Religious and Theological Studies Programs In America
Areas of Study
There are many ways to believe in and worship God, and this variety is reflected in the diversity of undergraduate religious studies and theology programs in the United States. Whether interdenominational or focused on a specific faith, universities and 4-year colleges offer competitive four-year bachelor's degrees in a more flexible range of subjects than you might expect.
There are two main options for religious studies or theological studies: a specifically faith-based institution or the Religious Studies or Theology College, School or Department at a secular university. Both offer degrees including Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS). Honors, joint honors, major and minor options are often available. Major concentrations may include world religions, scriptural languages, scriptural interpretation, classics, philosophy, contemporary religion, comparative religion, and western religions. Courses within these may encompass languages such as Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Chinese and Arabic, and look at religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Amerindian religions, Christianity, Islam, neo-paganism, and Judaism. Universities and 4-year colleges may also offer specific faith-centered programs in, for example, Jewish Studies, Asian Religions or Catholic Studies. Since religious studies considers religion in its historical, artistic, and global contexts and in terms of its impact on gender issues and sexuality, science, government and public policy, a minor in religious studies is a good complement for anyone studying anthropology, classics, English, history, philosophy, political science or sociology. Interdisciplinary majors are also possible.
Theological studies, which leads to the Bachelor of Theology (ThB), is designed primarily for those intending to pursue the ordained ministry in a Christian denomination, although some students enjoy the academic study of theology for its own sake. Usually, though, Bachelor of Theology programs ladder into graduate studies, such as the Master of Divinity degree. Majors in theology include Biblical studies, spiritual theology and systematic theology.
At the community college level, there are not as many secular colleges offering general religious studies; however, you find many specialty Christian colleges emphasizing spiritual formation, professional ministry and theological seminary studies. Many colleges focus on two-year Associate of Theology (ThA) and Associate of Arts (AA) degrees (in fields like music, music ministry, youth ministry and ministry aviation), and one- or two-year diploma and certificate programs in various aspects of Christian studies, ministry activities, education and performing arts. Many of these programs allow for credit transfer to certain university programs. Christian community colleges may also offer unique one-year certificate programs that give students non-traditional learning experiences centered on faith-based values. These are designed to combine academics and spiritual enrichment, and often involve outdoor training, travel and study abroad. To help students finance their education, many faith-based colleges offer internal scholarships, bursaries and even loans.
At all educational levels, religious and theological studies classes teach students how to investigate, become critical thinkers, and evaluate their own cultures, current affairs and the impact of religion in today's world. Learning involves expressing complex ideas in essays, projects and presentations--skills that are transferable to many different careers. Religious and theological studies grads have gone on to work in journalism, law, medicine, social work, public relations, and business, as well as practical ministry both locally and overseas. In preparation for ministry work, some religious studies and theology programs provide outreach, field ministry, study abroad or practicum opportunities.
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