Further Study in Religion & Theology
Theological School/Graduate School Information
The following information has been assembled for the benefit of Butler students considering graduate theological school or graduate study in religion.
Be sure to make maximum use of our local sources of information about seminary and graduate work in religion:
The Center for Faith and Vocation
Located in the Blue House (4615 Sunset)
The Office of Pre-Graduate & Pre-Professional Advising
153 Jordan Hall
A source of information about all aspects of researching and applying to graduate programs, including the GRE exam.
Faculty and Staff Advisors
All faculty in religion have gone through one or more graduate programs related to religion. They are excellent sources of information. Additionally, the Director of the Center for Faith and Vocation, Daniel Meyers, helps students both with vocational discernment and preparation for graduate school.
Visit the websites of national organizations dedicated to promoting discussion and awareness of graduate study in religion, as well as theological and ministerial vocations:
Site maintained by the American Academy of Religion. The AAR maintains a survey of all fully accredited universities, theological schools, and seminaries in the United States and Canada that offer an academic doctoral program in religious studies or theology. Even if you are not considering a doctoral program, the survey can still provide insights into the nature of graduate theological education.
Site of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.
Site of NetVue (Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education), of which Butler’s Center for Faith and Vocation is a part, and which has resources for exploring theological education.
fteleaders.org/ and thefund.org
Both are maintained by the Fund for Theological Education. Note that the FTE offers fellowship programs and other opportunities for undergraduates considering a theological vocation and for first-year theological students.
Site sponsored by the Pastoral Leadership Search Effort, a national talent search for young people interested in religious ministries.
Master of Divinity (M.Div.)
This is the standard program to prepare candidates for ordination and leadership in Christian congregations, chaplaincies, social service agencies, and higher education , and for those who intend to be fully engaged in constructive service to their faith traditions and the world at large. It is a comprehensive and practical degree in theology. The coursework is typically completed in three years, and includes a mix of courses on the Bible, theology, ethics, church history, and the practical aspects of ministry.
Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.)
The M.T.S. degree (sometimes called an M.Th., or a Th.M.) provides a foundation in theological disciplines and a concentration in a particular area of study, often for those who intend to pursue further academic studies or those who wish to explore the Bible and theology without taking on pastoral roles. It is in general a two-year program and often includes language requirements.
Master of Arts (M.A.) and PhD in Religion
These two degrees are designed for advanced academic training on a specific subject in any number of areas within the religious studies domain in preparation for teaching and research. Many M.A. and PhD programs offer a clearly defined focus (on, for example, theology, or religion and the arts, or church history, or religion and society, or the religions of X country or region). Because of this these programs vary widely from one institution to another and effort should be made to find the programs that suit the student’s interests. A Ph.D. program builds on the more general foundation offered in a Master’s degree and leads to more advanced positions. Master’s degrees are often designed as two-year programs, while a Ph.D. demands at least another four years. Both require language study. It is much easier for undergraduates to gain entrance to Master’s programs, but they often offer fewer fellowship and scholarships than Ph.D. programs.
Some institutions offer advanced theological degrees for students who have already earned one of the master’s degrees described above. These include the Doctor of Theology (Th.D.), Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.) and Master of Sacred Theology (M.T.S.)
Some institutions also offer a variety of other degrees, such as the Master in Church (or Specialized) Ministries (for ordination as a deacon). These take on a slightly different character than the degrees mentioned above, maintain different requirements and are often geared toward specific ends (as with the M.C.M.).
It is also not uncommon for theological schools to offer a range of counseling and therapy degrees, such as a Master of Science in Marital and Family Therapy, Master of Arts in Family Studies, and Doctor of Theology in Pastoral Counseling. You can learn more about these offerings by researching the schools that appeal to your particular interests, goals and academic needs, or by searching for particular terms.
There are in general four types of institutions: university divinity schools, interdenominational seminaries, denominational seminaries, and university graduate schools. However, some institutions, such as the University of Chicago, offer more than one option for graduate theological degrees, i.e., a divinity school as well as a graduate program in religious studies. Additionally, some denominational schools offer non-denominational programs. These are noted below, but be sure to do research on your own, too. Note: “seminary” and “theological school” generally mean the same thing.
University Divinity Schools
University divinity schools are institutions of religious study that are connected to a larger university and its other professional schools. Students in these programs often find their studies and conversations making contact with subjects outside the immediate jurisdiction of the divinity school, and in an ecumenical setting with students and faculty representing multiple faith traditions. Some examples:
Boston University School of Theology (Methodist/ecumenical): bu.edu/sth/
B.U. offers degrees through its divinity school, as well as graduate degrees in religious studies.
Drew University Theological School (Methodist/ecumenical): drew.edu/theological/
Drew offers graduate degrees in religious studies, as well as divinity degrees from the theology school.
Duke University Divinity School (Methodist/ecumenical): divinity.duke.edu
While supported by the United Methodist Church, Duke Divinity School is ecumenical in practice. In addition to a range of divinity-related degrees, the Duke University Graduate School offers degrees in religious studies.
Emory University Candler School of Theology (Methodist/ecumenical): candler.emory.edu
With a base in the United Methodist Church, Candler also offers programs in Baptist, Episcopal and Catholic studies. In addition to the divinity programs, the Emory University Graduate School offers a Ph.D. in religious studies.
Harvard Divinity School (ecumenical): hds.harvard.edu
Harvard Divinity School offers the M.Div., M.T.S., Th.M. (Master of Theology) and Th.D. (Doctor of Theology). Harvard University offers a Ph.D. in religious studies.
Samford University-Beeson Divinity School (Southern Baptist): beesondivinity.com
Beeson offers a M.Div., M.T.S. and D. Min. (Doctor of Ministry).
Southern Methodist University-Perkins School of Theology (Methodist): smu.edu/theology
Perkins offers a wide range of ministry-related degrees mainly for students preparing for service in the United Methodist Church; SMU’s graduate school offers a M.A. and Ph.D. in religious studies.
Texas Christian University—Brite Divinity School (Disciples of Christ/ecumenical): brite.tcu.edu
Brite offers a wide range of ministry-related degrees in an ecumenical setting.
Ft. Worth, TX
University of Chicago Divinity School (ecumenical): divinity.uchicago.edu
In addition to the M.Div. program, Chicago’s Graduate School offers a couple different Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in religion.
Vanderbilt University Divinity School (ecumenical): vanderbilt.edu/divinity
The Vanderbilt Divinity School offers a M.Div. and M.T.S.; the Vanderbilt Graduate School offers a M.A. and PhD. in religious studies.
Yale University Divinity School (ecumenical):yale.edu/divinity
Yale Divinity offers three divinity degrees: the M.Div., a Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.-for preparation for lay service), and a Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.); the Yale University Graduate School offers a Ph.D. in religious studies.
New Haven, CT
Interdenominational Seminaries are private institutions independent of any university affiliation and not affiliated with a particular church denomination. Some (like Princeton Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary) are primarily Christian institutions, with student bodies that are overwhelmingly Christian. Others (like Graduate Theological Union) are more interfaith in their orientation. Seminaries also vary widely in their theologies and politics, ranging from the very conservative to the very liberal. Some examples:
Princeton Theological Seminary: ptsem.edu
PTS offers three masters and two doctorate degrees related to studies in ministry.
Note: PTS is not part of Princeton University.
Fuller Theological Seminary (evangelical): fuller.edu
Fuller offers a wide range of master, doctorate, intercultural and therapy services degrees.
Graduate Theological Union (ecumenical): gtu.edu
GTU is a consortium of nine theological seminaries and eight centers and affiliates and a graduate school offering academic programs leading to the degrees of M.A., Ph.D., and Th.D. in a wide range of fields in theology and religious studies.
Also independent of any university, denominational seminaries offer programs designed to prepare students for service in a particular denomination of the Christian church body. Students from other denominations are usually welcome, and coursework is often applicable to the ordination requirements of other denominations. Check the websites for specific degree information.
- Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, VA: upsem.edu/
- Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY: lpts.edu
- Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, TX: austinseminary.edu
- San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Francisco, CA: sfts.edu
- McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL: mccormick.edu
- Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA: ctsnet.edu
- Disciples of Christ
- Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, IN cts.edu
- United Church of Christ
University Graduate Programs
In addition to the graduate programs mentioned alongside the university divinity schools, there are many reputable graduate programs in religious studies at universities that do not have a divinity school. These are strictly Ph.D. and/or M.A. programs. See the AAR website for a complete listing.
- Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ:asu.edu
- University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA: ucsb.edu
- Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA: cgu.edu
- Columbia University, New York, NY: columbia.edu
- University of Hawaii, Manoa, HI: manoa.hawaii.edu
- Indiana University, Bloomington, IN: indiana.edu
- University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN: nd.edu
- Princeton University, Princeton, NJ: princeton.edu
- Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY:syr.edu
- University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA: virginia.edu
Many schools offer campus visits year-round. Because of the often personal nature of the work done in religion programs, divinity schools, and seminaries, it is important that you choose one that is a good fit for your interests and personality. Campus visits provide perhaps the best impression of how you will get along in any given campus community, and also give you a sense for the environment, ethos, and location of the school. Be sure to plan ahead, as visitation days follow individual campus schedules and are not offered on a daily basis.
Many institutions offer special visit days, sometimes called “exploratory weekends,” for prospective students. These dates generally offer special programming that provides a more in-depth look into the kind of life and education you can expect at that particular school. Visit the websites of the schools that interest you to find out more about these kinds of visitation options.
Application deadlines tend to cluster around the beginning of November and December for admission the following Fall semester. However, many institutions offer rolling admissions, which might start as early as October and continue through April or May. Regardless of the type of admissions policy you encounter, it is very important for you to stay on top of the process. Only your careful management can ensure that all deadlines are met.
Each institution maintains its own set of policies regarding admissions, the disbursement of financial aid, as well as helpful lists of frequently asked questions. Check the websites of the institutions to which you hope to apply and investigate these issues. Again, actively managing the process of applying for admissions and financial aid is essential to completing it successfully.
Aside from striving for excellence in your undergraduate student work, there are three very concrete ways you can increase your chances of getting into reputable graduate programs.
First, take advantage of rich educational experiences, like internships, research with faculty members, and study abroad. These experiences are not only good educationally, they often help students discern their vocational direction. Moreover, because admissions officers recognize the value and—in many cases—challenging nature of such experiences, having had them sets you apart, says something positive about your character and ability, and makes your application stand out.
Second, since many divinity schools, seminaries, and graduate programs in religion require that applicants take the Graduate Record Examination (aka, the “GRE”), you can improve your chances of getting into graduate programs by increasing your GRE scores. You should start early in this regard, and not wait until a few weeks before the scheduled exam. You can take practice exams to familiarize yourself with the format and learn the basic mathematical formulas you’ll need. But you can also help your GRE scores improve quite a bit just by increasing your vocabulary. Read novels, poetry, newspapers, magazines, and scholarly books that utilize a large, rich vocabulary, and keep a list of every new word you encounter. Purchase, keep, and study vocabulary lists (or borrow the one Professor Bauman has kept since grad school!). And plan to take the GRE well in advance of your application deadline, so you can take it again if you are unhappy with your score. Also note that many admissions offices at graduate programs will give you a sense for the range of GRE scores admitted students have achieved in recent years, so you have something to shoot for and can gauge how competitive you, and various programs will be.
Third, learn foreign languages. Having more foreign language training under your belt is another way to differentiate yourself from other applicants. This is particularly true if you plan to apply directly to Ph.D. programs (as opposed to Master’s programs). Most Ph.D. programs expect that applicants have a high degree of fluency in at least one or more of the languages relevant to their programs. That means Greek and/or Hebrew for seminaries, Latin for those interested in studying Christian history, French and German for many graduate programs in religion, and, in social science programs (e.g., anthropology, sociology, history) languages spoken in parts of the world where you hope to do research.
Note that application deadlines for scholarships and other special financial aid are often earlier than general application deadlines. Stay on top of the process!