The Complete Guide To MDiv Degree

getting a masters degree in religious studies

Some people have a need to help and guide others through their spirituality. They are passionate about studying the mysteries of religion and want to gain knowledge and skills in how to effectively communicate and inspire others to follow the same religious principles as they do.

The Master of Divinity is the degree in theology or religious studies which prepares students to start their careers in the church. If you are interested in biblical studies and Christian theology, then this guide will serve you to start acquainting yourself with what this degree entails.

What is a Master of Divinity?

The Masters of Divinity (MDiv) or Magister Divinitatis in Latin is the theological or religious degree which prepares students for becoming involved in the life and administration of the church. It is an advanced study of religious practices that leads to students becoming ordained or involved in priesthood or pastoral positions.

Master of Divinity programs are mostly popular in the United States and Canada, even though they exist through other names in different countries within the theological studies branch. According to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), in 2015 about 22,000 students enrolled in an MDiv program in the US or Canada. This makes the Master of Divinity program the most popular from all degrees of theological studies with about 45% of students enrolling in it.

Divinity is the study of the details and teachings of the Christian practices. There is a Bachelors of Divinity too, but most churches and orders require the Master of Divinity in order to qualify to become a leader of the church. That is because many branches of Christianity require 7 to 8 years of study in the religion to become ordained.

The Master of Divinity is a more practical degree which focuses on training students to become pastors, priests, or ministers. Because of this, it has classes of pastoral studies, which other theological degrees lack. Whereas a Master of Theology or Theology degree focuses more on the theory of religions, and not necessarily only in the Christian religion, the Master of Divinity is more focused on Christian practices. If it is taught in secular schools, it might involve courses on different religions across the world, but in Christian schools it only focuses on the particular teachings of Christianity.

The ATS is the official accreditation authority for theological studies and a Masters of Divinity in particular. If you are planning to enroll in an MDiv program, you have to ensure that it has been accredited by this institution. In 1996 the ATS established that all such programs should build their curriculum around four main topics:

  • Cultural Context
  • Religious Heritage
  • Personal and Spiritual Formation
  • Capacity for Ministerial and Public Leadership

After the completion of the MDiv degree, students can continue further and get their Doctor of Divinity degree. This degree though is used only to signify academic accomplishment rather than required for positions within the church. That is why the Master of Divinity is considered a terminal degree to become a pastor or minister, with the PhD only being used for academic purposes.

What does a Master of Divinity involve?

The Master of Divinity is a graduate degree which involves the combination of theory and practice in the form of field studies for students to become specialized in theology. It involves intense study of about 72 to 106 credit hours to complete the whole degree with residency requirements.

Courses in the Master of Divinity program are different from university to university, but the degree usually involves some studying in:

  • Philosophy
  • The Old and New Testament
  • Theology
  • Church History
  • Christian Education
  • Latin/Hebrew and linguistics of Christian Scriptures
  • One or two secular courses
  • Christian Ethics
  • Pastoral Counseling
  • Courses on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and cultural diversity

Other courses will  be decided based on the religious order that the student belongs to and which are required for ordainment.

MDiv Graduation

Many MDiv programs will require either a thesis or residence program to be completed for graduation. The thesis involves researching a topic of importance to the student where they can explore it through the perspectives of theology, history, and philosophy. The thesis is mostly done by those students who also aspire to complete a Doctorate degree in Divinity and want to become academically involved in religion.

The residency program is for students who want to work directly at the church. Universities place students in different churches where they are supervised and work alongside others in their faith. This usually takes a few years, after which the student can graduate and become ordained.

What are the types of Masters of Divinity?

Masters of Divinity are usually full time programs with little possibilities for part time studies. That is because of the intensity of the degree which requires a student’s full commitment and attention. Exceptions are made for experienced church workers who study alongside their job, but most MDiv students are full time.

Online MDiv programs exist, but are usually not recommended due to the fact that the nature of the degree is such that it is better to be present and interact with students and faculty in a classroom and in the field, rather than through virtual means.

Besides the modes of study and the general required courses that MDiv students have, they also have the choice of taking an area of emphasis for their studies. This further specializes them and they take their electives in the area that they are mostly interested in.

Specializations include, but are not limited to:

  • Biblical Studies and Languages
  • Christian Ethics
  • Race, Cultural Identity, and Reconciliation
  • Worship, Theology, and the Arts
  • Youth, Family, and Culture
  • Global Arts and World Religions
  • Theology and the Arts
  • Worship and Music Ministry

How long does it take to get a Master of Divinity?

Masters of Divinity degrees are different from other degrees since they prepare students for spiritual and guidance job positions. Due to this, they are longer than most master’s degrees.

To graduate with an MDiv qualification, students usually take three to four years. This includes coursework as well as practical or residency programs. For some students, it might take longer than four years to graduate from the MDiv program, but universities have a policy of not allowing students to be enrolled in the degree for more than 6 years.

If students have the opportunity to select part time studies, then it will take much longer than the four years and might go on for the allowed six years.

For more on how long does getting a master’s degree take, read the article here.

What does the Masters of Divinity cost?

As with all Masters programs, the cost of the MDiv degree is quite high too. The exact amount varies, though depending on the institution, the curriculum, and other expenses. In general, according to the ATS, the total cost of a Master of Divinity can be from $15,000 to $35,000 per year, whch means that the total amount for 4 years can go up to $140,000.

Since it is so expensive, many universities offer funding and scholarship opportunities. The same methods of financing your education apply for the MDiv as with all other masters degrees.

For more on how to complete your masters for free, go to the article here.

What are the requirements for a Master of Divinity?

The requirements to attend a Master of Divinity program are not much different from other master’s degrees; however, there are some special requirements that other schools don’t have.

Each university has their own specific documents and qualifications that they need in order to admit students into their MDiv programs, but in general, most of them require the following:

  • Proof of completion of a Bachelor’s Degree – preferably in Divinity, but students from other fields are also encouraged to apply
  • Graduate test scores, specifically GRE scores
  • English proficiency test scores – either TOEFL or IELTS
  • The completion of some credit hours in theology or philosophy – the exact number required depends on the institution
  • Statement of purpose and Recommendation Letters
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV) or resume
  • A Catholic background
  • Interview with the potential student to determine their fit to the MDiv program

Where to get a Master of Divinity?

Masters of Divinity programs are usually involved with studying the Christian and Catholic religions and their teachings. Rarely do they include studies of other religions. Because of this the best places to complete a Master of Divinity are those which are generally considered to belong to Christianity rather than others.

In general the MDiv degree has originated in the US and Canada so these two countries specialize in this type of theological study. You might conclude that the best places to complete a Master of Divinity are there, but there are also great divinity programs in Europe too. They might have other names so you will have to check with individual universities to make sure it is the equivalent degree.

What can you do with a Masters of Divinity degree?

The Master of Divinity degree can lead students in different career paths around the world. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), religious workers will have an increase of 7% in their jobs during the years of 2014 to 2024.

However, the MDiv degree does not only qualify students to become religious workers, but gives them opportunities for different careers. Here are 4 of the most popular careers that students with an MDiv can take.

Minister or Pastor

Their median annual salary of a is $47,702.

A job position such as Minister or Pastor requires the MDiv graduate to hold the weekly church service and support the congregation through prayer and spiritual guidance.

Church Manager

Their earn a median annual salary of $44,783.

This job position requires the organization and coordination of activities and events that are held in the church for all members who are part of it.

Chaplain

The median annual salary for chaplains is $48,063.

This job position provides spiritual guidance and counseling services to various institutions, such as hospitals where he or she works with sick patients, or the military where he or she works with soldiers to guide them through their struggles.

Manager of Missionary Outreach Program

The median annual salary for the manager of missionary outreach program is $53,033.

This type is responsible for organizing and coordinating the promotion of the Christian religion and its values to other people in different communities and countries. They manage their team of missionaries who go to different places and inform people about what Christianity stands for and invite them to join the religion.

Secular Careers

In addition to these 4 careers, MDiv degree holders can also take secular career paths. Because they are good and patient with people, and have knowledge on how people think and behave, they also make great counselors. They could work with children or adults in counseling and working through different issues.

Besides counseling, students with MDiv degrees could also become teachers or professors of theology or philosophy. They could teach elementary and high school students or if they complete their Doctor of Divinity degree, they could also become college or university professors.

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