Religious Studies

Religious Studies

If you are interested in pursuing a degree or finding a job in the field of religious studies, everything you need is here. Find the best schools, career information, history of the discipline, influential people in the field, great books, and more.

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What Is Religious Studies?

Religious studies is the academic study of human religions from the point of view of the social sciences and the humanities, as opposed to a committed religious point of view. Religious studies students take classes such as philosophy, world religions, Christian apologetics, and Jewish Diaspora.

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The Best Colleges and Universities for Religious Studies Degrees

Best Religious Studies Major Research Universities

  1. Harvard University
  2. Yale University
  3. University of Chicago
  4. Columbia University
  5. Duke University

Go to The Best Religious Studies Major Research Universities

Best Religious Studies Major Liberal Arts Colleges

  1. Pomona College
  2. Claremont McKenna College
  3. Swarthmore College
  4. Williams College
  5. Amherst College

Go to The Best Religious Studies Major Liberal Arts Colleges

Best Religious Studies Online Colleges

  1. Western Michigan University
  2. Florida International University
  3. Missouri State University
  4. University of Central Florida
  5. Chaminade University of Honolulu

Go to The Best Religious Studies Online Colleges

To view the entire list of top religious studies schools, including schools offering online degrees and a breakdown of the best religious studies colleges and universities in your state, visit our look at the Best Colleges and Universities for Religious Studies Degrees.

For a dynamic, real-time listing of the most influential religious studies schools in the world, use our Custom College Ranking.

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Religious Studies Degrees

What Will I Study as a Religious Studies Major?

As a religious studies major, you’ll study topics like Church History, Christian Apologetics, World Religions, Philosophy, and more..

What Can I Do With a Degree in Religious Studies?

Graduates with a degree in religious studies can pursue a career as a teacher, community and social service specialists, social and community service managers, and clergy, among others..

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

If you’d like to learn more, check out our extensive list of resources for religious studies students, graduates, and professionals...

How To Get a Degree in Religious Studies

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What’s the difference between a Bachelor of Divinity and a Bachelor of Theology?

Oftentimes, the terms divinity and theology are used interchangeably, which can lead to some confusion over the key differences between the degrees related to each term. A Bachelor of Divinity (BD) is a degree primarily awarded in the United Kingdom (UK). Typically, in the United States, a religious studies undergraduate degree is referred to as a Bachelor in Theology (BTh). Both bachelor’s degrees are available in the UK, and their structure and content differ by program. Whereas most divinity degrees are designed to prepare students for careers in the clergy, theology undergraduate degrees, in both the US and UK, provide an academic study of numerous world religions. The theology degree can lead down various career paths in both academia and ministry.

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What will I study in these bachelor’s programs?

  • Theology students study religious beliefs from multiple religious perspectives, but often through the lens of Christianity. Classes will review religious thought, literature, worship, traditions, language, and art. Many use this degree as a stepping-stone to a more advanced degree in order to either teach at the postsecondary level or pursue ministry roles.
  • Divinity students study the divine and all that accompanies it. Classes can include the study of more than one religion, but often leads to advanced degrees in one religion and the ordination in that religion.
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How long does it take to earn a BD or BTh?

Some BD programs in the UK take as few as two years. A BTh in the UK can take anywhere from three to six years, and in the US, a BTh degree typically takes four years to complete for full-time students.

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What can I do with a bachelor’s degree in divinity or theology?

A BD in the UK can oftentimes lead to a pastoral vocation. Bachelor of Theology students, both in the US and UK, typically continue in their education, attending graduate programs in divinity and theology. Graduates also can pursue positions within their church, such as youth leader or Christian curriculum editor.

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Who Are the Top Religious Studies Influencers of All Time?

The seemingly narrow field of religious studies is actually a broad study of any number of world religions, (whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other world religions, both ancient and modern), either viewing those religions from the “outside,” studying the history, literature and beliefs of each’ or firmly rooted within a religion (Christianity, in this case), with the goal of developing advanced, expert knowledge and finding employment in the clergy. This extremely nuanced and complex area of study has been shaped by the influence of those important to the field of religious studies. Below, you will find some of these influential persons in the field.

  1. Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church. An immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism.
  2. Martin Luther was a German professor of theology, priest, author, composer, Augustinian monk, and a seminal figure in the Reformation. He came to reject several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.
  3. John Calvin was a French theologian, pastor and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism, including its doctrines of predestination and of God’s absolute sovereignty in the salvation of the human soul from death and eternal damnation.
  4. Maimonides was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. In his time, he was also a preeminent astronomer and physician, serving as the personal physician of Saladin .
  5. Joseph Smith was an American religious leader and founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement. When he was 24, Smith published the Book of Mormon. By the time of his death, 14 years later, he had attracted tens of thousands of followers and founded a religion that continues to the present with millions of global adherents.
  6. Karl Barth was a Swiss Calvinist theologian who is most well known for his landmark commentary The Epistle to the Romans , his involvement in the Confessing Church, and authorship of the Barmen Declaration, and especially his unfinished multi-volume theological summa the Church Dogmatics . Barth’s influence expanded well beyond the academic realm to mainstream culture, leading him to be featured on the cover of Time on 20 April 1962.
  7. Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony, and parables.
  8. C. S. Lewis was a British writer and lay theologian. He held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University and Cambridge University . He is best known for his works of fiction.
  9. B. R. Ambedkar was an Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer, who inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement and campaigned against social discrimination towards the untouchables .
  10. Baruch Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Sephardi origin. One of the early thinkers of the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy.
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Who Are the Current Top Religious Studies Influencers?

The following are the top political scientists in the field today according to our machine-powered Influence Rankings, which are drawn from a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, and an ever-growing body of data.

  • Alister McGrath pursued graduate research in science while also studying theology, and earned a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics in 1977. He was later ordained as an Anglican priest and awarded a B.D. from Oxford in 1983 and a doctorate in divinity in 2001. He also later earned a third doctorate from Oxford, a D.Litt., in 2013 for his work on science and religion.
  • Bart D. Ehrman is currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Rowan Williams is a Welsh Anglican bishop, theologian and poet. He was the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. Previously the Bishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales, Williams was the first Archbishop of Canterbury in modern times not to be appointed from within the Church of England.
  • William Lane Craig earned his doctorate in 1977 at the University of Birmingham, England, with work on the cosmological argument for God’s existence under the supervision of John Hick. He pursued postdoctoral work under the direction of Wolfhart Pannenberg at the Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität München in Germany, where he earned a doctorate in theology in 1984.
  • Wayne Grudem is an American evangelical theologian, seminary professor, and author. He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible.
  • Norman Geisler was an American Christian systematic theologian and philosopher. He was the co-founder of two non-denominational evangelical seminaries.
  • R. C. Sproul was an American Reformed theologian and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. He was the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries and could be heard daily on the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast in the United States and internationally.
  • Alvin Plantinga currently holds the title of the William Harry Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin University. Previously, Plantinga has taught at Wayne State University and the University of Notre Dame. Additionally, Plantinga was the president of the American Philosophical Association, Western Division from 1981 to 1982.
  • Russell D. Moore is an American theologian, ethicist, and preacher. In June 2021 he became the director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today. Moore previously served as president of the, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention , and at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as dean of the School of Theology, senior vice president for academic administration, and as professor of theology and ethics.
  • Justin Welby is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and the most senior bishop in the Church of England. He has served in that role since 2013. Welby was the vicar of Southam, Warwickshire, and most recently was the Bishop of Durham, serving for just over a year. Ex officio, he is the Primate of All England and the head primus inter pares in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Learn more about other people who are influential in religious studies.

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Great Books About Religious Studies

The following are the most influential books in the field of political science today according to our backstage Ranking Analytics tool, which calculates the influence of various sources in both academics and popular culture using a numerical scoring of citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, and an ever-growing body of data.

  1. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan advances the claim that Jesus of Nazareth’s proclamation of the kingdom of God, as narrated in the Gospels, ought to be seen as primarily a political challenge to the powers-that-be in first-century Palestine—namely, the Roman Empire and the hereditary Jewish priesthood. The book and its claims have been highly controversial.
  2. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James describes and analyzes a wide variety of religious phenomena, from the traditional historical (“world”) religions to smaller-scale groups and even reports of individual, personal experiences. He weaves insightful historical, philosophical, and psychological observations on all of these different sorts of religious phenomena throughout this remarkable, one-of-a-kind study.
  3. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber is the author’s effort to understand the ideological and sociological background of the rise of capitalism in Europe. Specifically, he explores the Calvinist teaching that material prosperity is an outward sign of divine grace, or election, linking this doctrine to the view of industriousness as a prime moral virtue, which Weber saw as the main reason for the extraordinary success of capitalism in northern Europe during the early modern period.
  4. God: A Biography by Jack Miles is the first of a trilogy in which the author explores the concept of God as it is developed in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures, respectively. In this book, Miles represents God (Yahweh) as a character in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) from a narratological point of view.
  5. Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard recounts the dramatic events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ—whom the book calls Jesus of Nazareth—as gleaned from the four gospels of the Christian New Testament. It presents the narrative of those events in the form of an accessible suspense thriller.
  6. God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says by Michael Coogan examines the discussions of sexual morality to be found in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament.
  7. No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan guides the reader on a tour of Islamic civilization, especially its theology and jurisprudence. The book consists of both historical and topical chapters—including, for example, a chapter on jihad. Aslan’s overall thesis is that Islam is fundamentally consistent with modern liberal political and social principles.
  8. “The Will to Believe” by William James outlines the author’s conclusion that belief based on incomplete evidence is not only inevitable, but is also positively useful. Therefore, we are fully within our cognitive rights in doing what in any case we cannot help doing and furthermore what is demonstrably useful to us.
  9. The Phenomenology of Spirit by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel outlines the understanding of the religious experience of mankind as a stage in the development of absolute spirit had a strong influence on later religious thought in the nineteenth century, representing as it did a sort of middle path between traditional Christian theism and scientifically inspired materialistic atheism.
  10. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Émile Durkheim focuses on the religious beliefs and practices of various communities of first peoples around the world, including the Australian aborigines and the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest. He concludes that the primary function of religion is to foster group solidarity and cohesion.

Learn about other influential religious studies books.

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Controversial Topics in Religious Studies

Religion is very personal and often charged with emotion, so controversy is not unexpected and often weaves its way into conversations around this topic. The following controversial topics are related specifically to the religious studies discipline.

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