Study Religion: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Degree Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in religion? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and religion degrees.
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Religion Associate's and Bachelor's : Degrees at a Glance

An undergraduate program in religion can teach you about the philosophy and ethics of religions across the world. If you're interested in seeking a position as a clergy member or leader of a religion, you'll probably want to focus on a specific religion. An associate's program generally doesn't prepare you for a specific career, but a bachelor's program may open up multiple career paths beyond religious ones.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that clergy positions were expected to grow by 18% between 2010 and 2020, while religious directors were projected to see a growth of 17%. It should be noted that if you wish to become an ordained member of the clergy, you'll likely have to continue on to seminary training after acquiring this degree.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Those who are interested in foundational religious studies without committing to a 4-year degree Individuals interested in a career involving a religious or ethical background
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) Associate degree programs are designed for further education and may not lead to specific careers. - Non-ordained minister ($44,000)*
- Religious activities and education director ($36,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - General education courses
- About 10-12 courses in religion
- General education courses
- About 20-25 courses in religion
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2010 data).

Associate's Degree in Religion

An associate's degree in religion can either be focused on a particular religion, such as Christianity or Judaism, or it can give you a broad understanding of many different world religions. Programs are designed to teach an understanding of ethics and the philosophy of religion. Often, associate's programs are designed for those who seek to continue their education in religion or in a field that is complemented by the study of religion and are not designed as terminal degrees.

Pros and Cons


  • Understanding of religion and a foundation in ethics is useful in a variety of faith- and community-related fields
  • Degree is a good basis for continuing in liberal and scientific educational programs
  • Can improve your critical thinking skills


  • Degree is not aimed at preparing you for a specific career
  • May not allow you to operate as an ordained member of the clergy
  • Individual institutions may offer limited choices in religions studied

Common Courses and Requirements

The associate's program in religion provides a foundation in the humanities, covering philosophy, anthropology, history and psychology before diving into religion. These courses provide you with a framework on which to base your understanding of religion. This foundation is what makes this degree a strong basis for any career field in which ethics and morality come into play. Each school may offer different electives, so you'll want to see what courses are offered before enrolling if you're looking to study a particular religion. Some of the courses you may be able to take include:

  • Religions in America
  • Western religions
  • Philosophy
  • Islamic art
  • Ethics
  • The Bible as literature

Online Degree Options

There are completely online versions of this program available. Course requirements are nearly identical to on-campus programs. Some colleges offer an on-campus and an online version of the same program. The online associate's program is primarily intended to prepare you for future education and takes about 2 years to complete, similar to an on-campus program.

Stand Out with This Degree

Since this degree is aimed at preparing you for further education, you'll want to make yourself as appealing as possible to colleges and universities if you aren't completing a bachelor's at the same school. Maintaining a consistently high GPA and taking part in extra-curricular activities can give you an edge over other college applicants.

A method of further setting yourself apart is to find volunteer opportunities within a field related to your desired career. For example, if you are working towards a career in health care ministry, volunteering as a hospital chaplain's assistant may be a good choice. If you want to pursue a general education of many different religions, then you might want to attend some religious events for each one you wish to learn about.

Bachelor's Degree in Religion

A bachelor's degree program in religious studies can prepare you for employment or for continuing your education at the graduate level. In particular, a bachelor's degree focusing on an individual religion may qualify you for non-ordained ministry positions within that religion. Some programs may give you a variety of specialization options, such as Biblical leadership, pastoral studies and women's ministries.

Programs in religion are intended to give you an understanding of the foundation of religion and how the history of religion applies to groups and individuals. You could have additional job opportunities outside of religion; a bachelor's degree may qualify you for some careers in business, education or social services.

Pros and Cons


  • Prepares you to pursue employment upon completion, unlike an associate's program
  • The degree can serve as a basis for graduate studies in religion or the humanities
  • Gives you more specialization and elective options than an associate's program


  • Few careers require a bachelor's degree in religion
  • Jobs tend to have relatively low salary compared to the cost of the degree
  • Careers not directly related to religious leadership may require further education or experience

Common Courses and Requirements

You're able to learn about very specialized topics at the bachelor's level; for example, after taking a course that covers the Bible, you might have the opportunity to take a course focused on the New Testament. A program focused on a particular religion may give you even more specific course options that cover a particular book in the Bible or other religious book. A few schools may require you to complete a senior paper or advanced project, but this was not found to be a uniform requirement. Here's a list of some of the courses you might have the opportunity to take:

  • History of the Christian church
  • Church ministries
  • Psychology of religion
  • Mysticism
  • Philosophy of Buddhism
  • Origins of world religions

Online Degree Options

Online bachelor's degree programs in religion are available and are nearly identical to on-campus programs. However, you could miss out on some of the benefits from colleges that have relationships with local ministries and religious institutions. Your coursework is generally the same and the types of courses you can pick from are similar to your options in an on-campus program. Online programs in religion are designed to prepare you for the same jobs as on-campus programs would.

Stand Out with This Degree

One way of setting yourself apart is to tailor the degree to your particular career. If you want to become a member of the clergy in a particular religion, you'll want to find a program that allows you to focus on that religion. Focusing your courses on a number of different religions can be useful for careers in education and social services, as you'll gain a broad understanding of multiple cultures and beliefs.

Another method of standing out with this degree is finding internship or volunteer position that is appropriate to your intended career choice. Since most religious programs don't require an internship, you'll be more appealing to employers over other graduates who didn't choose to participate in one. If you want to seek employment in the ministry, an internship in religious education could be an excellent opportunity. Volunteering with a humanitarian organization could help you stand out to potential employers in social services or non-profit groups.

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