Online Master’s Degree in Religion

If you want to study a subject that has thousands of years of history, affects the lives of millions of people across the globe, has caused wars, and even been declared dead, religion may be the field for you. It is a popular field at the undergraduate level for those seeking a well-rounded degree that can also develop their critical thinking and writing skills. At the graduate level, a masters degree in religion is often an academic pursuit, with the end result being a research or teaching track. Keep in mind that the study of religion is separate from the study of theology, which more concerns the practice of a religion, such as in a ministry or seminary.

According to the American Academy of Religion, the academic study of religion, also called religious studies, “is a relatively new field that aims to treat all religious traditions even-handedly,” meaning it doesn’t promote or endorse any religious belief. An online masters degree in religion can take one to two years or more to complete, depending on the program and how many classes students can or must take at once.

Classes for an Online Masters Degree in Religion

The exact classes students take during a master degree in religion will depend on their goals ó whether they want to continue their study at the Ph.D. level, conduct research and analysis, or pursue scholarly development in a particular area of interest. Generally, though, students will study the history of religion, exam primary texts and artifacts, and analyze the development of various religions, with
the ultimate goal to develop an awareness of various approaches to studying religion. These approaches include psychological, sociological, anthropological, hermeneutic, philosophical, historical, legal and literary work. A multidisciplinary field, students may also examine religion as it’s practiced through different lenses, including gender and sexuality, race, the nation-state, violence, memory, ethics, emotions, politics, economy, power, art, literature, and media. Classes you may take during an online masters degree program in religion include:

  • Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Literature
  • Islam and Its World
  • African American Religious History
  • Women in Christian History
  • Religion, Gender, and Violence

A masters degree often culminates in the writing of a thesis in an area of interest, such as a particular religion; region of the world; or relationship with another discipline. Examples of concentrations include early Christianity; Asian religions; and religion and nature. The coursework leading up to this point often coincides with this area of interest. Graduate candidates may have to undergo an oral examination and defend their thesis.

A Career as a Graduate with an Online Masters Degree in Religion

A master’s degree in religion can prepare graduates for work in a variety of fields, depending on your interests. You may find employment within a religious, nonprofit, or governmental organization, or work as a reporter, covering religious issues. You may teach at the secondary or postsecondary levels. Or, you may stay in academia and go on to earn your Ph.D. in a specialized area of religion. Teaching is a common career path, especially for students that go on to earn their doctorate in religious studies. For a small snapshot, of the 48 graduates who received doctorates from the University of Iowa’s Department of Religious Studies from 1998 through 2009, 36 now work as college and university professors.

Education requirements will vary by field. Those looking to teach at the postsecondary level, for instance, most commonly must have a Ph.D., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A master’s degree may be enough for some community college positions, though often will be a stepping stone toward a doctorate for those interested in university or college positions. Employment of postsecondary teachers is expected to grow by 17%, according to the BLS, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.


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