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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Religious Studies

religion degree

Editor's Picks: Online Schools for Religious Studies


Grand Canyon University was awarded the title of the best online master's degree in religious studies for value. This private Christian institution is located in Phoenix, Ariz., and serves more than 40,000 students. In recent years, the school has also rapidly expanded their distance education offerings, rising as a leader in online learning. A reputation for strong academic programs, reasonable tuition rates, and a history of generous financial aid packages help to place Grand Canyon University at the top of this category. Graduates of GCU can expect a return on investment of 4.9% according to This increased to 5.4% once financial aid was factored into the equation.


Grand Canyon University was also selected as the top online master's degree in religious studies for flexibility. The school offers asynchronous classes designed for the needs of working adults and nontraditional students. This allows students to work on their courses according to their own schedule, logging in to the virtual classroom at any time and from any location with Internet access. The virtual learning platform is uniform for all online classes so students will not have to readjust to new formats throughout their enrollment. In addition, all online programs are designed for students to take one course at a time so they can focus their efforts on their education while still balancing the demands of their personal and professional life.

Career Support

Students at Grand Canyon University also have access to a variety of career support services. GCU's full-time staff is dedicated to helping students choose the right field of study, develop the skills they need to be successful, and find job placement. Some of the services offered include resume and cover letter editing, mock interviews, networking etiquette training, career research resources, electronic job postings, and career assessment tools. Students who are able to come to campus can also take advantage of face-to-face meetings with career counselors as well as participate in job fairs and other recruiting events. With all this in mind, Grand Canyon University was selected as the best online master's degree in religious studies for career support.

Financial Support

Liberty University was selected as the best online master's degree in religious studies for financial support. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 97% of incoming students received financial assistance. Of those students who received assistance, 95% were awarded some aid in the form of scholarships and/or grants. Approximately 67% of students took out loans to help finance their education, mostly through federal loan programs. In 2009, the loan default rate was a low 4.8%, showing student debt was manageable for the majority of graduates from Liberty.

Student Engagement

Liberty University was also awarded the title of best online master's degree in religious studies for student engagement. This private four-year intuition located in Lynchburg, Va., is the largest Christian university in the world and was ranked among the top 100 regional universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report. A state-of-the-art virtual learning environment, professors experienced working with distance learners, high retention and graduation rates, and a commitment to building a strong online community all contribute to Liberty's ranking at the top of our list for this category.

Faculty Credentials

The best online master's degree in religious studies for faculty credentials is Liberty University. Ranked 8th among the best online universities by Online Education Database, Liberty is dedicated to selecting faculty who are experienced working with distance learners. This ensures that instructors are able to effectively foster intellectual growth in the virtual environment. In addition, limited class sizes and full-time online instructors improve individualized attention and accessibility. Students can contact their instructors via chat, email, the online platform, or even via telephone in many cases.

Prior Learning Options

Grand Canyon University was chosen as the best online master's degree in religious studies for prior learning options. The school has a designated transfer center to assist students in applying previous credits to their chosen degree program. An advisor will help students evaluate credits from other accredited institutions, but students may also earn credits through lifelong learning assessments and placement tests. This is extremely valuable in accelerating the degree path for adult students with experience in their field of study. All of these factors help to place GCU at the top of our list for prior learning options.

Explore a Master's Degree in Religious Studies

Online master's degrees in religious studies are designed to equip students with an in-depth understanding of world religions, including religious beliefs, behaviors, and traditions, with the opportunity to specialize in one particular area of interest. At the graduate level, students look more closely at both western and eastern religions and examine the effect religion has on politics and cultures across the globe. Some programs are secular, while others look at religion from a Christian worldview. A master's program in religious studies is a good fit for people who are in ministry, for lay people who want a greater understanding of world religions, for students who wish to conduct research in religion, and for students who want to lay a solid foundation for future doctoral study to prepare for a university teaching career.

Students in online programs access their courses over the Internet from their home computers, and can typically log in at a time of day that works best for them, completing their assignments within the timeframe their professors give them. Some online programs require a student's occasional presence on campus, while others are delivered entirely online. Many master's programs in religious studies can be completed in two years of full-time study, but program length varies depending on the university. Students may be able to complete their program in less time if they have transferable graduate credits from another university.

Class Curriculum

A master's curriculum in religious studies will cultivate a student's knowledge of world religious traditions, comparative religion, and research methods. Students who have only a cursory understanding of certain religions may need to take a graduate-level survey course of that religion. Many courses are interdisciplinary, including aspects of history, anthropology, and literature in looking at religion. While required courses vary greatly depending on the university, a few courses you may encounter in an online master's program in religious studies include:

  • Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity. In this course, students will critically examine the religions of Judaism and Christianity throughout history, their similarities and differences, and how adherents of these religions have related to each other over time. The course may incorporate biblical texts that are applicable to both religions and their historical context.
  • Philosophical Theology. This course examines religious beliefs on the basis of reason, logic, and argument rather than relying on sacred texts. Arguments may center on the existence of God, the nature of God, and the tension between religion and science.
  • Religions of Asia. In this course, students survey religions and religious practices that are prevalent in South, Southeast, and East Asia. This course may be separated into two courses. Students will learn about the beliefs and practices of religions prevalent in East Asia, such as Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Shinto, as well as those more prevalent in East and Southeast Asia, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Islam.

Assignments in a religious studies master's programs emphasize writing and research. Students may be asked to write research papers comparing the major tenets of two different religions, identifying common ground, and highlighting irreconcilable differences. Students may also be asked to critically examine passages of sacred texts in writing. Most programs conclude with the submission and oral defense of a thesis. Some programs require one or more comprehensive examinations in which students demonstrate the breadth and depth of their knowledge in religious studies.

Building a Career

One of the most common career paths for students with master's degrees in religious studies is postsecondary religion and philosophy teachers. These teachers work at colleges and universities teaching undergraduate and graduate-level courses in religion and related disciplines, as well as conducting research. Many academic positions will require a doctoral degree. The median yearly salary for philosophy and religion teachers was estimated at $65,100, with top-paying states including Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and California, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Some graduates, however, begin or continue a career in ministry. Clergy includes pastors, ministers, assistant pastors, children's and youth pastors, and more who provide spiritual guidance to a congregation or special population. Their median yearly salary was estimated at $44,140, the BLS noted. Actual salaries for religion professors and clergy will vary depending on the size of the institution they work for, their level of experience, the region of the country they live in, and other considerations.