Difference between theology degrees (M.A., M.Div, M.Th, etc.)


#1

Hello all,

I'm thinking about going back to grad school to major in theology, but I'm a bit confused about all the different kinds of degrees. I would like to know the difference between an M.A., M.Div, and M.Th. I know there's others (S.T.B., S.T.L., etc.) but as I understand it, these are strictly for priests and other religious, so I don't think I need to concern myself with them.

My goal is to be a writer/speaker on religious/cultural/political issues (esp. where they intersect). I know a lot of people do this while teaching at a university, which doesn't sound like my cup of tea, but given that this is the norm, I guess I should be at least open to the idea.

In any case, if this is my career goal (to work as a public intellectual and/or in academia), which degree would make the most sense for me to pursue?


#2

In my research, I have decided that you should NOT rule out an STB/STL just because a majority of the degrees are held by religious. They are not only for Priests.

For example, at this link, you will see it is for laymen as well as religious:
stpatricksseminary.org/academic/bachelor-of-sacred-theology-stb.html

But from what I’ve read, if you want to get a job as a professor at a Catholic seminary or university, in some places, NOT having an STB/STL can mean you not getting the job. So if your goal is to teach at a Catholic institution, go ahead for the STL.

~Patrick

P.S. I might be wrong, so double check elsewhere, but this is what I’ve gathered. (but you do need ~20 units of Philosophy before you can enter STB programs)


#3

M.A. is a Masters in Art’s. It’s a master’s (graduate) level humanities degree (so you could get a MA in Fine Arts or Music or History or English or Theology). M. Div. is a professional degree that is for the most part what seminarians will obtain when studying towards the priesthood (although I believe a layman can get one, but the program will be slightly different). A M. Th. would be a Masters in Theology, and I think would be similar in idea to a M.A. in Theology.

STB is a Bachelor of Sacred Theology, which is a graduate level degree from a Pontifical University. STL is the Licentiate of Sacred Theology, which is the “next level” up, and STD is a Doctor of Sacred Theology (the “final step”).


#4

Two years of philosophy seem to be a prerequisite for seeking a S.T.B. So, if you wish to obtain degrees in Sacred Theology, it may be advisable to first seek a master's degree in philosophy at a Catholic institution. I believe that a M.Th. is a one-year degree beyond a M.Div. or a similar degree. If you were to desire to acquire a S.T.D. and began by seeking a M.A. in philosophy, you would be in graduate school for roughly 9 years.


#5

You may also want to look at an M.PS - Masters in Pastoral Studies -it comes with many concentrations- I am going for mine in Youth Ministry - you can still do the speaker circuit think - especially for things like Steubenville but you could also get a more steady practical job to pay off those in loans until you get your name out there.


#6

Seems there should be some PhD's out there also that have not been covered.

Not to make too fine a point of it, but give some really serious consideration to who it is exactly that you think will be signing the paycheck. I have seen too many well intentioned, well meaning, head-in-the-clouds and stars-in-the-eyes people get Masters of one sort or another in theology with absolutely no clue whatsoever where they were going to get a paying job - or perhaps more specifically, if there were in fact such jobs to be had. And if you intend to teach, the rule of publish or perish seems to still apply, as well as the ability to get on the PhD (or equivalent) track. And then there is such practical matters as how many schools have a position for anyone to teach theology, and how many job openings on average there are out there among those schools, and how many applicants (as in, how many try to get one of those positions, and end up working as a bank teller, or a hamburger flipper). Given the state of the economy, you may find that the hamburger job is already filled with a guy or gal with an advanced degree in Computer Science...

I don't mean to put a damper on it, but there are also a ton of people out there with degrees in Social Work, trying to save the world from itself and earning about the equivalent of a secretary with a high school degree. They tend to be somewhat starry eyed in college too.


#7

That is why I suggested the M.PS - you can get jobs at parishes with this one. :wink:


#8

[quote="joandarc2008, post:7, topic:220446"]
That is why I suggested the M.PS - you can get jobs at parishes with this one. ;)

[/quote]

Yes, I noticed; however, if the OP wants to be an apologist of one sort or another, it may not be the degree they need.

And the same issue applies - how many total positions; how many actual openings, and how many candidates? I don't want to make light of the degree, but they seem to be coming out of schools like popcorn pushing the lid open...


#9

[quote="otjm, post:8, topic:220446"]
Yes, I noticed; however, if the OP wants to be an apologist of one sort or another, it may not be the degree they need.

And the same issue applies - how many total positions; how many actual openings, and how many candidates? I don't want to make light of the degree, but they seem to be coming out of schools like popcorn pushing the lid open...

[/quote]

Honestly - if you want to make money on the speaker/writer circuit it charism/writing ability that is going to count - because that is what is going to make people buy your product - and probably a PhD so you may want to get a degree that is going to get you parish work in the meantime - or there is always the counseling realm in the Masters degrees. When I spoke to my priest who had worked in seminary he told me to be a marketable apologist coming out of school - unless I was "caught a break" at the right moment was going to be a PhD and recommended the MPS route just my 2 cents - and btw I know many people with Masters even now that are writing on volunteer blogs and magazines hoping to get picked up in the meantime.


#10

Getting a full time teaching position at a college or university is going to be tough unless you have a PhD in some area of Theology. The STD is not "marketable" in all places since it is not considered an academic degree, although in many cases it may be more difficult to achieve. Also the "publish or perish" thing is right on. With an MA, MTh you may be able to get adjunct positions but the pay is pitiful. I have 2 MAs in Theology and a DMin, and I work in a parish. I also may have over educated myself in I happen to find myself in a position of needing to find work. My friend, with a DMin, is working as a parish secretary. But I also publish and teach in a lay formation program so I can continue doing that even though the pay is not much. At my age I just don't have the energy to go for the PhD.

It would probably be financially better to get a job as a DRE, Youth Minister or Pastoral Associate than getting an adjunct teaching job. There are also some diocesan positions that look for graduate degrees. Yet I know there are many working in parishes as DREs, Youth Ministers, etc. that do not have graduate degrees, but that puts them at a disadvantage depending on what is required of them by the pastor. In our diocese a DRE without a Masters cannot conduct parent or catechist classes, they have to bring someone in or one of the priests has to do it.


#11

Aha! I am working on a not-M.Div. Master's degree. I can answer this!

(I don't know about the ecclesiastical degrees, STB, STL whatever.)

An M.Div. is a professional degree working towards ordination. It generally takes three years of full-time studies.

MAs generally take two years of full-time studies.

There are professional MAs that are geared towards working in church ministry but not in an ordained capacity. Master of Arts in Youth Ministry, that sort of thing.

There are also two-year degrees, which are more academic than professional. The really confusing thing is that just about every seminary/divinity school offers these but they're often called different things! I'm working on a Master of Arts in Religion. A lot of schools call essentially the same thing an MTS (Master of Theological Studies). At my school there are a bunch of different programs that all get different letters. Master of Arts in Biblical Languages (MABL), Master of Arts in Theology (MATH), etc. Why in the world not just give us all MAs with different "majors"? A lot of schools do that but mine does not, no idea why. These degrees do not prepare for ordination and are often a stepping stone to a PhD and a life in academia.

A Th.M. is a weird beast. It is a one-year Master's degree FOR PEOPLE WHO ALREADY HAVE AN M.DIV and are either (1) trying to develop a specialty in a particular field, or (2) gluttons for punishment. ;)

I looked at getting an M.Div. but found that at my school the M.Div. program is so structured I wouldn't be able to develop a specialty in anything, which was missing the point of what I'm trying to do. For me the MA program lets me focus in my particular area of interest, which is my whole point of doing this. At other schools the M.Div. program can have more space for electives. It just varies.

For an academic career (not sure if this is what you are looking for) you will need a Ph.D. Sometimes, Ph.D. programs will be more receptive to a candidate with an MA than an M.Div., as an M.Div. can be seen as a professional program rather than academic, and less rigorous. But this really varies from seminary to seminary. In some they are very different tracks. In others the M.Div. people take most of the same classes, just more of them!

Hope this helps.


#12

[quote="otjm, post:6, topic:220446"]
Seems there should be some PhD's out there also that have not been covered.

Not to make too fine a point of it, but give some really serious consideration to who it is exactly that you think will be signing the paycheck. I have seen too many well intentioned, well meaning, head-in-the-clouds and stars-in-the-eyes people get Masters of one sort or another in theology with absolutely no clue whatsoever where they were going to get a paying job - or perhaps more specifically, if there were in fact such jobs to be had. And if you intend to teach, the rule of publish or perish seems to still apply, as well as the ability to get on the PhD (or equivalent) track. And then there is such practical matters as how many schools have a position for anyone to teach theology, and how many job openings on average there are out there among those schools, and how many applicants (as in, how many try to get one of those positions, and end up working as a bank teller, or a hamburger flipper). Given the state of the economy, you may find that the hamburger job is already filled with a guy or gal with an advanced degree in Computer Science...

I don't mean to put a damper on it, but there are also a ton of people out there with degrees in Social Work, trying to save the world from itself and earning about the equivalent of a secretary with a high school degree. They tend to be somewhat starry eyed in college too.

[/quote]

I wasn't starry-eyed in college, just aimless, and I ended up with a degree in Spanish that only equipped me for work I wasn't interested in (elementary education or social work.) It's been three years now since I graduated and if there's one thing I'm not anymore, it's aimless. That's why I posted this thread: so I could know exactly what degree I need to achieve my goal.

Do you have any statistics related to what you mentioned?


#13

[quote="joandarc2008, post:9, topic:220446"]
Honestly - if you want to make money on the speaker/writer circuit it charism/writing ability that is going to count - because that is what is going to make people buy your product

[/quote]

Well, that is what I thought, too, and I have a lot of confidence in my writing ability, so I'm not worried there, but it does help to have some letters next to your name. Likewise, I'm still not convinced that being a professor is the ideal job for me, but most people I've researched who do what I want to do are themselves professors, so I guess I shouldn't close that door on myself if that's what it takes, which would seem to indicate that getting an M.A.---which, as I understand it, is a terminal degree---is not the right choice for me. Can anyone confirm that suspicion?


#14

[quote="krissylou, post:11, topic:220446"]
There are also two-year degrees, which are more academic than professional. The really confusing thing is that just about every seminary/divinity school offers these but they're often called different things! I'm working on a Master of Arts in Religion. A lot of schools call essentially the same thing an MTS (Master of Theological Studies). At my school there are a bunch of different programs that all get different letters. Master of Arts in Biblical Languages (MABL), Master of Arts in Theology (MATH), etc. Why in the world not just give us all MAs with different "majors"? A lot of schools do that but mine does not, no idea why. These degrees do not prepare for ordination and are often a stepping stone to a PhD and a life in academia.

[/quote]

Very interesting. So here's a question for you: Catholic University of America offers an M.A. in Religion and Culture, which sounds like it'd be right up my alley, given my interests. But I'm worried that I'd be stuck if I wanted to go on to get a Ph.D. later since, as I understand it, an M.A. is a terminal degree.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, has one of those M.T.S. programs, which is advertised as being more of a stepping stone to a Ph.D. than the M.A. program they offer (which is, oddly, only available during the summer) or, so I thought, the M.A. offered at CUA. But according to what you said, the difference is mainly in terminology and that, in fact, one wouldn't necessarily be less applicable than the other. Am I reading that right? Please help me sort this out.


#15

[quote="jbach, post:14, topic:220446"]
Very interesting. So here's a question for you: Catholic University of America offers an M.A. in Religion and Culture, which sounds like it'd be right up my alley, given my interests. But I'm worried that I'd be stuck if I wanted to go on to get a Ph.D. later since, as I understand it, an M.A. is a terminal degree.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, has one of those M.T.S. programs, which is advertised as being more of a stepping stone to a Ph.D. than the M.A. program they offer (which is, oddly, only available during the summer) or, so I thought, the M.A. offered at CUA. But according to what you said, the difference is mainly in terminology and that, in fact, one wouldn't necessarily be less applicable than the other. Am I reading that right? Please help me sort this out.

[/quote]

The MTS is a stepping stone to doctoral work. You can go on for a PhD with the MA but it depends on the school and your area of speciality. I know Fordham University School of Religion takes MA degrees in its PhD program. Some schools even accept you into the PhD program with a Bachelors but it involves a lot more credits than if you had the Masters. I earned one of my MAs at Notre Dame in the summer program. The reason that it is only in the summers is that they have a grant. The cost is much much less to go to the summer program. BUT the MTS degree at Notre Dame is full scholarship, so it is extremely competitive, you need Latin and I think Greek, and fantastic grades. ND also has a MDiv program that is open to laity. They take classes with Holy Cross seminarians. That program is during the school year but some MDiv students were in my summer classes. That degree prepares you for ministry in a parish.


#16

[quote="jbach, post:12, topic:220446"]
I wasn't starry-eyed in college, just aimless, and I ended up with a degree in Spanish that only equipped me for work I wasn't interested in (elementary education or social work.) It's been three years now since I graduated and if there's one thing I'm not anymore, it's aimless. That's why I posted this thread: so I could know exactly what degree I need to achieve my goal.

Do you have any statistics related to what you mentioned?

[/quote]

No; mostly anecdotal (but it is amazing who knows whom, and how far connections go); and I have been hearing commentary concerning those with advanced degrees in theology since I was considering getting one (which was 1967-68).

And no, I don't have one - I have a JD instead, no longer practice, and have found the bloody thing has been more of a hindrance than a help; I have just been hired for a position I was seeking for the last 6 months, and in the interview, the comment was made about my being over-qualified.

There are still days I wish I had pursued theology, but I am a lousy writer/researcher, and as much as I think I should have been a teacher, I am not sure I could have fit into academia. Then again, I have sold myself short on my abilities more than once.

Hey, I understand aimless. I graduated with a BA in philosophy. It is a great degree if you like to think a lot and dig ditches...


#17

[quote="jbach, post:13, topic:220446"]
Well, that is what I thought, too, and I have a lot of confidence in my writing ability, so I'm not worried there, but it does help to have some letters next to your name. Likewise, I'm still not convinced that being a professor is the ideal job for me, but most people I've researched who do what I want to do are themselves professors, so I guess I shouldn't close that door on myself if that's what it takes, which would seem to indicate that getting an M.A.---which, as I understand it, is a terminal degree---is not the right choice for me. Can anyone confirm that suspicion?

[/quote]

When I was in college, we had two lay theologians teaching at University of Portland - this was back in 1966 - 68; and that was a significant novelty. Both had MAs and both admitted they needed to get fast on the PhD track. I am not sure how many programs were existing at that time, and of those, how many were open to laity.

Most people I came across in academia seemed to get an MA first, then a PhD. I have come across a few who have gotten into a PhD program straight from a BA or BS, but since I am so removed from that issue, I have no clue what the PhD programs require. It would seem to shorten up things by several years if it is possible;and I suspect the answer is in the programs themselves as to what they require and/or will waiver.


#18

[quote="otjm, post:17, topic:220446"]
When I was in college, we had two lay theologians teaching at University of Portland - this was back in 1966 - 68; and that was a significant novelty. Both had MAs and both admitted they needed to get fast on the PhD track. I am not sure how many programs were existing at that time, and of those, how many were open to laity.

Most people I came across in academia seemed to get an MA first, then a PhD. I have come across a few who have gotten into a PhD program straight from a BA or BS, but since I am so removed from that issue, I have no clue what the PhD programs require. It would seem to shorten up things by several years if it is possible;and I suspect the answer is in the programs themselves as to what they require and/or will waiver.

[/quote]

UP, eh? I live in Gresham; had a couple friends who went there.

I've been researching the educational background of some public intellectuals who work in fields of interest similar to mine, and I found that George Weigel does not have a Ph.D but only an M.A. in Theology. Yet his biography speaks of him teaching at Seattle University for many years. Maybe this is something that used to be more common than it is now (possibly due to degree inflation)..? You can read his bio here: eppc.org/scholars/scholarid.14/scholar.asp


#19

[quote="jbach, post:18, topic:220446"]
UP, eh? I live in Gresham; had a couple friends who went there.

I've been researching the educational background of some public intellectuals who work in fields of interest similar to mine, and I found that George Weigel does not have a Ph.D but only an M.A. in Theology. Yet his biography speaks of him teaching at Seattle University for many years. Maybe this is something that used to be more common than it is now (possibly due to degree inflation)..? You can read his bio here: eppc.org/scholars/scholarid.14/scholar.asp

[/quote]

Perhaps with 13 honorable Ph.Ds, he doesn't need a real one!

Seriously, I can't think of too many people who strike me as capable of getting one as he does. However, he doesn't seem to need to go through the process; I also take it that he no longer teaches full time ( I would be surprised if he is not a guest lecturer or visiting scholar). I also suspect that he has a practical Ph.D simply from all the research he has done. Sadly, I see too little of his works.


#20

The MAR is generally a degree for someone interested in religion (eg someone such as a writer wishing a degree in that field) or for certain other professional goals. It is generally not meant for heavy duty theological studies in Protestant denominations since it is approx 1/3 the length of a MDiv. In fact, at some schools (eg Liberty University) if you get the MAR it will fold into the MDiv since it is about the first year of MDiv studies (if you decided to later pursue the MDiv).

The MDiv is the standard degree for those wishing to enter the ministry as clergy.

For heavy duty theology a sequence might be MDiv - MTh - and then the PhD. The Master of Theology (MTH) is the 4th year of theology and comes after the MDiv (for serious theologians). Some schools (eg DTS) as I recall only offer the MTH.
I have seen good theology doctoral programs that will not accept the MDiv for entry but require the additional MTH (hours). Hardcore theologians therefore have the equivalent of about 180 graduate hours of theology. All that and as someone pointed out the market in academia is not that good.

An MAR may get you into a PhD in general Biblical Studies as opposed to more stringent theological studies doctoral program.

Keep in mind these are generalities as there are variations between programs and schools.


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