As a broadly defined and highly diversified faith, Christianity exemplifies some of the most well-established virtues of western culture. These virtues are meant to be instilled by example, passed down by religious leaders with graduate degrees in divinity and theology. Recent scandals and terrible revelations have caused a crisis of faith for many people, however; in response to this, some people have elected to pursue a Master’s in Theology or a Master’s in Divinity, to try and help steer the course back onto a cherished path of wholesomeness and tradition.
With as many different denominations of Christianity as there are represented in the United States, and as many different approaches to the scholarly study of religious doctrine, the differences between programs aren’t always clear. In particular, many people are confused by the existence of separate Master’s programs in Theology and Divinity, and what sets them apart from each other.
Within most established major Christian denominations in the United States, the Master’s in Divinity is the baseline academic requirement for assuming pastoral duties (other requirements are typically emphasized much more emphatically). Generally speaking, it is a program of approximately 90 credits, requiring on average three years to complete. Recent years have seen a shift in the time required for its completion, due to the ready availability of online instruction; as is the case with most academic fields, online programs typically require less time to complete. A Master’s in Divinity consists of courses in leadership and administrative skills, through the lens of lessons in Christian doctrine, coupled with historical perspectives from a range of Christian organizations. There are also ethical studies, centered on the practices of such organizations from throughout world history.
In most cases, it is possible to progress from a Master’s in Divinity to a PhD in theology. The Master’s in Theology is an intermediate step, one that typically involves an additional 30 credits and 1-2 years of study following the Master’s in Divinity, which is a prerequisite. The Master’s in Theology (often “Sacred Theology”) greatly reduces the credit requirement of subsequent doctoral studies, and it improves the qualifications of students seeking to enter and advance in their chosen ministry or organization. The requirements of a Master’s in Theology are light on electives, with considerable focus on language studies; between two and four “foreign languages” will be involved, with Latin, ancient Greek, Arabic and Aramaic being either among the most common or increasingly popular. For those who wish to pursue their ministry in other countries, regional languages are frequently taken at this point in the educational process.
The requirements for advancing within a ministry or a priestly order in America are among the most varied from one religious sect to another. However, for most Christian organizations, a PhD in Theology is a fundamental prerequisite, often with additional areas of study being required. This program can be pursued following the acquisition of a Master’s in Divinity, while a Master’s in Theology will reduce the requisite credit requirement (as well as the academic requirement, as the PhD will otherwise require much more intensive language studies).
Depending upon your goals in entering the ministry, a Master’s in Divinity may be adequate to your needs, or you may find yourself wanting to pursue further accreditation through a Master’s in Theology. With the above as a guideline, a little research will turn up dozens of programs in divinity and theology, available at some of America’s most prestigious institutions. The Association of Theological Schools offers widely recognized accreditation of theological programs and institutions, and is an excellent place to begin a search for more information on the subject.
Related Resource: The 15 Best Online Master’s Degrees in Theology