College Religion Professor

Whether it’s at the pulpit or inside of a classroom, a theology degree prepares many students for a future in education. Colleges and universities hire religion professors to teach courses and conduct research related to theology, touching upon topics such as religious philosophy, world religion, church history, and the Bible. The job market is competitive for professors of religion, especially those seeking a tenure-track position. Educators possessing years of teaching-, research- and professional experience are viewed as the most desirable candidates for open position within this career field.

Job Activities & Responsibilities

Postsecondary teachers of religion either teach various classes on the college or university level (usually within the humanities department) in a visiting or part-time capacity, or become full-time, tenure-track professors that often teach a specialized field, (such as World Religions or Pastoral Care and Counseling). College professors also serve as mentors, as well as conduct research to further contribute to their respective concentrations. Additional activities and responsibilities that religion professors engage in on a routine basis include the following:

  • Preparing lesson plans, assignments and coursework for religion courses
  • Working one-on-one with college-age students
  • Writing papers and articles that get published in religious journals
  • Writing letters of recommendation for students
  • Attending and presenting research findings at conferences


The standard college degree for any professor hired to work at a university is a doctoral degree (Ph.D.). Aspiring professors may gain experience or get hired to teach religion at a two-year community college, where positions are open for those holding at least a graduate-level degree – like a Master’s in Education with a concentration in Theology. In addition to the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree program, students may spend roughly 10 years fulfilling the educational requirements required to teach religion at most colleges and universities.

Step by Step: How to Become a College Professor

1. Earn an undergraduate college degree. Every prospective professor must complete a bachelor’s degree program, building an educational background that combines education and theology coursework. Students benefit from taking classes centered on ethics, philosophy, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, world religions, as well as current religious issues.

2. Complete an advanced degree program. Professors with a master’s degree in theology qualify for adjunct teaching positions, but to teach at a university, a Ph.D., is required. To gain entry into a graduate program, students must do well on the standardized test called the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Most humanities and religion departments zero in on applicants that exhibit high scores on the verbal/writing portions of this exam.

3. Gain teaching experience. While in school, graduate and doctoral students are exposed to the field through internships and student-teaching experiences within a classroom environment. Some students assume roles as teaching assistants and graduate instructors while completing their doctorate. The majority of religion professors start out as adjunct faculty (working part-time and hired on a contractual basis) – an excellent opportunity to gain experience and establish a reputation within their chosen field.

4. Stay active. Religion professors are generally expected to publish on a regular basis, submitting position papers to scholarly journals, publishing major articles every year, and writing books related to their specialty. Another way to stay active and informed as a religion professor is to join an organization dedicated to networking with other religious education professionals, such as the Religious Education Association, or one that is more focused, such as the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.

Career Salary, Outlook & Growth

Theology professors are considered one of the highest-paid professions in ministry, earning a median annual salary of $69,590 in 2017. Public universities, seminary colleges, and private religious institutions hire educators with a background or degree in religion to serve as professors in their theology department. Part-time faculty typically earn $15,000-$25,000 annually, while some instructors are paid flat fees or by the hour to teach single courses, with starting pay ranging from $500 to $1,000.

The overall salaries of religion professors are ultimately determined by a variety of factors that include their education credentials; full-time teaching experience; religious affiliation; and geographic location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest-paying locations for the postsecondary philosophy and religion teacher position include the following states (with annual mean salaries listed): Rhode Island ($102,950), New Hampshire ($93,640), California ($92,600), Utah ($89,560), and Massachusetts ($89,120).

Graduates of a theology degree program will also enjoy a 10% to 14% increase in open teaching positions for philosophy and religion majors, which reflects a faster than average projected growth (when compared to all other jobs in the United States). An anticipated 2,900 teaching opportunities are expected to become available between 2016 and 2026.