Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Theology?
Students who earn a doctorate in theology online gain opportunities to grow professionally and personally. A doctorate is the highest degree available, and the curricula of theology doctoral programs help students gain the skills and knowledge necessary to become successful theologians and scholars.
A doctorate qualifies degree-holders for roles as professors, advanced scholars, and researchers at the university level. Doctoral candidates typically complete a dissertation on a biblical studies topic. Graduates can leverage their dissertation experience when applying for jobs, grants, and fellowships.
Doctoral students also have opportunities to pursue spiritual and personal growth. Earning a doctorate in theology online allows learners to examine their personal religious beliefs through advanced research and writing. Doctoral students can connect with peers on campus or online to share ideas and research. Additionally, learners who choose a cohort-based online program complete coursework with a small group of peers, allowing students to network and build professional relationships.
Most online doctoral programs provide access to research facilities and library resources. While completing their dissertation, students develop strong communication and analytical skills, which graduates can apply to ministry work.
What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Theology?
After earning a doctorate in theology online, graduates often secure positions with universities, ministries, hospitals, nonprofits, and the military. Graduates choose a career path based on their interests, skills, and specialization area.
Programs may emphasize different areas of the field. For example, a Ph.D. in theology can lead to positions teaching philosophy, religion, and theology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of religion teachers work in four-year colleges, universities, and professional schools. Religion teachers can also work for community colleges and religious organizations.
Graduates with a doctorate in theology can also advance to leadership positions within Christian ministry. These programs help students develop critical-thinking skills and an understanding of the gospel and contemporary cultures. These abilities can help graduates secure positions in the church, hospitals, schools, and nursing care facilities.
Many graduates work in social advocacy organizations, while others pursue roles at individual and family service agencies. These professionals often work as directors, supervising activities related to religious programming.
After earning a doctorate in theology online, graduates can pursue a variety of careers in academia and the ministry. Below are five occupations available to doctorate-holders in the field.
- Postsecondary Religion Teacher
These educators work at colleges and universities, teaching philosophy and religion. Postsecondary teachers facilitate class discussions, assign homework, and grade papers. Religion teachers may also conduct academic research. Most positions require a doctorate, although some two-year schools may hire teachers with only a master's degree.
Ministers often work in churches, schools, and hospitals. These professionals manage paid and volunteer staff members. Ministers also oversee Bible study groups and apply verbal and written communication skills to lead their congregation. These workers also provide counseling services.
- Executive Director
Executive directors in this field may develop religious programming at churches, elementary and high schools, colleges, and family service agencies. These directors hire and train staff, and they create curricula for religion classes. While many executive directors have only a master's degree, professionals with a doctorate can be more competitive for these positions.
- Bible Translator
Students in theology doctoral programs typically learn about languages such as German, Latin, French, and/or Spanish. Graduates with a firm grasp of languages and biblical history can work as Bible translators. These professionals typically work on research projects for relief organizations and nonprofits.
- Marriage and Family Therapists
Some counselors help clients by using a spiritual approach. Marriage and family therapists must have at least a master's degree. However, doctorate-holders are typically more competitive for positions. Marriage and family therapists also need a state license.
Theology Ph.D. Program Overview
Earning a doctorate in theology online requires planning. Doctoral programs take a significant time commitment, beginning with the application process and culminating with a dissertation. This section includes sample curricula and common admission requirements for students pursuing a doctorate in theology online.
Application Requirements and Admission Criteria
Students interested in earning a doctorate in theology online must meet certain prerequisites. Admission requirements vary by school, but programs typically require learners to hold a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution. Applicants must generally submit transcripts demonstrating a minimum 3.0 GPA. Students must also submit an application and application fee. Some schools waive application fees for military members, veterans, and military spouses.
Some programs also require applicants to submit MAT or GRE scores. Additionally, students usually need to submit letters of recommendation, a letter of interest, a resume, and a writing sample. Many programs require students to pass a language proficiency exam to demonstrate their ability to meet second language reading requirements.
Each doctoral program in theology features its own curriculum, but most programs follow a similar structure. Generally, students work with an advisor to create a schedule and stay on track to meet program requirements and complete their dissertation. Students usually take 30-60 credits and graduate in 2-5 years. Most schools require doctoral students to complete all program requirements, including their dissertation, within seven years. Some doctoral programs offer accelerated eight-week sessions, which can help students graduate more quickly.
During the first portion of a program, students complete electives and foundation courses. As a prerequisite to their dissertation, students typically complete advanced writing and research methodology courses. Programs may also require students to pass comprehensive exams before beginning work on their dissertation.
After passing any required exams, students begin working with a dissertation advisor. Most programs include 6-15 credits of dissertation work. Although specific courses vary by program, students earning a doctorate in theology online may take the following classes.
Seminar on Theological Method
This course covers the study of theological doctrines and methods. Students compare and contrast leading theologians' work and explore methods that shape theology.
Clinical Pastoral Education
During this course, students gain practical experience working in hospitals, churches, and/or other agencies. Learners may provide group and individual counseling.
Teaching in Christian Higher Education
This class prepares students for careers teaching religion. Students learn how a develop a syllabus and create a well-rounded lesson plan. The course also covers classroom instruction methods and how to evaluate student progress.
Cultural Frameworks for Contemporary Contexts
Students learn how to use theological tools and concepts to understand contemporary culture. Learners analyze diverse populations and identify their personal biases.
Students in this course learn how to use theological frameworks to study ethical issues in Christianity. Learners explore the fundamentals of Christian ethics and contemporary issues.
Using biblical languages, such as Hebrew and Greek, students examine the Old and New Testaments. Before beginning this course, students typically need to demonstrate proficiency in reading a second language by passing an exam.
Students learn about biblical and theological concepts that counselors can apply when working with individuals, families, and married couples. Coursework covers contemporary psychotherapies used in Christian counseling.
Dissertation Proposal and Research
Students must generally pass comprehensive exams before preparing their dissertation proposal. This process usually includes meeting with a faculty advisor, who approves the proposal.
After earning a research-intensive doctorate in theology online, students should have the advanced scriptural knowledge needed to lead congregations or teach college-level religion and philosophy courses. Doctoral students gain a solid understanding of scriptural languages, such as German, French, and Latin, which can prove useful in the church and other fields.
Doctoral students also develop research, critical-thinking, and analytical skills, which graduates often apply to roles in academia. Students learn to interpret the Bible and to form scholarly theological arguments. Doctoral students also conduct advanced research and writing while completing their dissertation, gaining skills that translate to positions in various fields.
Accreditation for Online Theology Doctoral Programs
Accreditation demonstrates that an institution meets or exceeds certain standards of quality. Many employers and institutions only recognize degrees earned from accredited schools. Regional accreditation is more prestigious than national accreditation, and attending a regionally accredited school may be required to receive certain types of funding or financial aid. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the Department of Education recognize seven regional accrediting agencies.
Doctoral programs in theology may also hold field-specific accreditation, which ensures a program's curriculum and learning outcomes prepare students to succeed in the field. Prospective students can look for theology programs with accreditation from the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools and the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education.
Theology Professional Organizations
Scholars and theologians can access field-specific resources, career development opportunities, and networking events by joining a professional organization. Professionals and students in the field can join these organizations to connect with peers and develop professional networks. Members can often attend regional meetings and annual conventions. Professional organizations may also provide members with opportunities to publish and present their research.
Additional benefits for members may include access to job boards and opportunities to apply for grants and fellowships. The organizations below are well suited for theology doctoral students and graduates.
- Founded in 1909 to serve teachers and scholars of biblical studies, AAR comprises more than 8,000 members. The organization offers workshops and connects members with volunteer and employment opportunities.
- Founded in 1880, SBL boasts a membership of about 8,000 scholars. The society supports scholarly work by encouraging students to submit papers at annual and international meetings. Members can also receive awards and scholarships.
- ACLS was founded in 1919 to support scholarly research. The organization supports the humanities and social sciences by offering fellowships and grants to students.
- REA unites religious professors and researchers. Doctoral students can pursue fellowship and grant opportunities through REA's website, which also lists job openings.
- Founded in 1946, Atla supports theology and religious library professionals. The organization provides students, scholars, and researchers access to research tools and international libraries. Members also receive discounted admission to an annual conference.