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Degree overview: Theology and religion

Graduate degrees in theology and religion offer preparation and training for a very diverse range of professional roles and settings—not at all limited to working as a spiritual leader in a congregation, school, hospital, or prison.

Alumni of seminaries—a term for schools that offer graduate training in theology and religion—do serve as ministers, deacons, cantors, religious educators, and chaplains in various settings. But they also lead careers in public service in other ways: operating shelters and food banks for people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity; teaching at all levels and in various academic settings; researching and writing on scholarly theological topics; reaching out to gang members through gang ministry; counseling people; empowering people as social workers; writing about faith and society as journalists and authors—the list goes on.

Perhaps predictably, some religious grad programs don't emphasize career preparation at all, but focus on the deepening spiritual awareness, religious formation, and theological education of students. In fact, many theology schools offer community members ample opportunities to participate in non-degree programs, either working towards a certificate or simply taking courses to pursue personal and intellectual interests pertaining to religion.

Most theology schools are based in a religious tradition—a specific sect or denomination of a major religion (i.e., a branch of Rabbinical Judaism, a Catholic order, or a school of Buddhism); a general foundation in a major religion (i.e., nondenominational Islam or Christianity)—but many schools have a secular foundation (i.e., the religion department in a nonreligious university's graduate school).

Schools of theology offer a range of programs to help students fulfill their personal, professional, and spiritual life goals including masters, doctoral, certificate, and non-degree studies. Coursework often includes requirements in scripture, scriptural languages, religious leadership and practice, and social justice topics. Unlike many grad schools, schools of theology often include opportunities to study abroad, and many include at least one dual-degree option with a partner university (most commonly in social work).