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Is the MDiv or MTS better for PhD-track?

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Thank you all for your insightful answers to so many posts on this forum! I'm applying for fall 2017, and I keep seeing conflicting answers to this question: is the MDiv or the MTS/MAR/MA better for those who plan to pursue a PhD?

I've heard from MDivs that theirs is the better program since you have more time to get to know your professors in the third year. I'm attracted to the field ed component of these programs and would like to gain the pastoral experience even though I don't feel called to parish ministry right now. (Of course I know the MDiv is not exclusively for parish ministers, but I wanted to be specific about that.)

My mentor, on the other hand, is saying that she thinks students on the PhD track tend to get one of the two-year degrees and that I should look into field ed opportunities at the MTS-type programs if I want to scratch that itch. Why add a third year to a master's degree if I'm going to be in school for 5+ years after that anyway?

I'm definitely applying to Yale and Harvard Divinity Schools, and I'm also looking into U Chicago, Duke, and Princeton Theological Seminary.

I know a lot of you are in one or the other of these degree programs right now, so I'd love to hear more about what your career aspirations are and how you plan to use your degrees. Do most people stay at the same school for their PhD? Does the third year really give you a leg up? Is the MDiv generally seen as less academically rigorous than the MTS? I really appreciate your feedback!

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FWIW, I think it partially depends on what you want to get a PhD in. One of the challenges of a forum like this that puts religious studies and divinity studies together is that they are each working on distinct projects. That is to say (without trying to start any kind of fight), that religious studies and divinity studies are fundamentally different, with biblical studies somewhere in the middle depending on what an individual is doing with it. For example, an MA is probably better prep than an MDiv for someone going into a field like Religion in the Americans. But for fields like biblical studies or theological programs, MDivs can work out well. 

Others may have differing opinions and experience—a number of posters on here have gone from conservative backgrounds to well regarded PhD's. An MDiv won't bar you from this, especially if you intend on doing a second MA. And depending on what coursework you undertake, it could be very beneficial. I mostly bring up the RS/Div distinction because this forum includes both, and perhaps part of the reason some of it is conflicting is because different PhD subfields may prefer different types of preparation. 

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I second @menge's comments. Ultimately it's going to depend on what you want to do and where you see yourself ending up.

If you plan on doing something heavy with languages, as menge partially noted, the MDiv can provide an extra year of coursework. On top of that, your evangelical, typically more conservative schools do languages REALLY well. That said, it depends on what you want to do!

Most of your mainline Protestant Div Schools allow students to have quite a bit of wiggle room in how they construct their MDiv program. Others however, lock that shit down and you might have three electives total. It goes without saying that you need to take into account your political and theological beliefs when deciding where to go.

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A lot of depends on where you end up. I'd advise the M.Div at Harvard and PTS since they have a lot of flexibility, but recommend the MAR at Yale. Others can weight in on other schools or challenge these judgments. Of course, at many of these schools you can switch from one degree to the other without much problem.

Personally, the M.Div was helpful for me in terms of building relationships with professors, learning languages, and narrowing my interests. I had mostly applied to MTS/MA programs going into it though.

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We need to know what you are interested in studying. Depending on this, I might, in fact, recommend against either program. 

Edited by sacklunch

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On 10/27/2016 at 9:12 AM, menge said:

I mostly bring up the RS/Div distinction because this forum includes both, and perhaps part of the reason some of it is conflicting is because different PhD subfields may prefer different types of preparation. 

Good point, thank you @menge. That's helpful.

I am going down the religious studies path, not theology. I want to study the development of ethics in the early Christian world and how the development of the canon interplays with modern ethics. I'm also interested in the role of women in early Christian societies. Based on that, do you have input on which programs to focus on or avoid, @sacklunch?

Is the MDiv generally as academically respected as the MTS/MAR, especially for those of us who want to pursue a religious studies PhD? I understand that a one-year STM type of degree can be typical for MDiv students going for PhDs. Do those four years of graduate work make them more appealing to PhD programs than the students who have only completed the MTS/MAR? Or is the STM a way for MDivs to play catch up?

Thank you all for your help!

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For your particular interests, it seems you'll be best served by a place that offers coursework and languages that will allow you to pursue early Christian studies, regardless of the degree. In that sense, an MTS or MDiv probably could serve you at least as well as an MA, as many places offering ECS will be seminaries or divinity schools. I can't offer much more than that since ECS isn't my area, but I'm sure other posters can. 

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18 hours ago, MstarTheology said:

Good point, thank you @menge. That's helpful.

I am going down the religious studies path, not theology. I want to study the development of ethics in the early Christian world and how the development of the canon interplays with modern ethics. I'm also interested in the role of women in early Christian societies. Based on that, do you have input on which programs to focus on or avoid, @sacklunch?

Is the MDiv generally as academically respected as the MTS/MAR, especially for those of us who want to pursue a religious studies PhD? I understand that a one-year STM type of degree can be typical for MDiv students going for PhDs. Do those four years of graduate work make them more appealing to PhD programs than the students who have only completed the MTS/MAR? Or is the STM a way for MDivs to play catch up?

Thank you all for your help!

Where are you with ancient and modern languages? This will make or break one's chances at competitive doctoral programs. If you have little (or haven't yet begun) language training, then I would be even more skeptical of an MDiv/MTS (perhaps even the MAR), unless it's at a place like Gordon Con., which would allow you to play catch up. 

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On 11/1/2016 at 10:31 AM, sacklunch said:

Where are you with ancient and modern languages?

I haven't begun, so that will be a major component of my graduate studies, as I'll need at least Greek and Hebrew in addition to whatever modern languages I need. I'm good at (and enjoy) learning languages in general, but I've never studied either of those. I studied Spanish and German in high school.

I got the impression at Yale Divinity School's Open House yesterday that their MAR program is very strong in ancient languages and primary texts, both of which are essential strengths I would need in a PhD program. But in your opinion, @sacklunch, do you think the MDiv is better for language preparation, if only because it affords me more time?

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Also, I haven't looked at Gordon-Conwell because I'm Episcopalian and theologically liberal. I know that they do languages very well. But if I take my theological and political beliefs into account, which many people have advised, I think studying at Gordon-Con would be untenable for me.

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3 hours ago, MstarTheology said:

I haven't begun, so that will be a major component of my graduate studies, as I'll need at least Greek and Hebrew in addition to whatever modern languages I need. I'm good at (and enjoy) learning languages in general, but I've never studied either of those. I studied Spanish and German in high school.

I got the impression at Yale Divinity School's Open House yesterday that their MAR program is very strong in ancient languages and primary texts, both of which are essential strengths I would need in a PhD program. But in your opinion, @sacklunch, do you think the MDiv is better for language preparation, if only because it affords me more time?

If you attend Yale Divinity School you'll be able to take Greek courses at the university (highly recommended), which will give you a leg up since you'll know Classical and not just Koine. If you go to a school like Gordon-Conwell, you won't have that option. If you're focus is more early Christianity, you can also take Latin courses at the university. Also, many MAR students at YDS do a third year, which would essentially make the program as long as an MDiv.

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3 hours ago, MstarTheology said:

I haven't begun, so that will be a major component of my graduate studies, as I'll need at least Greek and Hebrew in addition to whatever modern languages I need. I'm good at (and enjoy) learning languages in general, but I've never studied either of those. I studied Spanish and German in high school.

I got the impression at Yale Divinity School's Open House yesterday that their MAR program is very strong in ancient languages and primary texts, both of which are essential strengths I would need in a PhD program. But in your opinion, @sacklunch, do you think the MDiv is better for language preparation, if only because it affords me more time?

No, I don't think the MDiv is better for language preparation. Assuming money is not an issue (MDivs often have better funding, it seems), the MTS/MAR would in almost every way be a better option. You would be better off doing an MTS and then a shorter MA or even two MTS degrees (I know some who did the latter)--or while in your first year of the second M*, apply to doctoral programs (and then not complete the second M* or defer the doctoral program for a year, if possible). The problem with both the MDiv and MTS/MAR is that in almost every case these degrees are attempting to serve two ends: pastoral and academic. I'm not saying these are in tension. I'm saying that two or three years is not enough time if you are required/expected to take any number of courses split between the two. What's more, many MTS/MAR programs require you to take academic courses which may in fact have nothing to do with your area of interest (e.g. in modern history or interpretation when you are interested in antiquity). Such requirements are simply not the norm in MA programs in religious studies, classics, and so on.

I'll also say one thing apropos of the last comment relating to YDS allowing students to take classical languages at the college. While this may be the case at Yale, it is not, to the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, the norm at most schools. Why? Because those introductory, intermediate, and early advanced ancient language classes in classics departments are nearly always undergraduate classes. Thus, they often do not count towards one's M*. I have heard this fact lamented by many divinity students over the past 5-6 years. Still more frustrating, I have heard, is the fact that many ancient language courses in divinity schools are also attempting to serve the two ends mentioned above (pastoral and academic). This quite simply means less time spent on really grasping the philology of the language. At least for Greek, the questionable training of divinity courses (ask any classics graduate student or faculty behind closed doors) does not, however, prevent students from going on to respected doctoral programs. Many PhD students in NT have never had a single class in ancient Greek outside of the NT (but neither have most classics graduate students had any training in NT Gk--the days of NT/EC scholars trained as classicists is long gone, sadly). It's important you know what is and isn't allowed within the M* programs you are applying. /rant

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Okay, this is very helpful. Thank you all so much!

9 hours ago, sacklunch said:

The problem with both the MDiv and MTS/MAR is that in almost every case these degrees are attempting to serve two ends: pastoral and academic. I'm not saying these are in tension. I'm saying that two or three years is not enough time if you are required/expected to take any number of courses split between the two.

This makes a lot of sense to me. It seems, then, like the letters of the degree might not be as important as the flexibility of the degree and the rigor that I pursue within the range of that flexibility. If the degree affords me the opportunity to gain serious language experience and in-depth primary text analysis, and if I actually do those things between my requirements and my electives, then I will be as prepared for PhD study as I can be. Does that sound true?

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15 hours ago, MstarTheology said:

Okay, this is very helpful. Thank you all so much!

This makes a lot of sense to me. It seems, then, like the letters of the degree might not be as important as the flexibility of the degree and the rigor that I pursue within the range of that flexibility. If the degree affords me the opportunity to gain serious language experience and in-depth primary text analysis, and if I actually do those things between my requirements and my electives, then I will be as prepared for PhD study as I can be. Does that sound true?

Yes, the letters of the degree are (mostly) useless. There are exceptions. I remember in my interview with UVA (Religious Studies, PhD program) the interviewer somewhat awkwardly attempted to vet my own theological background/interests, I presume because I have an MTS (Imagine if I had an MDiv...!)? After asking about my motivations for studying early church history, s/he said something like "well, ya know that here we don't do theology...right?" (I was at that time doing an MA in Jewish Studies!) I had no problem (awkwardly) reassuring them that I have zero interest in theology, nor that I am Christian. On the other hand, I know there are scholars who claim to be theologians at places like UVA. What I take away from this is it really depends on whom you are hoping to work with. With the exception of confessional schools unaffiliated with larger universities, this mixed bag of scholars is something to keep in mind. Even having an MDiv or even the more 'secular' MAR from YDS may 'mark' you as identifying with a particular tradition (in this case, no doubt Christianity); this will be troubling to many academics, especially at institutions which do not train clergy/pastors, even if (like me) your 'theology' degree is a misnomer.

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Thanks so much for sharing your experience, @sacklunch! I finished my undergraduate studies 6 years ago, so it's difficult for me to understand/remember these nuances of academia, especially regarding the reputations of different schools, degrees, and courses of study. I really appreciate it!

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