Earning a Ph.D. in Theology Online

Earning a Ph.D. in theology online prepares you for a career in ministry, research, and academia. The skills developed in such a rigorous program reflect a specialized knowledge of theological topics and deep scriptural understanding.

Pursuing a doctorate at the best colleges that offer a Ph.D. in theology online can prove financially rewarding. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an annual mean wage of $79,610 for postsecondary philosophy and religion teachers who work in colleges, universities, and professional studies.

Why Get a Ph.D. in Theology Online?

Pursue Deeper Knowledge and Specialization

Completing doctoral studies significantly deepens your understanding of religious topics. It provides opportunities to specialize in an area of theology and position yourself as an expert in the field. The knowledge gained can lead to a senior position in a college, think tank, or religious organization. It can also open doors for writing and publishing on theological topics, largely because of the credibility and validation the degree affords those who hold it.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Myriad career opportunities exist for graduates of top Ph.D. in theology online programs. In addition to better ensuring entrance to senior-level positions, this degree can help provide higher salary and career advancement. Furthermore, graduates of theology P.h.D.s online can easily assume positions within various sectors, including the for-profit and nonprofit arenas, moving between them as desired.

Online Learning Technology

Enrolling in online studies required students to understand and rely on technology to attend class, engage with peers and faculty, and submit assignments. As a result, you remain connected to other learners and professors despite the geography that separates you and forge valuable personal and professional connections.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.)?

Earning either a Ph.D. or Th.D. in theology means completing a terminal degree in the field. In many ways, you can consider the two degrees equal since both represent the highest degree available. However, a distinction between the two exists when it comes to the amount of Christian theology studied. While extensive Christian theological knowledge is essential to the Th.D., the Ph.D. also dedicates attention to exploration of other religions and practices.

Moreover, the two degrees differ when it comes to the schools that offer them. You must enroll in a college of theology or religion for a Th.D., while you can complete Ph.D. studies at a liberal arts institution. A Th.D. also requires first earning a master's of divinity, while there is no such requirement for a Ph.D. The cost between the two programs also differs — the Th.D. the cheaper of the two.

Prerequisites for Ph.D. in Theology Online Programs

Enrolling in an accredited Ph.D. in theology online program mandates specific requirements to qualify for admission. These criteria differ by school, but the information below provides a general sense of what to expect.

  • Master of Divinity: Ph.D. in theology students must first earn this advanced degree, which divinity schools and seminaries award. Many denominations also require a master's in divinity to qualify for ordaination and ministerial engagement in various settings. The program can take up to three years to complete and explores the practices of religious communities.
  • Master's in Theological Studies: Some theology Ph.D. programs accept this degree in lieu of a master of divinity. It generally requires two years to finish and allows learners to broadly explore the thoughts, languages, literatures, and practices of various religious traditions and theological fields.
  • Professional Practice: Some Ph.D. programs in theology require submitting evidence of professional practice under the supervision of a senior leader or expert in the field. Schools may expect those who do not possess this experience to acquire it within the first year of study. This can be particularly true for specialties in pastoral theology and homiletics.
  • Language Requirements: You may need to demonstrate fluency in English and at least a reading knowledge of 1-2 other modern languages, such as German or French. In many instances, you must prove competency in at least one language prior to admission.
  • Graduate Exam: Some schools require submission of GRE scores as a condition of admission. Check with the institutions that most interest you to see if you must meet a minimum score on the analytical and verbal sections of the GRE exam.

How Much Can I Make With a Ph.D. in Theology Degree?

Potential Careers

Careers Stats Description

Social and Community Service Director

Median Annual Salary: $65,320

This career allows you to design and deliver social outreach programs. Nonprofit organizations that may lead faith-based initiatives, such as shelters and food banks, need this kind of professional, as do government organizations. Much of this role entails preparing to meet — and responding to — the needs of the less fortunate.

Senior Pastor

Average Annual Salary: $59,495

This role varies by specific religion or sect but typically requires clergy members lead congregations of worshippers, conduct religious services, and offer spiritual guidance and counsel. A minister may work in a religious organization, on a military base, or in a nonprofit organization. They must demonstrate strong interpersonal and communication skills.

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Annual Salary: $78,470

Responsibilities for this career include developing and delivering college-level curriculum. Teaching university classes requires a specialty in an academic discipline, which a Ph.D. helps verify. A professor must also create course syllabi and grade student assignments and assessments. They must also conduct scholarly research and publish articles and papers.

Paying for a Ph.D. in Theology Program

Earning a Ph.D. in theology online can offer significant cost savings. For example, you save the expense of room, board, and transportation to and from campus. In addition, you can study according to your own schedule when and where it is most convenient for you. You can continue working to help cover the cost of schooling even as you explore scholarship options.


Scholarships that support Ph.D. students in theology often support all college students, helping to offset the cost of tuition and ease the financial burden of attending college. Explore some scholarships available for theology program studies below.

What to Expect From a Ph.D. in Theology Online Program

A Ph.D. in theology online program takes about five years to complete, including two years of coursework, one year to prepare for and complete required exams, and up to two years to write a dissertation. Students explore the relationship between theology and Christian ethics. They may often choose to specialize in an area of interest like the New Testament. The online experience for learners typically permits students to attend class when most convenient for them.

Major Milestones

Expect certain milestones throughout a Ph.D. in theology, as online students must complete certain requirements as they pursue this degree.

  1. Language Plan

    Design this in consultation with your advisor by the end of your first semester to specify which languages you intend to learn during your studies.

  2. Comprehensive Exam Plan

    File this paperwork by the end of your second semester after discussing it with your advisor. It serves as a record of the tests you will take.

  3. Language Requirement

    Inform your program coordinator once you satisfy the language coursework requirement before sitting for exams.

  4. Comprehensive Exams

    Take the necessary tests by the end of the semester following your course completion. Let your coordinator know once you pass them so they can note your exam plan accordingly.

  5. Dissertation Prospectus

    Discuss your proposed research within six months of completing your language requirement and exams. Committee members sign necessary paperwork once you successfully defend the research topic.

  6. Dissertation Defense

    File progress reports with your program coordinator each semester as you write your dissertation. As the final step, defend the dissertation before your committee once you complete it.


Accredited programs for Ph.D. theology online studies bring together liberal arts and humanities content with exploration of historical, philosophical, ethnographic, and literary approaches to religious concepts in their courses. Below are a few sample courses.

Global Evangelicalism

This class explores the role of Evangelicals in the 20th and 21st centuries, given the more than 600 million individuals who practice this faith worldwide. It includes a multidisciplinary introduction to this movement within Christianity.

Identity and Theology

Students consider what makes up individuals' identities and how identities are formed from the perspective of theological studies. Course content includes topics in Christian traditions and the processes that influence social formation.

Experiencing God

Christian beliefs, spiritualities, and practices are examined through liturgical imagery, devotional literature, and doctrinal treatises. The class focuses on the rise of charismatic Christianity and controversies surrounding divine experiences.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Both current students and alumni can find value in joining professional organizations, as they offer the chance to form meaningful networks with like-minded colleagues and learn about job opportunities. Professional organizations also help you remain abreast of the latest trends and practices in the field. Leveraging the resources available to experts in theology helps students and working professionals alike keep pace with emerging research and theories.

Consider joining an organization to learn what kinds of resources can support your academic and professional goals.

  • Institute for Biblical Research: The members of this scholarly organization specialize in the Old and New Testaments, with the goal of promoting excellence in biblical studies. The organization hosts annual conferences, workshops, seminars, and workshops, and it also provides access to research.
  • Hartford Institute for Religion Research: This organization serves as a source of policy- and religion-oriented data and research about contemporary religious life. Its extensive databases offer statistics on topics like job growth in the ministry and leadership in megachurches.
  • IMBR: Published over the past seven decades, this journal highlights book reviews and articles from specialists in Christian missions from around the world.
  • Association of Practical Theology: This membership group promotes critical discourse on theology while ensuring members can access its repository of scholarly writings and materials. In addition, members enjoy exclusive access to job postings and a biennial conference.
  • Forum for Theological Exploration: This forum convenes future theologians, Christian leaders, and scholars to examine an array of faith-related topics. The organization makes various grants and fellowships available in addition to digital study materials.