What Are the Different Types of Catholic Theology Degrees?

C. Mitchell

Catholic theology degrees are ways for students to learn practical and historical information about the Catholic Church, but the reasons for obtaining a degree — as well as the number of degree programs available — are vast. Some universities offer a bachelor’s degree in Catholic theology, which provides students with a baseline education. Master’s and doctorate degrees are also popular, particularly when combined with other disciplines like education or nursing. Most of the time, Catholic theology degrees are offered through religious universities, though seminaries may also offer programs available to the public. Online lessons are sometimes also an option.

Some Catholic seminaries offer degree programs for the public.
Some Catholic seminaries offer degree programs for the public.

No matter where they are taught or the level of the students, all Catholic theology degree programs have one thing in common: they are all centered on learning theology as it is understood by the Roman Catholic Church. Most also encourage students to apply that knowledge to a larger understanding of society and culture. Different students pursue Catholic theology degrees for different purposes, and there are degree programs to match nearly every aspiration.

Theology education institutes provide degree programs exclusively for students who are interested in becoming priests.
Theology education institutes provide degree programs exclusively for students who are interested in becoming priests.

The bachelor’s degree is the most basic, foundational program. Students typically pursue this degree as undergraduates. Most programs span four years, and graduating students leave with a broad understanding of the Church’s teachings, beliefs, and practices.

Graduate-level Catholic theology degrees are usually much more nuanced. Students can usually elect to study for degrees at either the master’s or doctorate level. Many schools offer combined degree programs, as well, where students can take theology courses alongside social work courses, teaching preparation, or nursing instruction. These types of degree programs are most popular with students looking to advance their careers in Catholic social justice organizations, schools, and hospital ministry programs.

In addition to universities, some Catholic seminaries — traditionally theology education institutions exclusively for priests — will also offer degree programs to the public, usually as the master’s degree level. Most of these Catholic theology degrees are nuanced to one specific area of the faith. Liturgy and scriptural understanding are common areas, as is the study of theology in terms of dogmas.

Some Catholic theology degrees are also offered online, usually through established universities’ distance learning programs. Online education is particularly useful for working professionals, as the coursework and required lessons usually have a lot of built-in flexibility. Depending on the school and the program, online courses may include virtual or pre-recorded seminars, as well as mandatory chat time or e-mail based participation. Most of the time, degrees earned through online extensions are equivalent to those earned in a college’s classrooms, though this varies from place to place.

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