What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies?

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies?

Leadership is a central component of organized religion, whether you hope to lead a congregation, organize public service efforts within your community, or teach theology at the post-secondary level. Earning a master’s degree in religious studies could qualify you to serve in a spiritual leadership capacity while strengthening your own connection to your faith.

Master’s degrees in religious studies come in a wide variety, from secular studies of theology or word religion to degrees aimed at training for future clergy, such as a Master of Divinity or a Master of Rabbinic Studies. Whether your goal is a life in service to your faith and community, or you are just fascinated by world religions, a master in religious studies can propel you to a leadership role and a personally rewarding career.

Just getting started in the field? Check out our look at the religious studies major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in religious studies.

If you’re ready to earn your graduate degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Religious Studies.

Or read on to find out what you can expect as a religious studies master.

Featured Programs

Why get a master’s degree in religious studies?

While some religious studies majors will work directly in religious settings such as the Christian or rabbinical ministry, religious masters may find employment in a wide range of areas. Earning an advanced degree in religious studies could qualify you for leadership roles in various professional settings, including social services, education, public relations, media, politics, and more.

Whether serving as clergy, leading service organizations, or educating others within a given faith, religious studies masters influence our understanding of theology, spirituality, and the practical concerns of organized religion. Today, top influencers in religious studies are bringing light to topics like New Testament analysis, Christian apologetics, Science and Christianity, and much more.

Learn more about these and other top influencers in the religious studies field today!

How can I qualify to get a master’s degree in religious studies?

Some programs may require you to complete a Graduate Record Examination (GRE). This will test your basic reading comprehension, verbal, and mathematical competencies. Some programs may require you to meet a certain scoring threshold while others may merely require that you complete the exam. These requirements will vary from one religious studies master’s program to the next.

For testing tips, check out our Guide to the GRE.

If no GRE is required, the primary requirement for gaining eligibility into a religious studies master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school. While programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally-accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally-accredited college or university.

That said, a great many religious degrees are nationally accredited at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, rather than regionally accredited. Where this is the case, be sure to do your due diligence in researching the reputation and history of your master’s degree program. Be sure that any nationally-accredited masters in religious studies degree programs are reputable and of a high quality.

For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.

If you’re still working on building your qualifications, check out our look at the religious studies major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in religious studies.

What kinds of religious studies degrees are there?

  • Advanced religious studies degrees come in a variety of forms, and depend both on your practical goals and your religious affiliation. Advanced religious studies degrees are available at every level of study. Some are secular and view religion through a historical or critical lens. Others may focus on specific religions (such as Islam or Hinduism), and others offer preparatory study for roles as ministers, rabbis, or other clergy.
  • Master of Religious Studies (MA): A master’s in religious studies typically takes two years and requires 30-45 credits to complete. With a liberal arts focus, this degree provides students with advanced knowledge of various aspects of religion. These programs are offered by secular and religious schools, with concentrations including Islamic studies, ancient biblical languages, eastern religions, and religion and gender. A master of religious studies prepares a student for education, counseling, or social services roles in religious organizations. Students will typically have to complete a thesis.
  • Master of Theology or Divinity (MTh or MDiv): For students who want to take a deep dive into Christianity, a MTh or MDiv develops advanced knowledge and understanding of the religion. These programs typically take two or three years and require 30-45 credits. A master of theology is more appropriate for those who wish to study Christianity academically, while a master of divinity is suited for those who intend to work as clergy. Both programs include advanced coursework in topics such as Christian apologetics, modern issues in Christianity, biblical interpretation, history of the church, and ancient languages. Concentrations include topics such as pastoral counseling, youth ministry, sports ministry, and biblical languages. These programs typically require a thesis project, and may require a missionary trip.
  • Master of Rabbinic Studies (MRb): For students of the Jewish faith who wish to become rabbis, a master of rabbinic studies is the path to take. These programs take three to five years, with requirements similar to a doctoral degree, including advanced coursework (in areas like Hebrew, textual interpretation, and the Jewish diaspora), as well as residential and professional components, and comprehensive exams.
  • PhD in Religious Studies: A terminal degree, the PhD in religious studies is suited for students who intend to work as college professors of religion. Offered at secular and religious schools, these programs typically take three to five years and allow students to focus on highly-specialized studies in their particular area of interest. Students must complete advanced coursework, comprehensive exams, instructional work, and a dissertation.
  • Doctor of Theology (DTh): A DTh is a terminal degree for students who intend to take their study of Christianity to its highest level, with career prospects as college professors, college administrators, and theologians. These programs include a mix of advanced coursework, comprehensive exams, instructional work, and a dissertation.

What are some popular religious studies specializations?

Your specialization will depend both on your career goals and your religious affiliation. Your personal spiritual beliefs may determine the advanced degree you pursue, or you may focus your studies on a particular dimension of religious practice such as its history or scriptures. You may also choose a specialization based on a specific area where you believe you can apply your faith, such as in education, athletics, community organization, and more. The following are notable religious studies specializations:

  • Ancient Biblical Languages
  • Bible/Biblical Studies
  • Buddhist Studies
  • Christian Ministry
  • Eastern Religions
  • Hindu Studies
  • Islam/Islamic Studies
  • Judaism/Judaic Studies
  • Missions/Missionary Studies
  • Sports Ministry
  • Youth Ministry

What courses will I take as a religious studies master?

Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a religious studies major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as The New Testament and World Religions. However, your degree in religious studies will also be very specific to your career goals and area of faith.

Common religious studies courses include:

  • Theological Anthropology
  • Biblical Interpretation Methods and Theories
  • Comparative Mysticism
  • Approaching Religion
  • Interfaith Leadership
  • Faith and Politics
  • Community And Congregation Leadership
  • Religion and Contemporary Culture

Is a master’s degree in religious studies worth it?

Leadership is a central part of organized religion. A master’s degree in religious studies will provide you with both the qualifications and the credentials to serve in a leadership role. Religious organizations are often central to the way communities come together, social services are distributed, education is accessed, and so much more. Earning a master’s degree will help you build organizational skills even as you channel these practical abilities through a spiritual perspective. A master’s degree in religious studies is a worthwhile pursuit if you hope to assume an administrative role in a faith-based organization, whether as part of a chaplaincy or otherwise.

Career Outlook for Students with Religious Studies Degree

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Religion/Religious Studies

Degree Level: Master's

  • Location: The U.S. (Private Schools)

Career Salaries

CareerJob GrowthAvg. Salary
Area, Ethnic, and Cultural Studies Teachers, Postsecondary4.20%$81,038
Philosophy and Religion Teachers, Postsecondary2.75%$76,104

Average Career Salaries

Bottom 10%MedianTop 10%

Promising Job Markets

StateCost of LivingAvg. Salary
#2 Michigan15% higher than average$79,040
#3 New York5% higher than average$97,120
#4 Illinois7% higher than average$86,027
#5 Ohio14% higher than average$78,749
#6 Texas10% higher than average$81,524

Top Industries

IndustryAvg. Salary
Area, Ethnic, and Cultural Studies Teachers, Postsecondary$81,038
Philosophy and Religion Teachers, Postsecondary$76,104

What are the top jobs with a master’s in religious studies degree?

A master in religious studies prepares you for diverse professions in academia, public service, and places of worship. Your religious studies master can lead to a wide range of leadership opportunities, including these top jobs:

Curious how far you could go with a master’s degree in religious studies? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!


Now that you know how to earn a masters in religious studies, check out The Most Influential Schools in Religious Studies:

Student Submitted Questions on Master’s Degrees in Religious Studies

Zach asks, “Would a master’s in religious studies prepare me for a career in academia?”

Dr. James Barham’s answer: It can definitely help you prepare to have a career in academia, but keep in mind that if your end goal is to be on faculty at a university, you will most likely need a PhD. However, a master’s can definitely help set you up for success in a PhD program and is a prerequisite for many PhD programs.

With that being said, a master’s in religious studies will provide a rich study of religious texts and theories. You can also specialize in a specific religion, religious history, or comparative religion. You will also learn valuable research skills such as research methodology and thesis writing that will set you up for further education.

Mel asks, “Will I be required to complete an internship in a religious studies master’s?”

Dr. Jed Macosko’s answer: This will vary based off of the specific program and school, but many will. Schools more focused on academic research and preparation for doctoral studies will be less likely to require internships as they will be more concerned with research methodologies and the completion of a thesis or dissertation.

With programs designed with a more applied or professional orientation, you will most likely be required to complete an internship or at least some sort of practical experience. You should be able to see what exactly the program requires on the program’s website.

Check out the full list here and get started on your path to a religious studies degree.

And if you’re still shopping for the right college, be sure to bookmark our Resources on critical issues like Accreditation, Scholarships, Financial Aid, and more!

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