For many students, a theology degree is the first step on the path to a career in ministry or another religious vocation. However, theology degrees can also be helpful for students who are interested in working in fields such as social work, healthcare, or education.
In addition, many students pursue a theology degree simply because they want to deepen their understanding of their own faith. Regardless of their eventual career goals, all students who study theology can benefit from learning about the history and traditions of their faith, as well as its contemporary practices and beliefs. By studying theology, students can develop a greater appreciation for the role that religion plays in the world and in their own lives.
This article lays down the degree requirements for this discipline, possible career paths, the best universities to enroll in and other key details to help you plan your future.
In 2017, 31,451 degrees in theology were awarded. While this number may sound high, the number of graduates in theology had declined by 2.27% from the previous year.
This has led to the high average employee age of theologians, which is 47.6. According to Data USA, this is growing at a rate of 0.768%. Meanwhile, around 320,536 holders of theology degrees are in the workforce. Despite the decline in the number of graduates, those who enter the workforce are increasing by 6.03%.
While theology might not sound like a practical course in higher education, it does have its uses. Theologians go on to have careers in a broad range of areas, such as law, journalism, and politics.
Meanwhile, the most mainstream careers are religious studies instructors, ministers, social workers, and volunteer recruiters.
The dictionary definition of theology is “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience (Dictionary by Merriam-Webster, n.d.).” Usually, practitioners of theology examine religious beliefs; the experience of faith, and the expression of it (Times Higher Education, 2019).
Classically, theology has been defined by St. Anselm as “faith seeking understanding (Badham, 1996).” Similarly, St. Augustine referred to it as “rational discussion respecting the deity (Patton, 2005).”
There are many other definitions of theology but that is the crux of it. One should also remember not to confuse it with religious studies, as this is concerned with all religions and beliefs (Allegheny College, n.d.) and not just Christianity.
Far from being a subject that seeks to evangelize, as many seem to think theology to be, it imparts a wide array of skills to its students. For example, Burton (2013) attests that the University of Oxford trains those enrolled in the program to be historians, linguists, interpreters of ancient and modern texts, among others.
As mentioned earlier, the number of students taking theology programs is declining. Nevertheless, there is still healthy enrollment in institutions in the United States.
Source: Data USA, n.d.
Generally, students of theology are expected to be skilled in writing essays. They should also be well-versed in English, philosophy, history, or classic works. It could also help if an applicant took up religion-related courses in high school (Times Higher Education, 2019).
Each school would have its own set of prerequisites as well. For example, the Grace School of Theology (n.d.) requires applicants to its undergraduate programs to have a high school diploma, a GED, or similar.
Some institutions may also require that applicants show how involved they are in Christian service as well as their capabilities to be in Christian Ministry. An example would be the Dallas Theological Seminary (2018). The school also requires that applicants “show evidence of saving faith in Christ,” have a validated Christian character, have the necessary spiritual gifts, and adhere to particular doctrines and the Community Covenant.
AffordableColleges.com (Staff Writers, 2020) shows that Huntsville Bible College in Alabama is the most affordable school for a theology degree. The average tuition for the institution is $4,200 per year. It is followed by Summit Christian College, formerly known as the Platte Valley Bible College. Students have to shell out at least $5,600 annually to study here. Next is Saint Louis Christian College, whose tuition averages $10,075 for a year of study. Emmaus Bible College comes next with an average yearly tuition of $15,100. College of the Ozarks is the most expensive among the top five affordable institutions as it can set back a student $18,300 in yearly tuition.
Source: AffordableColleges.com, 2020
In the United States, these are the top ten schools for a theology degree, according to Top Universities (2020):
For 2020, Top Universities (2020) lists the following institutions as the best in the world for Theology, Divinity & Religious Studies:
As an alternative, you can also avail yourself of an online bachelor’s degree in theology.
Though it may seem that career paths for theology majors are limited, the reality is far from it. Aside from going into ministry, graduates of theology go on to become lawyers, instructors, counselors, and more.
As graduates of a theology program have different career paths they can take, the salaries they can earn also vary widely. For example, a professor of theology can have an average yearly salary of $81,251. They can also receive a bonus of $6,931, a commission of $12,500, and a profit-sharing of $4,968 (PayScale, 2020).
If a graduate of theology chooses to become a minister, they are likely to take home an average of $52,561 annually. The lowest possible salary is $29,000 while the highest would be $85,000. Additional cash compensations of an average of $1,647 are also possible, though it ranges from $524 to $5,005. Meanwhile, a Bible translator working for Wycliffe can earn as much as $55,526 per year (Glassdoor, 2020).
On a similar note, a theology graduate who becomes a linguist can have an average salary of $72,452 annually. The lower 10% can expect at least $43,000 while those in the 90% spectrum are looking at $116,000 every year (PayScale, 2020).
Those who go on to become counselors can earn as much as $54,560 for one year (AllPsychologySchools.com, 2020). Similarly, the median salary for counseling psychologists is $81,330 per year (CareerProfiles.info, 2020).
Source: CareerProfiles.info, 2020; PayScale, 2020; Glassdoor, 2020
As a wide-reaching program, theology caught the attention of many people who took it up for their college or university education even if they did not eventually go into the fields where theology is most applicable.
It may seem like theology should be a program best left behind in the past. However, it is still very applicable today. For example, it guides the exploration and discovery of historical places mentioned in the Bible. With the help of theology or of people who are well-versed with the Bible, there have been interfaces with archaeology. One instance would be the discovery of the Tel Dan Inscription, which points towards “the house of David” as the enemy of the Arameans (Merrill, 2015).
Theology can also be surprisingly helpful in other disciplines. For example, a knowledge of theology can help students taking an associate degrees in paralegal studies or even a master’s in criminal justice should they provide service to specific religious groups.
Moreover, theology is not simply an inquiry into the divine. It is also interdisciplinary, as students need to learn about philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, and even psychology. Because it encompasses a wide range of subjects, those who take up theology for their undergraduate studies can go on to have careers in various fields.