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Department ofReligious Studies

Careers and Graduate School

An Application & Survival Guide

Table of Contents

Some Sobering Stats

Academic positions in the field of religious studies are few and far between, a phenomenon that is generally true in the humanities. Even if you get a job, starting salaries for an Assistant Professor are not terribly high. We've listed a few sites that will give you a clear and current picture.

Job Statistics

Why Go?

Despite the sobering statistics, the field of religious studies and theology is alive and well, and we have at least one student every other year who has moved on to a graduate degree.

Graduate Degrees in Religious Studies and Theology

A quick glance at the faculty web pages for our department demonstrates that there is a bewildering assortment of degrees in our field. The following list is an attempt to explain the acronyms so that you can pick the degree that best suits your career interests.

Academic Degrees

An academic degree in religious studies or theology emphasizes the mastery of theoretical knowledge in a particular subdiscipline of the field. It is customarily sought by people interested in academic careers or in professional development who may or may not be interested in ministry.

  • Master of Arts (M.A., or A.M.)

    This degree requires from 40-60 credit hours of coursework, and may or may not include a thesis and comprehensive exams. There are many different M.A.s, each probing a subdiscipline of religious studies or theology (e.g., Scripture, Church History, Ethics, Asian Religions).

  • Master of Arts in Biblical Languages (M.A.B.L.)

    A research degree requiring roughly 60 credit hours of coursework focused on language acquisition (Greek, Hebrew, French, German, and perhaps other ancient languages). This is an excellent degree for those planning on pursuing a doctorate in Scripture.

  • Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) or Master of Theology (Th.M.)

    A research degree requiring roughly 60 credit hours of coursework that allows you to specialize in a particular branch of Theology.

  • Advanced Studies Diploma (D.E.A.)

    This degree is awarded in the French system upon completion of the first year of doctoral studies and the attendant exams. This is somewhat similar to the terminal M.A. degree awarded upon completion of doctoral exams in the American system.

  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D., or D.Phil.)

    A research degree requiring roughly 60 credit hours of coursework, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation; often proficiency in a certain number of languages is required as well. Coursework aims to provide breadth, while research papers and the dissertation focus narrowly and contribute something new to the discipline.

  • Doctor of Theology (Th.D.)

    Similar to the Doctor of Philosophy, but more coursework and emphasis in the dissertation on theological questions and methodologies.

Pontifical Degrees

A pontifical degree is an academic degree granted by a Pontifical University or graduate program, that is, a Roman Catholic University authorized to grant a papal licentiate to degree recipients. Some examples of such universities and programs are The Catholic University of America and the Jesuit School of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Licentiate degrees are the required training for Catholic seminary professors, though at Catholic colleges and universities they are equivalent to academic degrees.

  • Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.)

    The second in the trio of ecclesiastical degrees (M.Div. is a prerequisite, and the S.T.D. often follows). This degree is designed to expand the theological expertise of those who serve religious communities and dioceses and who teach in churches and seminaries.

  • Licentiate in Sacred Scripture (S.S.L.)

    An alternative second ecclesiastical degree in the customary trio (M.Div.-S.S.L.-S.T.D.). It is designed to expand the scriptural expertise of those who serve religious communities and dioceses and who teach in churches and seminaries.

  • Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.)

    An ecclesiastical degree in the Roman Catholic tradition, and a professional degree in Protestant seminaries, this degree requires prior completion of the M.Div. and expands on the practical and theoretical training of that professional degree with specialized knowledge in some branch of theology.

  • Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.)

    An ecclesiastical degree that completes the student's broad theological formation and allows them to focus on a narrow research interest and complete an original study (as with the Ph.D.).

  • Doctorate in Sacred Scripture (S.S.D.)

    An ecclesiastical degree that completes the student's broad formation in the languages and literature of the biblical world and allows them to focus on a narrow research interest and complete an original study (as with the Ph.D.).

Professional Degrees

Professional degrees are those that prepare you for a particular profession. In religious studies, the profession is usually ministry, although a person might also pursue related degrees in counseling (like the Marriage and Family Therapy license, or M.F.T.) or social work (M.S.W.).

  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)

    Traditionally the degree earned by seminarians on the path to professional ministry, but now increasingly awarded to lay people as well. A program of theological education and practical training for pastoral ministry in a particular Christian denomination.

  • Specialized Advanced Study Diploma (D. ès L.)

    This degree is part of the third cycle in higher education in the French system. It is awarded after specialized vocational training that directly prepares students for working life. It can be completed in tertiary studies or vocational continuing education.

  • Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.)

    This degree is focused on the practice of ministry rather than on doing research in an academic setting. Students usually choose some aspect of ministry that interests them and cluster courses and practicums around that specialization. It is more common in universities associated with Protestant denominations.

Academic Disciplines that RS Majors Pursue in Grad School

After you've decided what sort of degree you would like to earn, you'll need to choose the particular discipline you would like to study. If you decide to pursue an academic degree, all options are open. If you choose a pontifical or professional degree, program options become more limited because you've already selected a particular field, for example ministry or social work. Here is the full list of options for an academic degree; those related to theology, scripture and ministry offer not only academic, but also pontifical and professional degrees.


American Studies German Pastoral Counseling
African Studies Greek Pastoral Ministry
Arabic Hebrew Philosophy
Arts, Literature & Religion Hebrew Bible & Pseudepigrapha Philosophy of Religion
Asian Studies Hinduism Political Science
Buddhist Studies Hispanic Studies Practical Theology
Business Administration History Psychology
Catechetics History of Christianity/
Church History
Public Policy & Administration
Chinese Holocaust Studies Racial/Ethnic Studies in Religion
Humanities Religion
Classical Studies Information Studies Religions of Africa & Oceana
Communications and Marketing International Affairs & Diplomacy Religions of North & America
Conflict Resolution & Mediation/Peace Studies International Development Religions of South & America & the Caribbean
Confucianism Islamic Studies Religious Education
Counseling Italian Russian & Slavic
Cultural Studies Japanese Scandinavian
Daoist Studies Judaic Studies Social Sciences
Divinity Latin American Studies Sociology of Religion
Early Christian Literature Law Social Work
East Asian Religions Liberal Studies Sociology
Eastern European & Russian Studies Literature South Asian Religions
Education Liturgical Music Spanish
Educational Administration Liturgy Spirituality
Ethics Medicine Theology
Folklore Studies Missions & Missiology Women's Studies
French Mythography Women's Studies in Religion
Gender Studies Near Eastern Languages Writing
    New Testament    

Once you've determined the degree and the discipline, talk to faculty at Santa Clara who can help guide you to the major journals, researchers, and educational institutions in that field. Browse through the top journals. The list of editors on the inside front cover is often a who's who in the field. Glance at the tables of contents over the past few years to become familiar with topics studied in that field. Read articles by leaders in the subject to test your interest in the discipline. This will have the added benefit of familiarizing you with approaches and with researchers with whom you might like to work. That, in turn, will help you draw up a list of schools you might like to attend.

The above chart was adapted from resources developed by Christine Cangiano, Assistant Director of The Career Center at Valparaiso University. Used with permission.

Graduate Programs in Religious Studies and Theology

If you are still interested in going to graduate school, you are about to become one of a select group. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education's Almanac for 2003-2004 (50:1, p. A19), theology and religious studies account for a small percentage of the total number of graduate and professional degrees awarded in the U.S.:

Type of Degree Theology/RS
# Degrees
All Disciplines
Total # Degrees
Theology/RS % of Total
Masters 4900 468,476 1.0%
Professional 5026 79,707 6.3%
Doctorate 1469 44,904 3.3%

This situation mirrors somewhat the place of religious studies and theology in the academy (though not in seminaries).

If your long-range plan is a doctorate, you might like to take a look at the American Academy of Religion's website to get a better sense of the state of undergraduate religious education in the field. It will be relevant for your teaching career once you finish grad school and may help you make some choices regarding discipline, coursework, and research interests in the meantime.

Choosing a School

General Advice

Several factors play into your choice of school. Does it offer the degree you want? Does it have faculty with whom you'd like to work (especially important for a Ph.D.)? How good are the research facilities? How generous is the funding? What is the cost of living in the area? Is the geographic setting one you could live in (especially important for Ph.D. students, who can take 4-9 years to complete their studies)? How successful is the program in placing alums in jobs? The following resource, as well as the online bulletin for the school, should help you to answer these questions. In addition, you should do all you can to visit the school and meet fellow students.

  • The Drahmann Center - An on-campus academic advising and learning resource center that maintains an up-to-date library of graduate school catalogs and references works and a site license to online catalogs.

Religious Studies & Theology Programs

  • CSSR Directory of Departments and Programs of Religious Studies in North America - The Council of Societies for the Study of Religion publishes a hard-copy directory of programs, with information on faculty, students, costs, and research resources. Check the Religious Studies Department office, the Career Center and the Drahmann Center for the latest edition.

  • ATS Member Directory - Alphabetical, denominational and geographic lists of the 200+ graduate members of the Association of Theological Schools.

Where SCU Religious Studies Faculty Went

Graduate Programs in all Disciplines




  • GRE OnLine - The official Educational Testing Service GRE site, with sample questions, lists of test centers and deadlines, and online registration.

  • TOEFL OnLine - Test of English as a foreign language programs and services.

  • Educational Testing Service - Parent site for the GRE and TOEFL.

  • Princeton Review Online Resources - If you've registered in a Princeton Review course for the GRE, you have access to this site's helpful resources.


Academic Life
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education - a great resource for issues of interest in the Academy; only subscribers can read the online articles, but you can always read the paper itself (we keep them on the desk outside the department chair's office, by the water cooler).

  • Characteristics of Recipients of Doctorates - The Chronicle of Higher Education annually publishes statistics about life as a graduate student: median age at degree conferral, median number of years from BA to PhD, median number of years in grad school, etc. The last few years' stats have been printed off and are available in a binder of grad school resources in the RS Department office.


Financing Grad School


Funding Sources

Will I Get a Job?

When making the decision to apply to and attend a graduate school, it is important to think about what kind of job you might get as at the end of the program. Generally, the more highly ranked the program, the more options you will have for jobs when you complete your degree.

The type of university you attend and the type of degree you choose will also affect the jobs for which you can successfully compete. For example, a Theology degree from a private university affiliated with a particular denomination may restrict you to jobs in similar institutions, while a degree from a state or research university can make you less attractive to a denominational school but more attractive to secular colleges and universities.

The following resources are helpful for seeing what jobs are currently on the market: