Earning a Doctorate in Theology Online

Should I Pursue a Docorate in Theology Online?

A docorate in theology prepares students for advanced scholarship, research, and teaching in a variety of different fields. For instance, a docorate in theology or religion can help individuals rise to the highest ranks in the church or academia. Ideal online theology doctorate students are interested in a career as a clergy member, professor, or religious director. Unlike a traditional on-campus degree, an online degree lets students earn an advanced degree without having to relocate. Additionally, students pursuing a doctorate in theology online can study remotely from another state or country.

The asynchronous format used in most programs permits students to create their own school schedule. Meanwhile, the accelerated format of most doctorate in theology online degrees means students can often graduate more quickly than their on-campus counterparts. This guide explores what you can expect from a docorate in theology program, including the careers and salary information available to graduates.

Employment Outlook for Docorate in Theology Graduates

Earning a doctorate in theology online can lead to a variety of career opportunities, particularly when degrees are coupled with specialized training. Most graduates of online theology doctorate programs find work in academia and the church; however, many other career paths are available. The exact career a graduate pursues depends on their ideal work setting, personality, and strengths. The table below outlines five potential career tracks — along with salary information — open to graduates of online theology doctorate degrees.

Church Pastor

Average Annual Salary: $49,132

Church pastors provide leadership within the church. They deliver weekly sermons and provide spiritual guidance to church members. Church pastors must also possess a strong knowledge of scripture. Educational requirements vary, but many pastors now hold a docorate in theology or religion. Ordination may also be required.

Theology Professor

Average Annual Salary: $86,826

Professors of theology deliver lectures and teach students in classroom settings. They also hold office hours after class and often work at home, grading papers and exams. Theology professors at four-year universities or colleges must hold a docorate in theology or a related field. Many universities require professors to regularly publish papers and books.

Historian

Average Annual Salary: $48,841

Historians work in many different environments. Some work in museums and historical societies leading tours and lectures, while others collect oral histories for large-scale projects. Common duties include archiving materials and authenticating historical documents. At minimum, historians need a master's degree, and some positions require a Ph.D. degree in history.

Clergy Member

Average Annual Salary: $52,562

Clergy members serve in leadership roles for various religious congregations. They also may work in hospitals, correctional facilities, or schools. Clergy members oversee regular weekly religious services and attend to administrative tasks such as handling correspondence. At a minimum, they hold a bachelor's degree in divinity, theology, or a related field. Priests, reverends, and rabbis typically must hold a Ph.D.

Christian Counselor

Average Annual Salary: $50,000

Christian counselors provide members of a congregation with spiritual and personal guidance in the church or in their homes. Christian counselors may also pursue a license or certification to work as a licensed professional counselor, addiction counselor, or psychologist. Many of these individuals hold a master’s or Ph.D., and all states require at least a master's degree for licensure.

Source: PayScale

What Can I Expect From an Online Docorate in Theology

Students pursuing a doctorate in theology online conduct advanced theological research and strengthen their academic writing skills. While the exact curriculum learners follow to earn their online theology doctorate degree varies by program, Ph.D. theology students can expect to take some version of the courses listed below.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate Degree in Theology

Introduction to Doctoral Studies

This class provides students with an introduction to the doctorate in theology online program. Students learn advanced academic writing skills, as well as how to accurately cite sources in a variety of citation styles. Students also learn to conduct critical theological analysis.

Church and Theology in the Contemporary World

This advanced research seminar introduces social scientific research, news articles, and other documents to demonstrate how church and theology function in the contemporary world. This class hones students’ research and writing skills to prepare them to work as professors or researchers.

Biblical Etymology and Exegesis

This course explores the history of words in theology and how they have changed over the centuries. Students also critically analyze the Bible to interpret biblical meanings. The curriculum can prepare learners for careers as professors, historians, and pastors.

Advanced Studies in Biblical Languages

This course provides an in-depth study of Greek, Hebrew, and other biblical languages. A foundation in biblical language helps students more carefully interpret the Bible and understand its meaning. This course is essential for prospective professors, pastors, and clergy members.

Advanced Ministry Administration

Clergy members must know how to manage a staff of employees and volunteers. This course introduces the basics of ministry leadership, including how to manage projects, oversee daily operations, recruit volunteers, and conduct other important administrative tasks.

Certifications and Licenses a Docorate in Theology Prepares For

  • Licensed Minister
    Requirements to become a licensed minister vary depending on the congregation; however, licensed ministers must typically be ordained by the church. With an online theology doctorate degree, graduates can become licensed ministers, since most churches only require a master's degree.
  • Licensed Counselor
    Every state sets different requirements for becoming a licensed counselor. The specific requirements also vary depending on the counseling specialization. At a minimum, prospective counselors need a master's degree, while most employers prefer candidates with a Ph.D. To gain licensure, candidates need to take an exam, complete additional graduate-level coursework, and pass a background check.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Taking the leap from student to working professional requires the help of a community. The key to success lies in knowing where to look. Professional organizations can provide recent graduates and current students with the tools to succeed in their educational and career goals. Below you can find links to help you access networking opportunities, job boards, conferences, and scholarships.

Professional Organizations


American Academy of Religion

Comprised of approximately 9,000 professors and scholars of biblical studies, AAR offers its members discounts to regional meetings and the annual meeting. Members also receive access to the member directory and professional development workshops.


American Theological Library Association

Atla boasts a membership of more than 800 librarians and information professionals who promote scholarly work in theology. Researchers can use Atla's databases to study theology, while members receive access to job postings and grant opportunities.


Evangelical Theological Society

ETS promotes biblical scholarship among its thousands of biblical and theological scholars and students. Members connect at regional meetings and the annual meeting. Students currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program may apply.


Catholic Biblical Association of America

CBA, established in 1936, supports biblical scholarship. Graduate student members receive discounts to the association's publications, invitations to an annual meeting, and access to grants.


Conference on Faith & History

CFH offers a community for scholars. The association promotes scholarship and provides access to professional networks. Members also network at the biennial conference and regional meetings.

Resources


Society of Biblical Literature

Founded in 1880, SBL offers a community for biblical studies scholars. You must be a member to attend regional meetings, but the society partners with AAR and offers career listings for any member of either organization.


Religious Freedom Center

Part of the Freedom Forum Institute, the Religious Freedom Center preserves religious freedoms through education and community engagement. The website offers access to religious lesson plans for educators and online seminars.


EBSCO Open Dissertations

EBSCO partners with libraries and colleges around the nation to offer a free database of thousands of dissertations. Scholars and institutions can also submit their dissertation or thesis to gain more visibility.


American Academy of Religion's Recommended Reading List

Users can browse through readings recommended by AAR's annual meeting program unit chairpersons. Recommended books explore topics such as African religions, Afro-American religious history, Buddhism, Chinese religions, and contemporary Islam.


Google Scholar

Google Scholar gives users free access to search for books, thesis papers, and journals. Scholars can also search to see if others are citing their publications through Google Scholar Citations.