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Philosophy Programs vs. Theology Programs

You might think the literal definitions of the words "theology" and "philosophy" would give you a handle on the distinction between the two: theology means the study of God, while philosophy means the love of knowledge. Then again, when you consider that religions typically view God as the source of all knowledge, that distinction becomes blurred.

This is typical of the relationship between theology and philosophy--they are like two roads that overlap at times and diverge at times. If you are considering studying either, you need to understand those overlaps and divergences, and from a practical standpoint, where those roads lead in terms of career options.

Philosophy and theology programs: similarities

Philosophy and theology courses each break down into two broad categories: the search for meaning itself, and the study of others who have been prominent in the search for meaning. In combination, an examination of life's questions can be informed by the writings of prominent figures--theologians, philosophers, or both--who have come before.

Discussion among peers and with teachers can also be an informative part of each type of program. Online theology programs or philosophy programs can broaden this discussion even further, so you are exchanging ideas with people from very different backgrounds.

Philosophy and theology programs: differences

While philosophy and theology programs both deal with man's search for meaning, the most obvious difference is that in the case of theology, that search centers around God. Even in theology programs which study different religions, the emphasis is on how members of each religion relate to their deity.

Coursework in philosophy, in contrast, typically focus more on process rather than a prescribed dogma. Logic and other reasoning tools are likely to be taught as a basis for the detailed study of philosophical problems and solutions to follow.

Philosophy and theology programs: career paths

To some extent, the study of either philosophy or theology is a search for understanding that is not primarily geared towards career goals. Not surprisingly then, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that both one and ten years after graduation, arts and humanities majors (the category to which both philosophy and theology belong) made less than the average college graduate.

However, this does not mean that studying philosophy or theology is mutually exclusive with having practical career goals. In addition to traditional paths such as teaching philosophy, and religious ministry (or teaching) for theology, the BLS found that more than 20 percent of arts and humanities majors go into business. After all, both philosophy and theology programs can teach you how to assemble different viewpoints and reason through open-ended problems, both of which are essential skills for the business world. Similarly, a background in philosophy and theology can be a stepping stone to an advanced degree. For example, a philosophy degree can be excellent preparation for an advance degree in law or business.

In short, philosophy and theology can have their practical applications, but that is not the end of the story. For all their differences, each can enrich the human experience. After all, both Moses and Jesus were reported to have said some variation of the phrase "man does not live by bread alone." Sounds like each of those religious figures was also something of a philosopher.

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