Complete Guide to Online Religious Studies Degrees
A religious studies major provides a grounding in religious history and presents a variety of spiritual values and beliefs. Undergraduates can choose an online religious studies degree for added flexibility in regard to how and when they study. The colleges below are some popular choices for prospective bachelor's degree students, spanning a range of denominations and specializations. Graduates of these programs can pursue careers in education, lay ministry, non-profit administration, and community service.
Keep reading to learn about common courses, program costs, accreditation, and potential careers for religious studies majors.
Most Popular Accredited Online Schools for Religious Studies Bachelor's Degrees
|Rank||School||Annual Tuition||Recommend Rate|
|# 1||Arizona State University||$24,413||64% (112 reviews)|
|# 2||Grand Canyon University||$17,800||50% (541 reviews)|
|# 3||Liberty University||$11,700||58% (326 reviews)|
|# 4||Regent University Online||$18,620||38% (24 reviews)|
|# 5||Indiana Wesleyan University Online||$18,906||39% (33 reviews)|
|# 6||Colorado Christian University||$33,434||42% (19 reviews)|
|# 7||Kansas Christian College||$7,270||100% (1 review)|
|# 8||Mount Vernon Nazarene University||$30,404||0% (2 reviews)|
|# 9||Columbia International University||$24,000||Add Review|
|# 10||Mid-America Christian University||$18,838||100% (1 review)|
|# 11||Campbellsville University||$25,400||0% (3 reviews)|
|# 12||California Baptist University||$34,882||80% (5 reviews)|
|# 13||Saint Thomas University||$32,000||0% (1 review)|
|# 14||Bluefield College||$27,036||100% (1 review)|
|# 15||Saint Joseph's College of Maine||$36,720||50% (2 reviews)|
|# 16||Saint Leo University Online||$23,750||63% (93 reviews)|
|# 17||Mount Mercy University||$33,862||Add Review|
|# 18||Abilene Christian University||$36,300||100% (1 review)|
|# 19||Calvary University||$11,164||Add Review|
|# 20||Cornerstone University||$25,360||Add Review|
|# 21||Louisiana State University - Alexandria||$14,024||Add Review|
|# 22||Ohio Christian University||$21,390||53% (17 reviews)|
|# 23||Point University||$21,185||Add Review|
|# 24||San Diego Christian College||$32,346||Add Review|
|# 25||University of Valley Forge||$22,000||100% (1 review)|
Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Studies Degrees
What Is the Field of Religious Studies?
This major examines the history and variety of religious traditions worldwide. Some bachelor's degrees focus on a particular religion — usually Christianity — and where it fits within a wider context.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Bachelor's in Religious Studies Degree?
Faculty design religious studies bachelor's degrees to last four years with a full-time study schedule. Some online degree programs have accelerated options with shorter courses that allow students to finish faster. However, less than half of all undergraduates complete a bachelor's degree in four years.
What Job Can You Get With a Religious Studies Degree?
Alumni can work in church or non-profit administration, diplomacy, education, or museum curation. They may also be able to find jobs in business or government that call for bachelor's degrees without specifying a major. Christian students can pursue careers in the clergy, but this typically requires a Master of Divinity or doctoral degree in Christian theology.
Overview of Online Bachelor's Degrees in Religious Studies
Religious studies is a broad field examining major world religions, although many degrees in the U.S. focus on the Christian faith. Undergraduates in this discipline develop and practice skills in textual analysis, critical thinking, cultural empathy, and persuasive writing through general education and core coursework. Most programs end in a capstone course where students tie together everything they've learned. In true liberal arts fashion, religious studies faculty seek to mold students into inquisitive graduates who can articulate the traditions and importance of many religious beliefs. This focus is broader than a bachelor's in theology program, which seeks to create experts in Christian biblical interpretation.
Religious studies is a broad field examining major world religions, although many degrees in the U.S. focus on the Christian faith
Most online degree programs deliver courses asynchronously, meaning that enrollees sign in to a learning management system to complete work and view lectures on their own time. Many programs have synchronous elements, such as regular live video conferences that allow students to ask professors questions and interact with classmates. Some colleges provide part-time enrollment options that allow students to work at a slower pace.
Admission requirements differ by college, but most require high school or GED transcripts showing a minimum 2.5 GPA, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay on a designated topic. Applicants may need to take the ACT or SAT tests. Most online religious studies bachelor's degrees feature 120 credit hours of coursework that takes four years of full-time study to finish.
Are you unsure about pursuing a religious studies degree? Explore our comprehensive list of online bachelor's programs.
Common Courses in a Religious Studies Program
Religious studies programs can vary widely in scope, but many have courses in common. Programs with a focus on comparative religion, for example, usually offer surveys of major belief systems. At the same time, Christian-focused degrees generally highlight classes that situate Christianity within broader world religious history. Many programs also require foreign language credits to encourage students to delve into primary sources.
The courses below feature in many religious studies bachelor's degree curricula.
This course surveys the initial events that formed Christianity. Students learn the varieties of Jewish and Roman beliefs in the Middle East during that time and how they shaped the accounts of the New Testament's authors. Faculty also discuss how Christian thought and identity diverged from Judaism as Christianity spread over time.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Students examine the common themes and historical threads tying these three religions together. Topics include the origins of each faith, their tensions with one another, and their social and political influence in today's world. In addition, students read translated excerpts from each religion's key texts to understand how each approaches the same moral and epistemological questions.
Religion in America
This class provides a broad view of U.S. religious history from its inception. Professors usually discuss the beliefs of indigenous settlers, scrutinize the Puritan Christianity of the first European arrivals, and examine contemporary religious pluralism. Topics include religion's influence on American politics, tolerance and intolerance through the centuries, and demographic trends.
Religion, War, and Peace
All major religions wrestle with violence and its justifications, which this class covers in depth. Enrollees study sacred texts in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to investigate various perspectives on war, peace, and coercive conversion. They also hear lectures on religion-based wars throughout history and read contemporary scholars on the subject.
Science and Religion
Students probe the changing relationship between faith and worldly inquiry. Topics include religious authorities' endorsement or rejection of various scientific conclusions, famous scientists' spiritual beliefs throughout history, and contemporary conflicts between science and religion.
Religious Studies Program Concentrations
Some colleges allow students to tailor their religious studies undergraduate degrees with a concentration. Enrollees take a common core of classes for the major and gear their electives toward their chosen focus area. A concentration can help students specialize in an area of interest they might want to work in, such as church administration or public policy. See below for a few examples of concentrations available at some schools.
Biblical Languages: Christian colleges usually offer this specialty. Students learn ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek, or Aramaic so they can read the New or Old Testaments in their original language in order to apply their own interpretations.
Christian Ministry: Students may choose this path if they're interested in church outreach. They take courses in evangelism, administration, group psychology, and Christian ethics from the perspective of their chosen denomination.
Leadership: Similar to the Christian Ministry concentration above, this specialization is for students who want to work in administration or outreach. However, it's not limited to Christian students and parochial organizations. Leadership students learn motivational psychology and management skills, which are helpful when leading teams in non-profits, businesses, schools, and church organizations.
Philosophy: This concentration examines the interplay between spirituality and rational philosophy. Students read the works of philosophers from Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds to learn how these authors reconciled religion with their philosophy. Philosophy students have ample opportunities to practice critical thinking skills that can serve them well in both religious and secular occupations.
Politics and Global Affairs: Students who pursue this concentration are typically interested in the intersection between religion and levers of power. Courses cover religion's relationship with war, social justice, nationalism, and the law in North America as well as the wider world.
How Much Does a Religious Studies Degree Cost?
The median annual tuition for all online bachelor's degrees on our site is $13,919, drawn from a sample of 846 schools. The list of popular schools for religious studies has a median annual tuition rate of $24,413. This is higher than the nationwide median because many of these colleges are private, which tend to cost more than public schools.
Online students often pay lower tuition rates than on-campus colleagues because schools can enroll more of them with minimal infrastructure upgrades. On top of tuition, both distance and traditional students pay fees that vary by institution. Additionally, all students must buy books and supplies, but online learners don't need to pay for room and board. Applicants should browse college websites and talk to admissions officers about ways to reduce costs, which can include academic credit for certain types of prior learning and life experiences. Some public schools also offer in-state tuition rates to students in neighboring states that have a reciprocity agreement.
Financial Aid for Online Students
In general, online students are eligible for the same financial aid opportunities as traditional students. The ideal financial aid options are scholarships, grants, and work-study programs, which lower a degree’s total cost and don't require repayment. Most students take out loans to cover remaining expenses, but they must repay these loans with interest. Federal and state government loans offer better terms and lower interest rates than those from private lenders. In general, it's best to apply for as much gift aid as possible before resorting to loans.
In general, online students are eligible for the same financial aid opportunities as traditional students.
Most students start by entering personal financial information into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which the federal government requires. States, colleges, and private scholarship sources also use the FAFSA, though some states offer alternative forms for undocumented students. After determining their federal aid eligibility, students should research their state of residence and intended college for additional opportunities — the school's financial aid office can be a helpful resource. Many private donors also fund scholarships based on need, merit, religious denomination, ethnic and racial background, and other factors. In particular, religious students should check whether the central organization of their faith offers scholarships.
Are Religious Degrees Accredited?
Both colleges and individual bachelor's degree programs can receive accreditation. Schools can earn either national or regional accreditation by passing a quality review by an independent agency. Regional accreditation is preferable to national because regional accreditors hold schools to more rigorous academic standards. Students at regionally accredited institutions are generally able to transfer credits to other regionally accredited schools.
Applicants can search the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database to find accredited schools.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Religious Studies?
As with many humanities disciplines, a religious studies major aims to teach students an array of useful skills rather than train them for a specific career path. In addition, alumni may gain subject-matter knowledge that can potentially help them secure work for religious organizations, non-profits serving diverse cultures, or government agencies with overseas appointments.
Director of religious activities
Religious and non-profit organizations need administrators to coordinate faith-based initiatives. These directors plan outreach events, oversee religious training, and prepare team budgets. Students might spend some electives on business administration courses to improve their management skills.
Religious groups and non-profits often operate on lean budgets, so fundraisers are crucial to their operations. They use their interpersonal skills to solicit donations, update social media feeds, and network at fundraising events. Interested students may want to pursue a finance or accounting minor to improve their marketability in this field.
Museum technicians help curators set up collections, clean and store items, acquire new pieces, and coordinate insurance and security. They often begin this career with a bachelor's degree, and some subject matter expertise can make them more competitive for entry-level jobs. Most positions are in densely populated states that host more museums.
Social and community service manager
Social and community service managers help oversee operations for non-profit charities, churches, and companies with outreach and community service initiatives. They create and coordinate service programs and handle logistics for ongoing projects. Employers with religious affiliations might appreciate candidates with a religious education who demonstrate dedication to the organization's values.
Parochial schools need teachers to educate students at all levels. Christian-school teachers typically don't need to meet state licensing requirements, but employers may require certifications from specialty organizations in their denomination.
Is an Online Bachelor’s in Religious Studies Worth It?
Your financial, familial, and work circumstances should help you decide whether and how you want to pursue a religious studies degree. You may also use the pros and cons list below to help weigh the decision.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, religion majors have a very low unemployment rate. Only 1.5% of recent graduates were unable to find work in 2020.
A religious studies degree can help develop transferable skills that appeal to employers across a wide swath of industries. Businesses, government agencies, charities, churches, and schools can all benefit from employees with tolerance, empathy, clear communication, and abstract reasoning.
Online education can provide a flexible means of earning a degree. By studying on their own schedule, students can typically balance responsibilities more easily than in a traditional program.
Religion majors tend to earn lower median salaries than other alumni. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, religion and philosophy majors make a median wage of $55,000 a year, compared to $60,000 for all other fields.
Online students may have a hard time networking. Most online degrees contain asynchronous courses without live interaction, which some students find isolating. Online learners can try to counteract this by scheduling regular video conferences with professors or classmates. Students can also develop professional relationships if their online program requires on-campus intensives or internships, but these are relatively uncommon in religious studies programs.
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