Last Updated: August 19, 2021
Programs and Career Options in Theology
Theology is the study of religions. On a deeper level, theology also focuses on ethics, spirituality, history, and philosophy. It provides insights into the meaning of life. One can also decide to broaden their interest by studying more than one religion (Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, etc.) and even studying the consequences the religion had on a place's historical, cultural, and political setting. A person studying theology can also analyze the nature of religions and the representation of God, life, and death in different religions. It is a diverse and broad subject that centers on not just divine worship and service but also has several career options to offer in the USA.
Degrees in Theology
Theology is a vast subject that includes separate areas of focus. When pursuing an educational career in theology, students are required to choose their area of specialization. Theology is broadly categorized into four main groups, namely, Church History or Historical Theology, Biblical Studies or Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, and Practical Theology. In some institutions, there is also an inclusion of two other groups, i.e., Natural Theology, and Dogmatic Theology. The degree programs offered in Theology are as follows:
- Associate Degree An associate degree in theology is a 2-year course that is budget-friendly, and of shorter duration as compared to a bachelor's degree program. The course generally includes fundamentals like reading, writing, and researching skills, along with courses in biblical theology, philosophy, world religions, practical ministry, and so on. Students have the option to choose an associate of arts degree (main focus on the literary aspects of bible studies) or an associate of science degree (anthropological perspective of bible studies). At times, students are expected to showcase their previous ministry experience and a dedication to the Church to get admitted into a theological degree program. Opting for an associate degree will be appropriate for jobs on a preliminary level such as minister for youth and children or a church administrator.
- Bachelor's Degree A Bachelor's degree generally takes about 3-5 years to complete (duration depends on the institution). The program prepares an adequate foundation for the students to either start a career for entry-level jobs (like a youth minister, junior pastor, choirmaster, or catechism teacher in schools) or to pursue a graduate degree. This course broadly focuses on practical ministry, languages like Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, hermeneutics, homiletics, and so on. Students have the option to choose a bachelor's of art in theology or a bachelor's of theology (the difference being the duration and inclusive courses).
- Master's Degree According to the career one would like to pursue, a student can choose to focus on any one of the specializations, namely, Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS), Master of Divinity (MDiv/MDv), Master of Theological Studies (MTS), and Master of Theology (Th.M). This program prepares students for detailed research in theology, church history, scriptures, ethics, and spirituality. With a master's degree, one can either opt to go for further education, i.e, a doctorate, or start a career as a senior pastor, publisher, social worker, chaplain, counselor, religious educator, and so on.
- Doctorate Degree The degree program includes, Doctor of Pastoral Theology or Doctor of Ministry, Ph.D. in Theology, Doctor of Divinity, and Doctor of Canon Law. A doctorate may be beneficial for students who wish to pursue research, teach in universities, hold administrative positions in religious institutions, start a congregation, and so on.
Some colleges or universities provide dual degree programs wherein the student gets to pursue theology along with subjects like journalism, nursing, law, social work, psychology, and so on.
Career Options for Students with Theology Degree
Various career options are available in the USA as per the line of interest of the students. Students opting for a career in Theology should realize it would also be a way of life for them. They need to put in working hours on occasions and be devoted to their tasks. Given below are some of the opportunities that students might choose when pursuing Theology:
- Clergy- the role of the clergy is to primarily deliver speeches or sermons to a religious group in a religious institution, conduct special occasions like weddings, funerals and provide spiritual knowledge to the people. Other responsibilities include providing emotional or spiritual assistance to the parish members or the needy, getting involved in charity or fundraising, looking after the needs of the church building or any institution related to the church, managing different religious programs, etc. A Master's degree is generally preferred, but a bachelor's degree can also suffice in some congregations, which can be obtained from a seminary or divinity school. The average annual pay is estimated to be around $54,000.
- Theology Professor- A professor of theology may work in schools or in colleges. A teaching degree along with a master's or a doctorate is preferred to pursue this career. The major responsibilities of a theology professor are preparing lessons and conducting lectures, supervising and mentoring students who wish to become pastors, conducting meetings, conferences, and seminars, researching, and publishing thesis based on the research, and so on. As a teacher of theology, one should be flexible enough to divide and manage tasks pertaining to education, administration, as well as prayer services. The average annual pay is estimated to be around $75,000.
- Religious Writer- The role of a religious writer is to either write in newspapers, magazines about one's insights about religion and other aspects of life, or to even publish a book. One can also provide personal opinions on certain religious concerns. Work assignments could also range from covering a world crisis over some religious issue to any controversial debate around religion. As a writer, it is important to stay in touch, communicate with different people, and learn about different perspectives, which adds to one's own knowledge. Therefore, religious writers may also communicate with, or interview parishioners, or people from different communities, or cultures, to understand their perspectives about religion, and add value to their writings. Based on the congregation, one may have to actively involve themselves in church activities, charity services, and writing. A graduate degree in theology is mostly preferred for pursuing writing as a career, but mostly writing and research skills are more important for this job. The average annual pay is estimated to be around $52,000 and may increase based on experience.
- Religious Activities Directors- A Religious Activities Director works on organizing meetings, events, prayers, or religious ceremonies that promote the growth of the congregation, thereby advocating their vision. They provide reports and records of activities of the diocese or congregation to the bishop, manage the members under the congregation, discuss and review the policies of the organization, promote upliftment of the poor and needy, and organize fundraisings, supervise religious education, and much more. They are also associated with the maintenance and upkeep of the Church. The average annual pay is estimated to be around $66,000 and may increase based on experience.
- Chaplain- Chaplains are members of religious organizations who provide advice, comfort, counseling, or assistance to different people. Chaplains help different kinds of people regardless of faith, religion, caste, status, or gender, with incidents like deaths, accidents, failures, diseases, emotional trauma, mental health issues, substance abuse, etc. The role of a chaplain can be categorized according to different sectors like military, healthcare, rehabilitation (for prison inmates), public safety, education, and even corporate. They are responsible for taking care of people's mental, emotional, moral, and spiritual well-being. Being a part of the religious community, they may also be required to conduct prayer services and meetings for people according to their needs. An undergraduate or graduate degree in theology along with training is sufficient for an individual to become a chaplain. The average annual pay is estimated to be around $52,000.
- Therapist- As a therapist with a background in theology, it is not unusual to provide spiritual or moral advice to clients. Apart from assessing spiritual issues, one may have to deal with clients who have issues related to family, marriage, mental health, relationships, employment, deaths or illnesses, substance abuse, poverty, and so on. The therapist is to explore these issues by creating a safe atmosphere for the clients and efficiently communicating with them. This involves evaluating the background, providing training or special supervision (if required), planning and executing different kinds of sessions according to need. One may take up a dual degree program like theology and psychology, or theology and behavioral science, for pursuing a career as a therapist. The average annual pay is estimated to be around $60,000 and may increase based on experience and expertise.
It is common for people pursuing a degree in theology to devote their entire lives to prayer and devotional services, worship God, preach, or do charity, apart from religious studies. But theology being a broad subject offers versatile specializations for students who also wish to understand and research about the subject, not intending celibacy, but intellectual growth or passion. A degree in theology can give way to a plethora of job options. With the appropriate qualifications alongside theology, one can also opt for a career as a diplomat, a school principal/rector, administrator, chairman of an organization, journalist, social worker, campus minister, research associate, or even a musician.