While there are many universities offering Bachelor’s degrees in theology online, they differ in their levels of accreditation and their focus. Theology is not like most other fields of study in that your coursework and career opportunities are closely linked to your religious denomination. There is no such thing as Catholic math, Islamic statistics, or Jewish chemistry; these subjects are the same across all faith traditions. For theology though, your training is very specific not only to your religion but to your denomination. While theology schools are accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, a degree from a Baptist seminary will not make you eligible to become a Roman Catholic priest.
There are actually four different terms you will encounter as you research online course offerings in theology and related fields. Words such as “theology,” “religion,” “pastoral training,” and “divinity” are used to signal different academic disciplines. The first major distinction you need to know is that “religious studies” or “religion” in the name of a degree means approaching different religious traditions in an objective fashion, setting aside your personal beliefs and studying religious texts as you would any other historical documents. The words “theology,” “divinity,” or “pastoral studies” signify a program approaching a religious tradition from the inside, often interpreting sacred texts within a specific denominational contexts. While some programs are ecumenical or multi-denominational, many require students to subscribe to a particular statement of faith.
The type of degree you should obtain depends on your eventual goals. Many students focusing on theology or divinity degrees intend to become ministers, but not all. Other programs are focused towards lay ministry, pastoral counseling, parochial education, or academic study of religion or theology. Although all such programs may require many similar courses, such as introductions to the Old and New Testament, they will differ in other elements. If you intend to become a minister in a denomination that requires a graduate degree such as a Master of Divinity then you will need to study Greek and Hebrew, but if you wish to focus on teaching in a parochial school, you will need teacher certification and additional course work in education. As you investigate online theology degree, make sure that programs have accreditation in the areas that interest you.
Because theological programs emphasize spiritual formation as well as academic study, many online degrees are actually hybrids, requiring some time on campus. Residential components may consist summer intensive programs or a limited number of weekends. When you choose an online theology degree program, carefully review residency requirements to make sure they fit your schedule. Also, completion of some degrees in theology, especially those with a pastoral focus, may require placements or internships at churches, hospitals, or similar organizations, which obviously cannot be done online.
As there are many online bachelor’s programs available, you should be able to find one that has programs and courses that suit your needs within your own faith tradition. When you choose an online theology degree, you should make sure it has the appropriate types of accreditation not only for your future career goals but for your particular denomination.
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