Religious Studies Graduate Programs could highlight a specific belief system, analyze sacred texts, or explore church ministry and organizational leadership. Among the various programs, students could learn how to manage a congregation, motivate congregants, or apply scriptural knowledge in a counseling setting.
written by Rana Waxman
Religious Studies Graduate Programs include degrees at the Masters, Doctorate, and Certificate levels. A graduate degree in religious studies disciplines could build practical skills and or, further research interests.
Within these levels, students might look for a program that aligns with specific interests and professional aims. This may be to enhance personal faith, conduct scholarly research, teach, counsel, or serve in some way.
Religious Studies Graduate Programs are comprised of several fields of study.
Biblical studies graduate programs often aim to provide students with an in-depth interpretation of the Bible and its languages. Students often systematically explore the Old and New Testament, and may study the historical and comparative backgrounds.
Master of Arts in Biblical Studies programs could provide a broad and flexible course of study. Coursework could discuss studies will include theology, hermeneutics and church history. Some programs could help learners apply bible studies to ministry settings.
A PhD in Biblical Studies is a research and terminal degree. Students often study various research methods along with an array of courses. These may cluster around the linguistic, historical, literary, and theological aspects of textual and exegetical study. A selected emphasis helps students anchor their scholarly inquiry for their dissertation.
Christian Counseling Graduate Programs could provide students with the skills and knowledge to provide faith-based psychological support.Often called ‘pastoral counseling’ degrees, this type of program could target clergy and lay counselors who want to incorporate Christian themes into their guidance.
Master of Arts in Pastoral Counselingg programs could stack counseling techniques on top of ethics, theology and Biblical texts. Courses in addiction, conflict studies and relationship counseling could facilitate a grasp of various lifespan issues.
Students might need to complete a capstone and field experience where they practice how to address issues through Christian viewpoints.
Ministry Graduate Programs could help students grow spiritually as they study leadership and Christian religious doctrines. A graduate degree in ministry is generally considered a professional degree where the goal is to build skills to take into one’s career and community.
Most ministry programs include courses in theology, church law, liturgy, ritual and homiletics. Students could also study the organization of the church/parish, Christian ethics, church history and evangelism.
A Master of Divinity (MDiv) is a professional graduate degree designed to prepare students to purse full-time ministry and for ordination or ministerial licensure.
MDiv programs could help students to gain a solid foundation in ministerial philosophy and practice through the in-depth study of the interpretation of the Bible, the languages of the Bible, and church history and doctrine.
Practical skills and values may be highlighted in practical theology, church leadership and missions-related courses. In addition, students often pursue a MDiv with a selected area of emphasis. These areas might include some of the concentrations below.
A Doctor of Ministry is typically designed to hone ministry skills as students study to develop a deeper grasp of Biblical principles and strategies. Typically, students take a series of courses and culminate their degree with a thesis project.
In some universities, DMin degree seekers must choose an area of emphasis that features related courses. These areas of focus may include:
Religious Studies Graduate programs that focus on religion might cover the diverse religious traditions and cultures around the world and through time. A Religion Studies degree might therefore be a pursuit with appeal to a wide range of students and goals.
Religious Studies is a secular study of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. Its many facets could include theory and content from several other disciplines. Among them are theology, philosophy, history, languages, anthropology, sociology, and psychology.
Universities that offer religious studies graduate programs might take a comparative approach to the study of religion. These programs tend to emphasize both breadth of knowledge in several religious traditions as well as room for a selected concentration.
Students who pursue a degree in comparative religion could therefore develop deeper insight into world religions and may bolster cross-cultural analytical skills.
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Masters in Religious Studies programs could award both academic and professional masters degrees, and both may have specific admissions and degree requirements. Additionally, each university defines their degree programs, so please refer to individual schools to make sure the course of study suits you.
Academic masters degrees such as the Master of Arts (MA) might provide a very individualized course of study in theology or an aspect of religious studies. Students who pursue a MA could gain advanced knowledge in the history and practices of a religious tradition, or an area of comparative religion.
These programs tend to stress religious studies research theory and methods. Students might therefore learn how to use primary and secondary texts to develop a written thesis or research papers.
Professional masters degrees could be offered in seminal areas such as pastoral counseling, divinity, or Christian Ministry. These tend to be planned-out to prepare graduates to pursue leadership within their Church, and might require less written work but more hands-on practice in one’s technical field.
Doctor of Religious Studies programs are terminal degrees. Similar to masters programs, candidates might choose to pursue a scholarly or professional doctorate degree.
An example of an academic (research) degree is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). PhD in religious studies programs often focus on anthropological, sociological, and behavioral inquiry into religions and related areas.
Other degree seekers might look for a practice doctorate such as the Doctor of Ministry. Doctor of Ministry programs could prepare graduates for pastoral or ministry career paths. They therefore tend to expand on skills such as leadership and management.
Theology Graduate Programs often include studies in biblical studies, ministry, religious studies, and divinity.
A Master of Arts in Theology may suit students who want to earn a terminal degree or, prepare to pursue a doctoral degree. MA students often pursue an area of emphasis such as theological studies, biblical languages and literature, Christian ethics or Biblical Studies.
A PhD in Theology is typically designed to foster intellectualism, teaching formation, and research skills. PhD degree seekers usually build a breadth of knowledge, while at the same time, they could build expertise in one focal area as they anchor their own research.
In some universities, students who pursue their PhD in Theology might focus their studies in one of several areas. Usually, along with their courses, candidates take comprehensive exams and serve as teaching assistants and teaching fellows. Their research usually precedes a dissertation that is presented and orally defended in front of a committee.
A Graduate Certificate in Religious Studies disciplines tend to be shorter and more targeted programs. Some certificates may provide stand-alone credentials which could be a great idea for at work professionals who want to rev up their portfolio of skills. Some schools may allow students to apply their earned credits towards a full Masters degree.
For instance, a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies might require students to complete 12 credit hours. Courses might look into the character and nature of God, basic doctrines of Christianity, the in-depth study of Scripture, and how these issues impact the contemporary Church.
One of the criteria religious studies degree seekers might use to help find a graduate school is to look at accreditation status. Accreditation could exist at two levels.
On one hand, the school itself could be regionally or nationally accredited. This assessment process could let students know, among other things, that the university is financially stable. Approval is also key if you plan to apply for federal financial aid or hope to transfer credits to another program.
The other type of accreditation is for individual programs within approved schools. Some of the agencies recognized for approval of religious studies graduate programs include the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc., the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools, and the Association for Biblical Higher Education, or the Association of Theological Schools accreditation commissions.
Religious studies graduate programs may be offered in two formats: online and on-campus. An online religious studies degree might suit busy professionals who don’t have time to take classes in a traditional (daytime) format. Sometimes, distance programs mirror the campus ones except for the format, and that students could conveniently log in from wherever they have internet.
Campus programs are, however, more interactive. Students might sit in classrooms and engage with faculty and peers for lively discussions. Whatever your preference, you could look for universities that offer religious studies programs in a certain city, state, or country. Or, just refine your search to include only online degrees.
Admission requirements vary by school and program. The minimum education for Religious Studies Graduate Programs is a bachelors degree, although a Master of Arts (MA) is often required for PhD degree seekers. To this end, some schools might offer a MA program with coursework that conveniently folds into their PhD program. These may be referred to as joint PhD programs and could come with specific admissions protocol.
Beyond this, religious degree candidates usually need to furnish transcripts, letters of reference, and a personal essay. Some graduate schools may require a personal or phone interview as well. GRE scores may be required for some, but not all programs. Applicants should therefore refer to the admissions information provided by each university.
Whether you are primarily interested in personal growth, scholarly study, or practical counseling and ministry leadership, a graduate degree in religious studies could be dynamic and rewarding. Find the perfect religious studies degree for you right here. Filter by degree level (masters, doctorate, certificate) and format (online, on-campus). Then, look through the list of sponsored programs and connect with the schools directly.