As an academic discipline, religious studies seeks to understand how spiritual beliefs have shaped the politics, art and economics of societies around the world. Theology is concerned with the systematic study of religion from both rational and faith-based perspectives.
Some religious studies degree programs explore similarities and differences between faiths, rather than promoting or authorizing particular spiritual practices. On the other hand, many seminary and Christian college programs emphasize the rites and texts of specific denominations. You should therefore review descriptions of courses of study to choose a program that matches your educational and career goals.
While some programs allow for specialization even at the undergraduate level, most religious studies programs focus on the traditions, history and texts of the five major world religions. You study the core beliefs of the dominant faiths to gain a modern, multicultural perspective on ancient and present-day beliefs.
Degree programs in religious and theological studies aim to provide you with a foundation in history, philosophy and leadership skills. Students can also expect courses in research methods, church administration and business management for non-profit organizations. Some theology programs will include traditional training in preaching and sermon writing.
General religious studies and theology degrees prepare you to work in faith-focused careers. Not all graduates, however, will assume traditional roles as ministers, youth pastors or missionaries. Some religious studies graduates go on to spiritually-centered work in healthcare, counseling, education and government service.
Regardless of your ultimate career path, if you are considering these type of degrees, you should have a strong sense of moral direction, a desire to help others and good oral and written communication skills. You should be prepared to study challenging texts, such as the Old Testament or the Quran. Finally, the interdisciplinary approach of most religious studies programs requires an ability to manage a range of subject areas, from philosophy to administration.
Learn about online degrees in religion, sorted by degree level: