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15 Best PhDs’ in Theology and Christian Studies

The 15 Best PhDs' in Theology and Christian Studies are intended for future educators and researchers. These quality programs are rigorous, and many are interdisciplinary. 

Earning a Doctorate of Philosophy in Theology and Christian Studies can prepare and qualify you to perform research and teach at universities, colleges, and in seminaries. Not only does this terminal degree open up career opportunities, but these positions can also bring higher salaries. According to PayScale, the median salary for a graduate with a Ph.D. in Religion is $71,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demands for postsecondary teachers will grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than average. With approximately 197,800 new postsecondary teaching jobs to enter the market by 2026, now is the time to consider the 15 Best Ph.D. in Theology and Christian Studies degrees.

The programs in this ranking are intended to educate future teachers, leaders, and researchers. Most require that you have a master's degree, but some programs provide tracks specifically for students with a bachelor's degrees. Depending on your desired career, you may want to look for a program that offers a particular field of study or concentration.

Selection Criteria

Best Value Schools publishes college degree rankings with the belief of how one's higher education should be, both, affordable and an investment of continued value for the students who pursue them. The staff of BVS collects data from reputable sources in order to calculate Net Price and the short and long-term value of every ranked degree. Collected data is simplified into weighted categories before scoring and then scaled through a BVS Score up to 100. The weighted categories are:

  • Degree Investment Return (25%)
  • Student & Alumni Evaluation (25%)
  • Cost Value (25%)
  • Matriculation (10%)
  • Academic Success (15%)

No matter what degree you decide on, we hope our research and support has made the selection process easier. There are numerous resources BVS utilizes to collect information on degrees, and we encourage you to check them out for yourself!

Here are the 15 Best PhDs' in Theology and Christian Studies for 2020!

1. Harvard University - Cambridge, MA

Doctor of Philosophy in Religion


Harvard University's Doctor of Philosophy in Religion degree is offered with numerous areas of study, including African Religions, Hebrew Bible, Jewish Studies, Religion and Society, and South Asian Religions. Program faculty work as historians, scholars of texts, anthropologists, and more. This degree was first established in 1934 and offered by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Divinity School. This program is rigorous and competitive, with only about five to six percent of applicants being admitted. Program applicants are not required to have a master's degree but are rarely accepted without one. Program applicants should also have foundational language work that will be necessary for research in their specialization area.

Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the country. Over 36,000 students are enrolled at Harvard, including more than 13,00 graduate and professional students hailing from all 50 states and over 80 countries. Harvard is also home to over 371,000 living alumni. Harvard offers abundant resources, including the Harvard Library which includes 20.4 million volumes, 10 million photographs, 124 million archived web pages, and more. Harvard's museums' house over 28 million works of art, materials, instruments, and more.

Average Graduate Tuition: $48,949
Score: 100

2. Stanford University - Stanford, CA

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Standford University's Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies typically consists of about 30 students at a time. Students declare a specialization in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Modern Religious Thought, Ethics & Philosophy. Visiting scholars enhance students' education, and Stanford's relationships with other institutions also offer valuable educational opportunities. Students also have the chance to study abroad. About three to four graduate students are admitted to the program each year, and most students take six years to complete the program. Students complete three years of coursework, a qualifying exam, and write a dissertation.

Stanford's enrollment is over 16,000 students, which includes over 9,000 graduates, and its campus consists of almost 700 significant buildings and 17 Nobel laureates. With over 2,240 faculty members, students enjoy an impressive 5:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Stanford consists of seven schools in fields such as business, education, engineering, law, and medicine.

Average Graduate Tuition: $49,617
Score: 96.77

3. Duke University - Durham, NC

Graduate Program in Religion


Duke University's Graduate Program in Religion is differentiated from other graduate religion programs because of its design. This program is a collaborative program between various departments at Duke, including the Department of Religious Studies and the Duke Divinity School. Thanks to Duke's ties to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Duke students can cross-register in graduate courses and explore increased course offerings, as a result. A small, selective cohort of students are admitted to the program, and the program's size is only between 65 and 75 students per year.

Founded in 1924, Duke's enrollment today is over 15,000 students, including more than 8,800 graduate and professional students. The university consists of ten schools and colleges staffed by more than 3,700 faculty. Duke Libraries are one of the top 10 private research library systems in the country, and consists of the Rubenstein, Perkins, and Bostock Libraries, the Lilly and Music Libraries, and the Pearse Memorial Library. More than 171,000 alumni received quality education from Duke.

Average Graduate Tuition: $53,500
Score: 93.99

4. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - Chapel Hill, NC

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies degree that prepares students to teach or research religious studies at the university or college level. Students must select one of six fields of specialization, which include Islamic Studies, Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Religion in the Americas, and Religions of Asia. During the program, students must pass at least four written exams and a final oral doctoral examination before they can begin working on their doctoral dissertation. Admission to this program is highly competitive, with only five to ten students being admitted out of more than 100 applicants each year.

If you attend Carolina, you'll be joining more than 18,800 undergraduate students and over 11,000 graduate students. The university offers 65 doctoral degree programs and was the only public university in the country to award degrees in the 18th century. Among Carolina's students are 49 Rhodes Scholars and 39 Luce Scholars, and Carolina is also home to two Nobel Laureates. Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine has included Carolina in its list of the 100 best U.S. public colleges and universities 17 different times. INSIGHT Into Diversity awarded Carolina the 2017 Higher Education in Diversity award in 2017.

Average Graduate Tuition: $9,005 in-state, $34,588 out-of-state
Score: 93.29

5. University of Virginia - Charlottesville, VA

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


The University of Virginia's Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies is designed primarily to train scholars. Graduate students have gone on to hold tenure-track positions at Yale, Northwestern, William and Mary, and more, and also pursue careers in non-profits, government, and religious vocations. This doctoral degree is divided into 15 different areas of study, including Buddhist Modernity, American Religions, Hinduism, Islamic Studies, Religious Ethics, South Asian Religions, and more. Program applicants apply to a specific area of their choosing and follow a course of study that is dictated by the field of study's requirements.

Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. Today, the university employs almost 30,000 people and is home to over 16,000 undergraduate and 6,700 graduate and professional students. The University of Virginia Health System offered 602 beds and saw over 912,000 outpatient visits in 2017. The U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Virginia as the third best public national university in 2019, and as #25 in its 2019 Best National University ranking. In 2018, the Princeton Review recognized the University of Virginia as the top best-value public college in the country.

Average Graduate Tuition: $16,853 in-state, $47,273 out-of-state
Score: 91.66

6. University of Pennsylvania - Philadelphia, PA

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


At the University of Pennsylvania, students can earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies in four different areas, including the Bible, Islamic history and thought, and more. Students work closely with faculty to design individualized courses of study. Most students complete the program in five years, during which time they complete coursework and teaching assistantships as well as attend a graduate colloquium. To complete the degree, students must study at least two languages; pass qualifying and preliminary examinations, and complete an oral dissertation defense.

Penn was founded in 1740 by evangelist George Whitefield. Benjamin Franklin purchased the building from Whitefield in 1751 and acted as president and later, as trustee, over the institution until his death. Today, Penn consists of three campuses in West Philadelphia, New Bolton Center, and the Morris Arboretum. As of Fall 2018, over 25,000 students attended Penn, including more than 11,300 graduate and professional students. Penn's libraries are home to 6.57 million print book volumes, 1.91 million e-books, and 3.88 million digitized images.

Average Graduate Tuition: $38,630
Score: 89.54

7. Indiana University Bloomington - Bloomington, IN

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Indiana University Bloomington's Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies is designed to educate future scholar-teachers and emphasizes guided and individualized research. Students may choose from a variety of fields of study, including Buddhist Studies, Chinese Thought, History of Christianity, Religions in South America, and more, though students may also create their fields of study. To earn their degree, students must complete several requirements, including a dissertation, passing qualifying exams, submitting two revised research papers, and showing proficiency in French and German.

IU Bloomington was founded in 1820 and has since grown to encompass over 200 research centers and institutes and more than 750 student groups. Over 32,000 undergraduate students attend IU Bloomington each year, and international students represent 139 countries. IU Bloomington students can choose from more than 380 overseas study programs. Kiplinger has recognized IU Bloomington as a Best Value Public College, and the university's Nonprofit Management Graduate Program; Environmental Policy and Management Graduate Program; and Public Affairs Graduate Programs have all received top rankings from the U.S. News & World Report.

Average Graduate Tuition: $10,533 in-state, $34,845 out-of-state
Score: 89.07

8. Columbia University in the City of New York - New York, NY

Doctor of Philosophy in Religion


At Columbia University in the City of New York, students can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion degree that offers unique opportunities. Accepted students receive fellowships that cover their tuition and fees for up to five years. The fellowships also provide a stipend for living expenses. Students who receive these fellowships work as teaching assistants for six semesters, but do not teach during their first year so that they can focus on their education. Students choose from eight different fields of study, including Buddhism, Christianity, North American Religions, and Philosophy of Religions. Focus areas include time, transmission, space, body, and more.

Columbia University, the oldest institution of higher learning in New York State, was founded in 1754. The university has since grown to encompass 22 libraries, more than 20 residence halls, and over 200 research institutes and centers. Columbia University's M.D. and Ph.D. programs have an 84% admittance rate, and since 2000, 55 Columbia University undergraduates have won National Science Foundation Scholarships to attend graduate school. Columbia University features 13 graduate and professional schools, and the university's 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio ensures an individualized, supportive education.

Average Graduate Tuition: $57,208
Score: 87.5

9. University of Iowa - Iowa City, IA

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


The University of Iowa's Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies program is designed to prepare students to become specialists in studying and teaching religion. Students can then use this training in academic or alternative careers. During the program, students work closely with their advisor and faculty members within the Religious Studies department, though students are also encouraged to work with faculty in other departments, such as Anthropology, History, Philosophy, and more. Students should complete this degree program within six years.

A premier public research university, the University of Iowa was founded in 1847 and is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state. Over 32,000 students from 114 countries attend the University of Iowa. The university is home to over 40 faculty and alumni who have won the Pulitzer Prize, and the U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Iowa as 38th in its "Best Public Universities" ranking. Additionally, the U.S. News & World Report included the university in its ranking of the top 200 universities in the world, and the University of Iowa has appeared on the Fiske Guide to Colleges "Best Buy" list for 14 consecutive years.

Average Graduate Tuition: $8,695 in-state, $30,609 out-of-state
Score: 86.53

10. Georgetown University - Washington, D.C.

Doctor of Philosophy in Theological and Religious Studies


Georgetown University's Doctor of Philosophy in Theological and Religious Studies focuses on the imperatives of the multireligious and multicultural world, encouraging students to research these issues in various ways. The program requires 36 graduate coursework credits and takes about five years to complete on a full-time basis. After spending two years on coursework, students spend a year preparing for examinations and their dissertation proposal. Students spend the final two years writing their dissertation.

In addition to traditional coursework, graduate students can take workshops focused on professional development, including topics such as how to write cover letters and how to write for scholarly publication. Students work as teaching assistants in their second year of study. By teaching undergraduate Theology and Religious Studies courses, students develop skills and experience in the classroom. After their comprehensive exams, students may teach an undergraduate course of their own. Through the teaching process, students receive support through faculty mentoring. Georgetown consists of nine different schools and colleges, including Georgetown Law, the School of Medicine, and the School of Continuing Studies. In Fall 2017, Georgetown received 10,471 graduate applications and admitted 5,092 students. The university is home to over 200 on-campus co-curricular clubs and activities.

Average Graduate Tuition: $52,300
Score: 84.35

11. Florida State University - Tallahassee, FL

Doctor of Philosophy in Religion


Florida State University provides a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion degree with four different tracks: American Religious History; History and Ethnography of Religions; Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy; and Religions of Western Antiquity. Program applicants should have outstanding grades and GRE scores. Additionally, applicants will need to submit a personal statement, a writing sample, and letters of recommendation, among other requirements. All four tracks require at least 24 hours of coursework beyond the master's degree level, in addition to dissertation credits.

FSU was founded in 1851 and is an elite research university. The university offers a 22:1 student-to-faculty ratio and its 41,900 students represent every Florida county as well as 132 countries. FSU offers 301 different degree programs, including bachelor's, master's, doctoral, specialist, and professional degrees. The university employs 2,360 faculty, and six Nobel Laureates have been among FSU faculty. FSU holds the Carnegie Commission classification of being a doctoral university with "Highest Research Activity."

Graduate Tuition: $5,656 in-state, $18,786 out-of-state
Score: 84.11

12. Vanderbilt University - City, ST

Doctor of Philosophy in Religion


Vanderbilt University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion degree available to students who have a baccalaureate or a post-baccalaureate degree. Students may choose from nine different areas of study, including Ethics and Society, Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, Homiletics and LIturgics, and New Testament and Early Christianity. This program requires 72 hours of coursework, and students may transfer post-baccalaureate credits. Students must have a reading knowledge of two modern languages to qualify for the Ph.D. degree and will complete and defend a dissertation.

Founded in 1873, Vanderbilt is a private university. As of the 2018-2018 academic year, over 6,800 undergraduates and 5,900 graduate and professional students were enrolled at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt consists of 11 different schools and colleges, including a School of Engineering, School of Law, Divinity School, and the Blair School of Music. Students may participate in over 500 clubs and organizations, as well as 15 sororities and 17 fraternities. Vanderbilt alumni include Nobel Prize winners, CEOs, members of Congress, and professional athletes in the NFL, NBA, PGA, and more.

Score: 84.02
Graduate Tuition: $47,686

13. Northwestern University - Evanston, IL

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Northwestern University's Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies program is a small, flexible, interdisciplinary program that trains students in both the history of theory and method of religious studies. Students take at least two years of course work, but they also take up to half of their courses within other departments. This interdisciplinary approach allows students to expand their mentors and colleagues, and students form dissertation committees that contain at least one faculty member from outside the department. Students focus on researching and writing their dissertation, and most students complete this program within five years.

Northwestern's first building was completed in 1855, and the university began its classes to serve the Northwest Territory with two faculty and ten students. Since then, Northwestern has grown to encompass 12 colleges and schools across three campuses in Evanston, Chicago, and Doha, Qatar. This leading research university has over 50 university research centers, and $702.1 million is sponsored in research, annually. The U.S. News & World Report has ranked Northwestern as a top 10 national university.

Graduate Tuition: $52,678
Score: 83.32

14. Emory University - Atlanta, GA

Doctor of Philosophy in Religion


Emory University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion program which is provided in nine courses of study, including Ethics and Society, New Testament, West and South Asian Religions, and American Religious Cultures. Students complete two years of course work and at least five doctoral seminars. Students must take two seminars in an area of study outside of their chosen field of specialization. During the third year, students take doctoral examinations, then begin writing their dissertation by the fourth year. To qualify for their degree, students must demonstrate the ability to read two modern languages, which are often German, French, or Spanish. All students in this program also participate in the Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunity Program, which provides students with guidance and teaching experience through assistantships and a teaching associateship.

In 1836, the Methodist Episcopal Church founded Emory College, and the university has since grown to educate over 15,400 students each year, including more than 7,300 graduate and professional students. Today, Emory consists of four undergraduate and seven graduate schools and colleges. Emory is home to 149,000 alumni, including Michael Dubin, CEO of the Dollar Shave Club; Emory Williams, CEO of Sears, Roebuck, and Co.; Frank Main, Pulitzer Prize winner; Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls; and Alben W. Barkley, 35th Vice President of the United States.

Graduate Tuition: $49,392 in-state, $49,392 out-of-state
Score: 80.21

15. Boston University - Boston, MA

Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Boston University designed its Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies program to transform scholars into researchers who can teach at universities, colleges, and seminaries around the world. Boston's Ph.D. in Religious Studies takes an interdisciplinary approach, and faculty are drawn from various departments, including History, Philosophy, Sociology, Romance Studies, and more. Students may choose from six areas of specializations, including Buddhist Studies, Jewish Studies, and Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean World. All accepted students are offered a five-year Dean's Fellowship which includes full tuition and a living stipend.

In 1839 the Newbury Biblical Institute was established; this institute would later become the School of Theology, BU's first school. Today, BU educates over 34,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university consists of 17 schools of colleges across three campuses. BU offers more than 300 programs of study and employs over 10,000 faculty and staff. BU students come from over 130 countries, and alumni are located in more than 180 countries. At BU, students can participate in study abroad programs in more than 30 cities throughout 21 countries.

Average Graduate Tuition: $52,082
Score: 79.30

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