2021 Best Online PhD in Theology Programs

Religious leadership is a weighty responsibility, but earning an online PhD in Theology can help prepare you for the task.

Online PhD in Theology Programs

Through doctoral studies, you can gain a better understanding of history, scripture, worldview, ministry, and spirituality. The lessons that you take away from this program may shape your preaching, writing, teaching, or research for years to come.

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If you are serious about letting your mind be shaped by theological studies, then becoming a doctor in theology may be your next step.

Online PhD in Theology Programs

PhD in Theology Programs

Religion and academics can go hand in hand. In a theological PhD program, you’ll have the opportunity to practice your faith through study and scholarship.

A PhD is a terminal research degree. Earning it can demonstrate that you are an expert in your field of theological study. It can also show that you have the determination and dedication to conduct original research and share your findings with others.

Theology is a large field with many subdisciplines. The area of focus that you choose for your PhD might be:

  • Apologetics
  • Biblical hermeneutics
  • Chaplaincy
  • New Testament studies
  • Old Testament studies
  • Religious history
  • Systematic theology

The specialty areas that are available to you will depend on where you go to school. Some universities have set concentration tracks you can pick from. Others may allow you to customize your studies through a careful selection of classes that will contribute to your academic goals.

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Your program may consist of core theology classes, courses centered around your specialization area, and research-focused courses. The curriculum can include classes that cover ecclesiology, advanced Christian theology, and spiritual development practices.

Research classes are an important step toward preparing for your dissertation. The faculty will walk you through selecting an area of study, conducting research, and producing a scholarly manuscript.

Earning a theology PhD may enhance your ministry practice. This high level of study may improve your teaching style, or it may even prepare you for denominational leadership. An academic career can be another reason to consider PhD studies. With a doctorate, you may have the qualifications to pursue a position as a theology professor or researcher.

Theology Careers & Salaries

Theology Careers & Salaries

It’s common for people who have completed theological studies to pursue careers as members of the clergy.

Religious leaders may interpret scriptures, deliver messages, lead worship, or teach classes in their faith centers. Other responsibilities can include visiting sick people, organizing community outreaches, and providing counseling services.

Depending on the religious tradition in which a person serves, the job title can vary. In Christian denominations, clergy members are often called pastors or ministers. Other religions, though, can employ theologians too. For example, in the Jewish tradition, they may be called rabbis.

Religious leaders who work in settings other than churches or other local houses of worship may be chaplains. For example, hospitals and the military hire chaplains. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, members of the clergy make a median annual salary of $51,940.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Postsecondary Education Administrators $97,500
Postsecondary Philosophy and Religion Teachers $76,160
Social and Community Service Managers $69,600
Writers and Authors $67,120
Historians $63,100
High School Teachers $62,870
Fundraisers $59,610
Archivists $56,760
Clergy $51,940
News Analysts, Reporters, and Journalists $49,300

Some theological leaders pursue careers in education. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) may qualify you to teach religion or theology to college undergraduate or graduate students. There may also be opportunities to teach religion to high schoolers, especially in private schools.

Having a doctoral degree may, in some cases, qualify you to work in postsecondary education administration. Religious colleges and seminaries, in particular, might be interested in hiring academic deans with theological backgrounds.

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As a theology expert, you might be interested in the history of doctrines, denominations, or religious texts. You may want to research them as a historian or preserve artifacts as an archivist. Another idea is to share your theological insights with others through publishing. You may choose to write books or be a journalist who focuses on religion news.

Your theological background might also help you contribute toward a nonprofit or community agency’s mission. Theology graduates may end up working as a director, manager, or fundraiser.

Theology Doctoral Curriculum

Theology Doctoral Curriculum

For online theology doctoral programs, you will take several semesters of courses, similar to the ones listed below, before writing your dissertation.

  • Biblical Hermeneutics: One of your courses may address hermeneutics, or the practice of reading and interpreting biblical texts.
  • Church in Modern Times: In a class like this, you may discuss what role faith-based organizations and houses of worship should take in influencing culture and politics.
  • Counseling and Spiritual Care: Religious leaders sometimes provide counseling services to parishioners, so this class can equip you with foundational care skills.
  • Gospel Studies: You might closely study one or more of the four Gospels as you become better acquainted with the life of Jesus.
  • Religious Expression in Art: During this course, you may be introduced to a variety of artistic works that were created as expressions of worship or to aid in worship practices.
  • Spiritual Formation: In this course, you may explore spiritual practices from other eras and discuss the factors that shape a person’s spirituality.
  • Theological Research: In preparation for your dissertation, you’ll learn the steps for undertaking a major research project on a theological topic.
  • Theological Teaching: If an academic career is in your future, this course can equip you with skills for teaching religion and theology to college students.
  • Women and Faith: Throughout history, women have played key roles in the development and practice of the Christian faith, and you can learn about some of them in this course.
  • World Religions: You may take a comparative theology class in which you analyze various religious traditions from around the world to identify key differences as well as shared teachings.

A university’s course selection is often influenced by the school’s religious tradition, so you might want to select a program that aligns with your theological beliefs.

Admissions Requirements

Online PhD in Theology Programs admissions

Accredited colleges can have high standards for admission, so you may need to submit application materials like the following:

  • Curriculum vitae or resume
  • Master’s thesis or example of scholarly writing
  • References from academic, professional, or spiritual leaders
  • Signed acknowledgement of the school’s statement of faith
  • Transcripts from your undergraduate and graduate studies

Some universities require scores from the GRE or a similar examination, but there are others that offer waivers or base their admissions decisions on alternative criteria.

Accreditation

Online PhD in Theology Programs accreditation

Many theological schools offer doctoral degrees, but not all of those schools are accredited. The most reputable theology doctorates are issued by regionally accredited institutions.

Earning regional accreditation is a rigorous process for schools. Colleges must prove that they meet the standards of academic excellence. Both religious and secular institutions can earn regional accreditation.

Accredited degrees earn greater respect. Most employers will appreciate knowing that you earned your PhD from an academically sound school. Transferring credits to another college can sometimes depend on regional accreditation as well.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Online PhD in Theology Programs financial aid

A robust financial aid package can help make doctoral studies more affordable. Some students get enough assistance to partially or fully fund their programs.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is typically the first step in securing assistance. As a doctoral student, you may qualify for state or federal loans with low interest rates. Government student aid can be used only at accredited universities.

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Scholarships and fellowships may contribute to your financial aid package as well. These awards can sometimes be obtained directly through the college. In other cases, you’ll need to apply with outside organizations.

Doctoral programs sometimes provide tuition breaks for students who provide teaching or research services. There may even be stipends involved. Alternatively, some employers offer tuition-assistance programs. If your work offers this option, you may be able to receive a set amount of money toward your schooling each semester.

Is There a PhD in Theology?

theology PhD

Yes, you can earn a theology PhD. For this research degree, you may study systematic theology, church doctrine, biblical canonicity, and ministry practice. Some theological seminaries offer course topics like research methods for religion studies, theology and ethics, history of church teachings, and comparative religions.

As part of your doctoral program, you may spend several semesters engaged in a scholarly research and writing project. After completing your dissertation, you then defend it before a committee of scholars in your field.

What Is a ThD Degree?

A Doctor of Theology (ThD) is a terminal academic degree in the field of theology. It’s similar in scope and nature to a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and you can expect a ThD program to include rigorous research components.

Some universities use ThD for the doctoral programs within their divinity schools and PhD for the programs housed in other departments. ThD is one common abbreviation for this degree, but other acceptable abbreviations are DTh, DTheol, and Dr. theol.

Where Can I Get a PhD in Theology?

PhD in Theology

A variety of higher education institutions offer PhD in Theology programs. They include both religious schools and those that are typically considered more secular in nature.

In general, though, you’re much more likely to find this type of doctoral program at a theological seminary than at a state school. Online colleges offer PhD in Theology programs as well. Distance learning can be an option that allows you to earn a reputable doctorate while working a full-time job or caring for your family.

The most respected PhD programs, both on-campus and online, are offered by regionally accredited schools.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Theology?

PhD in Theology careers

As a theologian, you might apply your doctoral knowledge in local ministry, denominational leadership, or a chaplaincy role. PhD graduates can also pursue careers as professors, historians, or writers.

Some theologians with advanced degrees pursue leadership opportunities in nonprofit organizations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, members of the clergy usually earn between $28,410 and $89,510 annually. The annual income for philosophy and religion professors typically ranges from $40,470 to $155,430.

Some theology students prefer to work in community services. Most social and community service managers earn between $42,230 and $115,800.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Theology?

Doctorate in Theology

It’s common for a Ph.D. to take 3 to 5 years to complete. That includes time for coursework and a dissertation.

If your theological seminary does not require a dissertation as part of the theology program, then you might be able to wrap up your studies in 3 years with full-time study. For schools that do require it, a dissertation is usually the top factor in how long a program takes. Some people spend several years finishing theirs.

Some schools allow up to 8 years of doctoral enrollment, but getting your dissertation done sooner can save you time and money.

Must I Pursue a Career in Clergy If I Have a Doctor of Theology (ThD) Degree?

Career in Clergy

While some people do plan to apply their theological studies in the local church, that’s not all you can do with this degree.

Theologians are needed in college classrooms. Some PhD graduates become religion, Bible, or theology professors. Religion experts can also share their insights through books instead of pulpits. After completing your dissertation, you might be ready to begin another research project and author a book on the topic.

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Your religious convictions may also lead you to care for people in need. Some ThD graduates seek work as a community service manager or a fundraiser.

What’s the Difference Between a DMin vs. PhD in Theology?

If you are a religious leader or thinker, you might be trying to decide between a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) or a PhD in Theology. Here’s how these two degree stack up:

PhD in Theology DMin
  • Academia-focused
  • Driven by scholarly research
  • Often earned through full-time study
  • Suited to careers in teaching, writing, research, or ministerial leadership
  • Practitioner-focused
  • Informed by research carried out in ministry contexts
  • Often earned part-time while engaged in local ministry
  • Suited to careers in local church ministries and parachurch leadership

Despite these distinctions, either degree can help prepare you for ministry or academic work.

What’s the Difference Between a PhD in Religious Studies vs. Theology?

If you’re interested in matters of faith, you can advance your knowledge with either a religion PhD or a theology PhD.

PhD in Religious Studies PhD in Theology
  • Earned at private or public universities
  • Covers a variety of world religions
  • Esteems objectivity
  • Prepares graduates to study religion from cultural and scientific perspectives
  • Earned at theological seminaries and private universities with religious ties
  • Focuses on the teachings of a particular faith tradition
  • Involves personal faith
  • Trains people for ministry roles

Both religion and theology PhDs are research-focused and can lead to careers in academia.

Is a PhD in Theology Worth It?

theology professor

Yes, a PhD in Theology is worth it for many students. Many theologians seek a PhD to gain the qualifications for a career as a theology professor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for postsecondary teachers are expected to grow at a 9% rate over the next decade.

Being a spiritual leader is a great responsibility. For those in local church ministries, PhD studies can help enhance your teaching and pastoral care practices. Also, earning a theology degree can be influential in your own faith development.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Theology Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Calvary University

Calvary University campus

Calvary University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Commission.

Christian Leadership University

Christian Leadership University campus

Christian Leadership University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Columbia International University

Columbia International University campus

CIU is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Evangelical Seminary

Evangelical Seminary campus

Evangelical Seminary is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Faulkner University

Faulkner University campus

Faulkner University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Johnson University

Johnson University campus

Johnson University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Lancaster Bible College

Lancaster Bible College campus

Lancaster Bible College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Oral Roberts University

Oral Roberts University campus

Oral Roberts University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Getting Your PhD in Theology Online

PhD in Theology Online

A PhD in Theology can help you become more familiar with your faith tradition and its teachings. As a doctoral student, you’ll engage with experts in your field, read faith-shaping books, and undertake a scholarly research project.

By the conclusion of your program, you’ll likely have a deeper understanding of doctrine with the ability to teach others. Your doctoral degree may qualify you for roles in teaching, research, or ministry.

Colleges offering online theology degree programs provide a respected approach to fitting advanced theological studies into your busy life. If you’re ready to study theology at the doctoral level, you can start by checking out regionally accredited online programs.

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Joy Cromwelle
WRITTEN BY
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.