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Academic vs. creative dissertation or joint MFA/PhD program?

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Hi everyone,

I've recently graduated with my MDiv (Master of Divinity) from Vanderbilt and am considering options. Since undergrad, I've been drawn to the areas of English and religion (I majored in English, writing, philosophy and religion and minored in global studies). I feel deeply called to ordained ministry but am seeking to root myself in a progressive diocese for several years before starting the ordination process. Several of my theology professors encouraged me to enroll in an MFA or a PhD in English program in the meantime, so I thought I'd seek the advice of my peers.

I would like a career that allows me a foot in the Church and a foot in the academy. I would also like to assist my future parishioners and audiences outside the Church in plumbing the depths of texts outside canonical scripture (i.e. Dante's Divine Comedy, the writings of C.S. Lewis, and even works that aren't overtly "Christian"). I want to write creatively from a space within the Episcopal Church. However, rather than writing dense theological essays, I find it much easier to lay down my theology by way of the fictional narrative. I want my writings to challenge the easy answers and dogma offered by much of today's Christian literature. I also admire the practices of lectio divina and scriptio divina and want them to make them more accessible for others. My areas of study include Christian social ethics, constructive Christian theology, LGBT issues and existentialism.

Anyway, after all this rambling, here are some questions I have:

* Considering my vocational goals, would an MFA, a PhD in English literature or a joint MFA/PhD program (I know Cornell has one but am not sure how common this is) be more suitable?

* If a PhD program is best, should I seek one requiring a more academic dissertation or a creative dissertation? I would love to hone my creative writing skills but am also aware that one does not need a degree in creative writing in order to do this.

* Are there any particular programs that would offer faculty with backgrounds in religious and philosophical literature? Or any in general that would be a good fit?

* What programs would offer decent funding? I'd like a respectable program, but considering that I plan to primarily end up in ministry, do not want to get into too much debt.

* Would my MDiv and interest in the intersection between religion and literature make me a unique candidate or prove problematic while applying? I know many schools are interested in students integrating disciplines but want to avoid any misconceptions.

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