different types of students. Some of the options you might consider, as well as a few of their benefits, are listed below.

  • Online Theology Degrees: Earning a graduate theology degree online is a flexible alternative to graduate study. For one, it allows you to access your theology courses when and where is convenient for you. This could also enable you to continue being there to support your faith community, without compromising your education.
  • Theology Graduate Schools: Prefer studying in person? Theology graduate schools enable students to learn alongside their peers, with the personal support of your program’s faculty. You could also rely on the resources and other academic support your campus has to offer. Theology schools may also offer online course options and flexible scheduling. Some residential or full-time programs may even be available.

Find Theology Graduate Programs

Start searching for theology graduate programs by browsing the sponsored program listings here. If you would like to narrow your search more, use the menu to select your preferred program type and/or format. If you find a program you think you might be interested in, click on the name to read more, request information, or get in touch with them!

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