How to Major in Religious Studies
Students who major in religious studies have a wide range of degree options. Where you study significantly determines what you can study, but whether your goal is a life in service to your faith, or you are just fascinated by world religions, a major in religious studies can be a rewarding path.
Majoring in religious studies can mean different things to different students. Some degrees are secular, viewing religions (whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other world religions, both ancient and modern) from the “outside,” studying the history, literature and beliefs of each. Other degrees, such as a master of divinity, are firmly rooted within a religion (Christianity, in this case), with the goal of developing advanced, expert knowledge and finding employment in the clergy.
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.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a Religious Studies Major.
5 Reasons to Major in Religious Studies
1.Religious studies majors have diverse options.
While some religious studies majors will work directly in religious settings as clergy, many find employment in a wide range of areas. Social services, education, public relations, media, business, politics, and cross-cultural relations are all places where religious studies majors can apply their knowledge and skills.
2.Religious studies majors learn about different cultures.
Religion is a driving force of culture, and has been for millenia. You’ll investigate the connection between religion and culture. This, in turn, will provide you with a stronger understanding of the political and social developments around you.
3.Religious studies majors connect with their faith.
Many students enter religious studies programs in an effort to draw a direct connection between faith and knowledge. If your faith is important to you, and you want to grow in your faith and in your relationship to your beliefs, a religious studies degree can be a rewarding and illuminating experience.
4.Religious studies majors receive a well-rounded education.
Most religious studies degrees are rooted in a firm liberal arts education tradition. This means you get to study a bit of everything, and develop a well-rounded knowledge base, with the critical and analytical skills to navigate new challenges, and learn in unfamiliar situations.
5.Religious studies majors are influential.
Whether serving as clergy within a religion, or functioning as a culture critic, religious studies majors influence how we understand and interact with religion in our daily lives. Today, top influencers in religious studies are bringing light to topics like New Testament analysis, Christian apologetics, science and Christianity, and much more.
Find out who the Most Influential People are in Religious Studies today!
What Kinds of Religious Studies Degrees Are There?
Religious studies degrees come in many flavors. These degrees are available at all levels of study, and allow for specialized career-focused paths, as well as general liberal arts programs. Some are secular and view religion through a historical critical lense, some focus on specific religions (such as Islam or Hinduism), and some study in preparation for roles are ministers or rabbis.
- Associate in Religious Studies (AA): An associate degree in religious studies typically takes two years to complete and requires 60 credits. An associate’s degree in religious studies provides foundational knowledge in religion, whether focused on a specific religion, or the concept of religion in general. These degrees are offered at religious and secular institutions, and common courses include topics such as world religions, religion in Western culture, Old and New Testaments, and philosophy of religion.
- Bachelor of Religious Studies (BA): Offered by both secular and religious institutions, a bachelor of religious studies takes four years to complete and requires 120 credits. This undergraduate degree takes a critical historical approach to understanding religion, and offers specializations such as biblical studies, Islamic studies, Judaic Studies, and eastern religions. Courses include religion-specific topics, as well as philosophy of religion, ancient religion, religion in the middle ages, and religion in modernity, as well as a typical liberal arts curriculum.
- Bachelor of Theology or Ministry (BTh or BM): Offered by religious institutions, including Christian schools, Bible schools, and seminaries, BTh and BM degrees provide focused religious instruction for students who want to go deeper in Christianity. These programs typically require four years of study and 120 credits to complete. A bachelor of theology is more academically focused, for students who want to engage with deep study of the Bible, whereas a bachelor of ministry is more of a professional degree for students who intend to go directly into the ministry. A BTh or BM prepares graduates for entry-level roles in religious organizations.
- 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.
*Note: Many, but not all, degree programs offer the choice between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Likewise, many, but not all, advanced degree programs offer a choice between Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees. In most cases, the primary difference is the diversity of course offerings. “Science” degree courses will focus almost entirely on the Major discipline, with a deep dive into a specific concentration, including laboratory, clinical or practicum experience. An “Arts” degree will provide a more well-rounded curriculum which includes both core/concentration courses and a selection of humanities and electives. The type of degree you choose will depend both on your school’s offerings and your career/educational goals. Moreover, there are sometimes numerous variations in the way that colleges name and categorize majors. The degree types identified here above are some of the common naming variations, but may not be all-encompassing.
What Are Some Popular Religious Studies Concentrations?
Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a complete listing of college degree programs and concentrations (Classification for Instructional Programs), as sourced from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). According to IPEDS, the following are among the most popular religious studies concentrations:
- 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 Major?
Your concentration 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 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:
- Old Testament
- New Testament
- Church History
- Introduction to Philosophy
- Introduction to Theology
- World Religions
- Christian Apologetics
- Jewish Diaspora
What Can I Do With a Major in Religious Studies?
A major in religious studies prepares you for diverse professions in academia, public service, and places of worship. Your religious studies major can lead to a wide range of career opportunities, including these top jobs:
- Religious Workers
- Religious Activities and Education Directors
- Community and Social Service Specialists
- Social and Community Service Managers
- Postsecondary Education Administrators
- Postsecondary Teachers
Now that you know how to major in religious studies, check out The Most Influential Schools in Religious Studies and get started on your path to a religious studies degree.