Divinity Studies Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in divinity studies? Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Master's and PhD or ThD of Divinity Studies: Degrees at a Glance

While some graduate programs in the field of theology and divinity are designed to deepen an individual's relationship with and understanding of a particular faith, all programs in this area prepare students to hone their critical reasoning skills. Graduates can pursue vocations as spiritual leaders, ministers, pastors, counselors, preachers, and missionaries. Some pursue careers as researchers at seminaries and academic institutions, while others teach at universities to guide others towards religious leadership. Since personal commitment to a specific faith may be important to obtain a job in spiritual leadership, atheists, agnostics and those having a crisis of faith may need to seek a fulfilling career path in a relevant, secular field, such as law or politics.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the employment outlook for clergy in the 2010-2020 decade to grow at a fast-as-average rate of 18%, with the creation of 41,000 new jobs. In 2011, the estimated mean salary for a clergy member was $23.31 per hour, or approximately $48,500 per year. The states with the highest employment levels for this career were New York, California, and Oregon, while the District of Columbia and California offered the highest salaries.

Master of Divinity (MDiv) Doctorate in Theology (PhD or ThD)
Who is this degree for? Those interested in pursuing careers as spiritual counselors and assistant ministers Those interested in careers as a minister, researcher or theology professor
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Religious Worker ($32,000)*
- Director of Religious Activities ($42,000)*
- Clergy ($48,500)*
- Theology Professor ($72,000)*
Time to Completion 3 years, full-time 5-7 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - 24 courses, including language courses related to the focus area
- Field education
- 2 years of coursework
- PhD exams
- Dissertation
- Oral defense of dissertation
- Field Education
- Reading competency in relevant modern and ancient languages
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Master's degree in a theological discipline
Online Availability Yes, with a short period of in-person coursework generally required Yes, with a short period of in-person coursework generally required

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master of Divinity Degree

Typically, this degree can be completed in three years; coursework is designed to prepare you to assume the role of a religious minister or spiritual guide. Since many religious texts were originally written in ancient languages, curriculum includes training in languages like Hebrew, Greek, Sanskrit, and languages using the Coptic alphabet. Other courses will cover ethics, morality, liturgy, gospels, scripture, and evangelism. During the course of study, you will receive hands-on training through field education, in addition to honing your skill at preaching.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Completion of a Master of Divinity degree can lead to a career that is spiritually and emotionally rewarding.
  • Students are given the opportunity to have practical experience during their field education courses.
  • This degree provides an opportunity to find careers in a variety of spiritual and community organizations.

Cons

  • The degree program requires students to be proficient in various languages, both ancient and modern.
  • In order to find a career ministering to others, divinity studies graduates must have skills and aptitudes not easily taught in coursework, such as an ability to deal with a variety of people dealing with personal issues.
  • A degree in this field does not guarantee job placement, and graduates may need to network vigorously and be willing to re-locate to find a job.

Common Courses and Requirements

Graduate divinity students are required to gain competence in a language like Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit, or one of the Coptic languages. In addition to the hands-on training earned through field education classes, students learn about:

  • Christology
  • Ethics
  • Pastoral care
  • Preaching
  • Scripture
  • Systematics

Online Degree Options

Many universities offer online Master of Divinity degrees that can be completed in 3-4 years. While most of the classes can be taken online, several colleges require that you attend short-term seminars on campus a few times a year.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

This degree involves close contact and with your professors and peers, and many can assist you in job placement at the culmination of your studies. Networking is another essential skill in finding a job; attending conferences and visiting churches and community organizations will put you in contact with people who might be able to help you. Becoming a member of a church community is a personal commitment, and the more people you know, the better your chances are of finding a place to serve.

If you would rather write, teach or work for a humanitarian organization, supplemental experience - volunteering for parish educational or literacy programs, campus ministry or campus newspapers - can provide you with a larger set of career options.

Degree Alternatives

Master of Arts in Pastoral Administration

Business-minded Christians - who are interested in serving as community leaders - might find a good fit for their talents in the pastoral administration field. By making financial and human resources decisions, pastoral administrative professionals help faith-communities to focus on strengthening relationships with each other and with God.

While often offered as stand-alone, 3-year graduate programs, pastoral administration programs are also sometimes found as a concentration within a pastoral ministry program. Applicants are required to have completed an undergraduate degree program; some schools may require applicants to have experience ministering to others.

Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling

Though clergy and the directors of religious education and activities have job prospects on par with the national average, your career options are limited if you only have training in the spiritual side of counseling others. A similar career path - mental health counselors as well as family and marriage therapists - was projected to see a 37% growth in job opportunities from 2010-2020, according to the BLS.

Taking three years to complete, master's degree programs in pastoral counseling prepare students to provide licensed mental healthcare - within a faith-based setting - by offering training in scriptures, psychopathology, prayer, ethics and therapy. Additionally, students must complete a supervised clinical counselor internship.

Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD) or Doctor of Theology (ThD)

The PhD and ThD are different degrees, each with the goal of helping you assume the vocation of a religious researcher, leader, or teacher. The PhD allows for students to follow many paths of interest, like history, geography, philosophy or laws of religion, while the ThD primarily focuses on Christianity and ministry.

Because these types of programs are notoriously competitive, applicants are often required to already know the languages relevant to their doctoral research. Regardless of the degree plan, programs require you to write an original, rigorously researched dissertation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • These degrees can lead to university professor positions where you can teach others how to become religious leaders and members of clergy.*
  • Due to the level of personal involvement required of many of the courses, these programs foster the creation of life-long connections with your colleagues.*
  • Religious community leadership can be an emotionally rewarding career path.

Cons

  • Doctoral programs can be intense and demanding; many students find they have little time outside of school to engage in any other pursuits.*
  • Pastors and those ministering to a religious community do not need a doctoral degree to find a post.*
  • This degree is highly specific and can lead to a narrow field of career choices.

Source: *Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Courses and Requirements

Practical training - earned in field-education coursework - is required to prepare for ministerial duties. In order to study sacred texts in their original forms, these programs require students to have gained a working knowledge of relevant languages, be it Akkadian, Latin or a living language, such as German. Course subjects can include:

  • Ethics
  • Liturgy
  • Psalms
  • Testaments
  • Gospels
  • Mythology
  • Canon law
  • Pastoral studies
  • Preaching

Online Degree Options

While many students prefer the face-to-face interactions with teachers and colleagues as they pursue their religious studies, many colleges are now offering online PhD programs for students who wish to obtain their degree online in biblical studies, Christian counseling or education, ministry, or theology. Online programs in theology are often offered in a modular format, where students are required to attend a short, in-person residency in order to improve the sense of community within the graduate program.

Stand Out with This Degree

As with any pursuit of a successful career, applicants with a graduate degree in divinity studies will be more successful if they network with others to find a job. More than any other career, becoming a religious leader or a member of clergy requires exceptional people skills. Working with others, finding their needs, and fulfilling those needs are the basis for a life-long involvement with in a religious community.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with an Emphasis in Christian Ministry
      • M.A. in Christian Ministry
      • M.A. in Urban Ministry
      • M.A. in Youth and Family Ministry
      • Master of Divinity
      • Master in Christian Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Museum Studies
      • Master of Liberal Arts
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    3. Abilene Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Christian Ministry
      • Master of Divinity
  • Los Angeles, CA

    World Mission University

  • Findlay, OH

    Winebrenner Theological Seminary

  • Escondido, CA

    Westminster Theological Seminary in California

  • Glenside, PA

    Westminster Theological Seminary

  • New Haven, CT

    Yale University

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with an Emphasis in Christian Ministry
  • M.A. in Christian Ministry
  • M.A. in Urban Ministry

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Museum Studies
  • Master of Liberal Arts

What is your highest level of education?

Abilene Christian University

  • Master of Arts in Christian Ministry
  • Master of Divinity

What is your highest level of education completed?

World Mission University

Winebrenner Theological Seminary

Westminster Theological Seminary in California

Westminster Theological Seminary

Yale University