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Best Online Degrees in: Religious Studies

Editor’s Picks: Online Schools for Religious Studies

Value
The award for best value in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies goes to Arizona State University. PayScale shows the average return on investment for in-state graduates from Arizona State is 8.2%, and it is 6.7% for out-of-state graduates. For in-state graduates receiving financial aid, the average return on investment is 10.1%, and it is 7.7% for out-of-state graduates receiving financial aid.

Flexibility
The winner of the award for best flexibility in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies is Arizona State University. Online students are able to download and work on their assignments whenever they want, with no set class times, and the university’s mobile apps allow students to work on their assignments from just about anywhere. Online courses are divided into seven-and-a-half-week sessions. Students are able to choose how many credits they want to earn in each session, depending on the amount of time they are able to dedicate to their school work.

Career Support
Arizona State University wins the award for best career support in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies. The staff with the university’s Career Services is able to provide online students and graduates with year-round assistance, such as helping them write and critique their resumes and cover letters, learn interview techniques, and search for a career. Ask a Career Advisor is a feature that allows students and graduates to chat with career advisors who can offer tips, advice, and support. These advisors can also help students and graduates search for open positions and find job fairs, recruitment events, and career workshops.

Financial Support
The award for best financial support in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies goes to Saint Thomas University. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 99% of the full-time beginning undergraduate students attending Saint Thomas are receiving financial aid in the forms of grants and scholarships, totaling more than $4 million. In addition to this, 70% are receiving student loan aid, totaling nearly $1.5 million.

Technology Support
Arizona State University wins the award for best technology support in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies. The university has developed mobile apps that students can download to their smartphones and tablets, allowing them to access their virtual classrooms and assignments on the go. They also provide their students with free access to hundreds of software programs, such as Microsoft Office and Adobe. The university’s tech support team is available to help students with any technological issue they may be facing and can be contacted over the phone, through email, and live chat.

Student Engagement
The winner of the award for best student engagement in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies goes to University of the Incarnate Word. Their virtual classrooms are designed to encourage interaction between students and with professors. The faculty works to keep students engaged and participating in class discussions. U.S. News & World Report has ranked University of the Incarnate Word No. 3 in the nation for student engagement and assessment.

Disability Support
The award for best disability support in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies is being given to Arizona State University. The staff at the university’s Disability Resource Center works with each student needing disability support to assess their needs and find accommodations for them. They provide a variety of assistive software, including Kurzwell 3000, Inspiration, MAGic, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and JAWS. They also hold an Assistive Technology Summer Boot Camp for students who are able to travel to their campus to learn how to use the various assistive programs.

Library and Research Support
Arizona State University wins the award for best library and research support in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies. For research assistance and advice, students can contact the library staff through email, chat, and over the phone. There is also contact information for specific people and subject areas, such as law and government documents. Free online tutoring and research assistance is also available. The university’s virtual library contains a large number of e-books, journals, and other resources, as well as guides to help students navigate through the library’s catalogs.

Learning Support
Arizona State University wins the award for the best learning support in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies. They have partnered with Google to allow students to access their online assignments and organize their schedules through Google’s calendar. Their virtual classrooms feature multimedia and user-friendly navigation tools, and students are able to access their classroom and assignments on the go through their mobile apps. Students also have access to free online tutoring and academic advisors who can offer assistance to online students at any time. Arizona State has been ranked No. 1 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for student services and technology.

Faculty Credentials
The award for best faculty credentials in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies goes to Athens State University. The minimum requirement for each faculty member at Athens is a master’s degree with 18 hours of specialized teaching in the field. The Office of Academic Support and Instructional Systems ensures each faculty member is knowledgeable of the latest technologies being used in online education and provides training, workshops, and one-on-one learning sessions with faculty members, and they supply online self-study materials.

Faculty Accessibility
Athens State University wins the award for best faculty accessibility in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies. The online faculty at Athens interacts with students in class discussion forums, allowing students to ask questions and seek advice. Faculty members also provide students with their email addresses, phone numbers, and office hours, responding to student emails within 24 hours and often communicating over the phone and through text and video chat.

Alumni Engagement
The winner of the best alumni engagement award in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies is University of the Incarnate Word. Their alumni association holds regular events to bring alumni together. Alumni can also stay connected through the various social media outlets, as well as the message board on the alumni association’s website, featuring several discussion forums.

Prior Learning Options
The award for best prior learning options in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies goes to University of the Incarnate Word. Students may be able to transfer eligible previously-earned credits from accredited colleges and universities, as well as from non-accredited colleges, trade schools, and technical institutes. Students may also earn credits based on their military training, professional experience, life experience, correspondence courses, and testing programs.

New Online Student Orientation
Arizona State University wins the award for best new student orientation in a school offering an online bachelor’s degree in religious studies. To help new students become familiar with the online learning environment, virtual classroom, class procedures, and the online tools and resources available to them, the university provides videos that explain each of these areas. They also provide videos that walk students through registration, academic advising, setting up a student email account, preparing for class, and interacting in the online community. Academic advisors are readily available to answer any questions and offer guidance and assistance to online students.

Explore a Bachelor’s Degree in Religious Studies

Online religious studies degrees equip students with a solid liberal arts education that emphasizes the study of world religions, religious traditions, and theology. This field is a good choice for students who want to enter the ministry or work in religious organizations or religious education centers. Religious studies also provides a good foundation for future graduate study for those who want to become professors of theology, philosophy, or religion at colleges and universities. Last but not least, the degree is well-suited for those who seek spiritual, as well as academic, enrichment and a deeper understanding of how religion has shaped cultures around the world.

Program length varies for online bachelor’s degree programs in religious studies, but students can expect to complete a program in about four years if they attend a program full-time. Students may be able to complete a program in religious studies in less than four years if they have acceptable transfer credits to bring in from past work at other institutions or from AP courses taken in high school. Some online degree programs in religious studies are degree completion programs for students who have an associate degree or have accumulated a significant amount of transfer credits; these programs can typically be completed in two years.

Class Curriculum

Students in a religious studies degree program begin by taking general education requirements in the arts and sciences for a well-rounded, liberal arts education. These courses include written communication, mathematics, the social and behavioral sciences, the physical and biological sciences, the fine arts and humanities, and a foreign language. The foreign language requirement may be in Hebrew, Greek, or Arabic, as those are the languages of the Bible and the Quran, the most sacred texts of the three major Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Students typically take an introductory course in world religions, and may also take the following major courses:

  • The Pentateuch. In this course, students are introduced to the first five books of the Old Testament in the Bible and their implications for Jewish religious law. Students also learn of the Pentateuch’s major theological themes, central figures, and significance for ancient Near Eastern history, literature, and social customs.
  • Psychology of Religion. This course looks at religious beliefs, experiences, and practices from a psychological perspective. Students examine how religion impacts a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior; religion’s role in social psychology; the role religion plays in coping; and the psychology of religious conversion.
  • History of Christian Thought. In this course, students learn the history of Christianity and how Christian thought has developed and evolved over time. Students in this course often examine the ideas of some of the most influential writers in Christian theology and philosophy, including St. Augustine, Soren Kierkegaard, and C.S. Lewis.

Students in a religious studies degree program can expect to complete research- and writing-intensive assignments. Students are commonly asked to write exegetical papers in which they must critically examine sections of religious texts. Students may also write research papers on influential written works pertaining to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other major world religions. Some religious studies programs encourage or require an internship or volunteer work at places of worship, religious organizations, or faith-based charitable groups so that students can gain hands-on experience in religious workplaces.

Building a Career

Students with a background in religious studies often pursue employment at churches, faith-based nonprofit organizations, religious centers, or colleges and universities. In churches, graduates of religious studies programs may become pastors and ministers, assistant pastors, youth or children’s pastors, worship leaders or music directors, pastoral care staff, or church administrators. Some may go on to find niche jobs writing for religious publications.

At faith-based nonprofits, students may become humanitarian relief workers, community or public relations officers, grants managers, or administrators. At religious centers, graduates may work as community educators, programming directors, directors of youth services, or curators of religious artifacts. With additional education past the bachelor’s degree, students may become college-level instructors in areas of theology, religion, or philosophy.

The median yearly salaries of clergy and directors of religious activities and education were $43,970 and $36,170, respectively, as of May 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A bachelor’s degree is often required for entry-level employment in the field, the BLS explained. While average employment growth is expected for both of these professions between 2010 and 2020, employment in the field is not guaranteed, and salaries vary based on a number of factors, including the area of the country you live in, your level of experience, your roles and responsibilities, and the size of the church or organization you work for.

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