If you’re interested in a scholarly study of religion, you might be drawn to a religious studies masters degree. Through this graduate program, students investigate a range of religious expressions from a historical, cultural, literary, sociological, and theological perspective. They also have the opportunity to conduct research into an area of their interest and teach. Upon completion, students might continue their studies at the doctoral level, go into professional school, teach, or work for a religious nonprofit.

Why a Master’s Degree?

Online religious studies masters degree are designed for a variety of students. They might have a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and want to continue studying the field. Or, they want to prepare for a Ph.D. in religion or theology and gain training in research methods. Others might want to pursue a career in ministry or religious education and need necessary leadership training and qualifications to teach at the high school or community college level. Still others may just want to learn more about religion to enrich their professional life.

Getting Into a Master’s Degree Program

Each school will have its own application requirements. But for an idea of what’s expected, here are some application materials and credentials typically requested:

  • Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher education
  • Minimum GPA
  • GRE score
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts from all previously attended colleges and university
  • Interview
  • Personal statement
  • Foreign language requirement

Inside a Religious Studies Master’s Degree Program

Master’s degrees can take one to three years to complete. Through a master’s in religious studies, students have the chance to study religion across a spectrum of historical periods and cultural contexts. Potential areas of study include Western theological and ethical thought, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and East and Southeast Asian religions. Students may also look at various religions in the context of gender, nationalism, science, modernity, and symbolism. Upon graduating, they will have a theoretical foundation for understanding different religious phenomena and knowledge of Christian and non-Christian traditions.

Master’s degree programs also help students develop research skills. Thesis-tract programs in particular would enable students to specialize on a single religious tradition and write a well-cited paper. This would require significant exploration of texts, journals, and other resources, so when looking into online programs, students should see what kinds of access they have to library resources.

What’s Next for Religious Studies Master’s Degree Holders?

Graduates of master’s degrees in religious studies can take a number of different career paths. They might work directly in religion, leading a ministry or religious organization. Others may decide to teach religion at the high school or community college level. Still others might work at a museum, in publishing, or at a library where religious expertise is needed.

Continued education is another option. Graduates may use their degree to then prepare for professional careers in areas like law, journalism, counseling, social work, or government. They may also go into graduate studies in areas like literature, anthropology, ethics, sociology, or art history. Religion or theology, of course, is another potential area of study, and students would be prepared pursue the terminal degree in religious studies — the Ph.D. This would be necessary if they want to teach at a college or university.