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Div. School/Grad. Religious Studies Dept. separate vs. combined


indefiniteintegral
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I'm planning to enter a MDiv program in the fall and intend to continue my studies in a PhD program afterward. I'm doing an MDiv instead of a MAR or MTS because (1) I want the extra year of studies because I don't have a religion/theology background; (2) I want a bit more time to get some languages under me; (3) I want to be ordained so I can officiate services and serve the Eucharist on occasion (and it means a lot to me to have the Church's "stamp of approval")--Episcopalian.

One thing I've noticed in my discernment is the difference between programs where the divinity school and graduate religion studies departments are completely separate and where they are combined (the divinity actually awards the MAR). For example, Duke (separate) vs. Yale (combined). This make a huge difference to me, in part, due to the course offerings.

 

Duke
https://registrar.duke.edu/sites/default/files/unmanaged/bulletins/divinity/2012-13/html/DivinityBulletin2012-13/!SSL!/WebHelp_Pro/DivinityBulletin2012-13.htm

Yale
http://www.yale.edu/printer/bulletin/htmlfiles/div/areas-and-courses-of-study.html

Granted, both MDiv programs have curriculum requirements (and define how many classes you can take outside the div. school (Duke--only 2), but it appears that Yale's offerings are more broad because it includes what may be deemed "graduate religious studies" courses, in addition to typical div. school courses. For example, YDS has a Milton course, a course on meditation, etc.

 

Any thoughts? Reading too much into this or not interpreting it correctly? Also, can anyone comment on class size? I know Yale is smaller than Duke, but, for example, will my intro to NT class in both be >100? >50?

Edited by indefiniteintegral
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Vanderbilt has the same setup as YDS, apparently, and I looked closely at the catalogs of both schools, which ended up being the same. That was important to me since I'm doing an MTS. Since you plan on a PhD, having the combined resources at both schools is probably best.

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You are reading too much into it. The MDiv is designed to focus your studies on courses that will give you some degree of competence in ministry and, as such, you will have limited electives and many of those electives will be from a short list or a narrow area. Even if it isn't listed in the bulletin, your faculty advisor will work with you to focus your interests and this, in turn, will further limit your choices. You won't have as many completely free options as you might think. For the MDiv, you will want and need the div school aspects; the religious studies department, not so much. It's good to go to a school where both exist, and there is typically a great deal of crossover in faculty. But there's no benefit to them being integrated within the institution. In fact, I would argue that separate departments are sometimes indicative of larger institutions with more resources and thus greater opportunities for students. And as for class size, the foundational courses in the various areas will be required of virtually all incoming students in the program. Intro to NT is typically quite large, although the exact size of the class depends on the number of incoming students. You can figure it out by looking at the number of preceptorials/tutorials and then multiplying that through to estimate. For example, Duke's calendar for fall 2013 offers 12 preceptorials for "intro to OT", maximum 14 students in each group. Total spaces for students = 12x14=168. The class won't be any bigger than 160, probably closer to 150. Not sure about Yale, but you could look at the course list and figure it out. At a smaller institution, it will be a smaller incoming class and smaller courses, although they may not offer the small-group preceptorials the way a larger institution does.

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If not for your desire to be ordained I would skip the MDiv, especially at places like Duke. If your goal is academia then it's quite a pain to go through all that, from what I have seen. Most MDiv programs seem to have such a strict curriculum it leaves little room for electives (substantial language work to prepare for PhD, for example). Plus having an intro course with over 100 people....I have heard it's not the best learning environment (to put it kindly). Because many folks come in without theology/religious studies backgrounds (viz. biblical studies), they have to tailor many of the required courses for folks who have never had any coursework in said field...and thus they end up being more like undergraduate seminars (I may get burned for saying that, but it's what I have heard from people at both BC and Duke). Depending on your subfield my comments are moot.

*edit* I will say at least here at Duke our department's (Religion) course size is usually below 10. All of my classes in the dept. this year are less than 5...yet my friends across the building have classes often with over 50 students. Weird.

Edited by jdmhotness
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I'm finishing up an MDiv at Duke, and I won't dispute anything that jdmhotness said. Like indefiniteintegral, though, I was on the ordination track when I entered the program AND wanted to do a PhD. I just want to encourage you that it can be done. I was recently ordained (also in the Episcopal Church), and I'm heading to Notre Dame this fall for PhD work.

 

I have no regrets about going to Duke, but it's true that there are a lot of requirements in the MDiv, and the core courses are very large (150ish). These include NT, OT (2 semesters), Theology, Ethics, 2 Church history courses, and American Christianity. You also have weekly "preceptorials" (aka discussion sections) led by PhD/ThD students, so, yes, it feels a lot like an undergrad class. The "extra year" of the MDiv program is made up of courses like Preaching, Black Church Studies, etc. As you pointed out, it's nice to have another year to work on things like languages.

 

One word of advice if you do end up at Duke: Most people who have PhD aspirations re-work the course paradigm to their advantage. This usually means taking some serious seminars during your first and second years (so they'll be on your transcript when you apply to PhD programs, and you'll have better recommendation letters) and saving some of the other courses for you last year (most PhD admissions committees don't really care about your grade in preaching class, for example). Also, many people have received advanced placement for their core classes, which means they can take an advanced seminar in place of the intro class. This may not be an option for you, since you said you don't have much of a theology background, but it's definitely worth pursuing if you've done anything remotely related to the subject in undergrad.

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As others have said, electives will be limited so long as your denomination has certain academic requirements as a part of the MDiv program. So yes you would normally have 10 free electives in an MDiv like Duke's, but then Anglican/Episcopalian courses dwindle that number down.

By the way, Divinity students can take any class in the Religion dept that they want at Duke without limitation. Also, German, Greek, French, and Hebrew courses are offered during the summer. So if your field education placement is nearby you could feasibly do that. I myself will be doing German this summer.

Other than that, you might consider doing an MDiv + an ThM or MA. If you can live without being ordained, though, and don't care about ministry courses, an MA would be far more advantageous.

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As others have said, electives will be limited so long as your denomination has certain academic requirements as a part of the MDiv program. So yes you would normally have 10 free electives in an MDiv like Duke's, but then Anglican/Episcopalian courses dwindle that number down.

By the way, Divinity students can take any class in the Religion dept that they want at Duke without limitation. Also, German, Greek, French, and Hebrew courses are offered during the summer. So if your field education placement is nearby you could feasibly do that. I myself will be doing German this summer.

Other than that, you might consider doing an MDiv + an ThM or MA. If you can live without being ordained, though, and don't care about ministry courses, an MA would be far more advantageous.

 

Missed this--"Courses in Duke’s Department of Religion do not count within this limit." Thanks!

 

Ordination is def. on my path, so not doing it is not an option right now. Of course, MAs are always advantageous prior to PhDs, but are MDivs, practically, at that much of a disadvantage when it comes to PhD admissions?

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Yes. Some schools, like UToronto, come right out and say that MDivs are not considered adequate M* degrees for applicants to the PhD/religion dept. I think this is true of many non-divinity schools/religious programs across the board. There are certainly exceptions (a friend of mine got into JHU's NELC program with an MDiv), but I think the attitudes toward the MDiv are changing as the degree itself becomes more and more practical ministry-oriented.

 

If you apply to mainly div schools for the PhD, as I did, however, an MDiv will not really hinder you, provided you show that it was an academically rigorous program. 

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Good question.

 

I think it depends where you go. On academia.edu I try to browse CV's to get a sense of different backgrounds. Seems like way more have MTS/MAR/MA, but who knows. The word is that HDS' MDiv is basically an MTS+1. Others (like Duke) seem to fill your degree with requirements.

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