What is a Divinity Degree?

Do you have a calling to serve others within a religious capacity? Are you interested in becoming a pastor or a priest?

If you have an interest in helping people and working within a Christian faith-based community, obtaining a divinity degree can be a great stepping stone towards that goal. A divinity degree helps prepare individuals for service in the Christian ministry, and focuses on leadership, counseling, and the fundamentals of a specific religion or denomination. It is pursued by most pastors and priests.

Anyone interested in this type of degree should make sure it is ATS (Association of Theological Schools) accredited, as some churches will not ordain without ATS accreditation. Note that this degree most often refers to Christian study, though it is sometimes used in an academic setting by other faith traditions (such as Buddhism, for example).

Individuals that decide to pursue a divinity degree are usually interested in:

  • serving in a church as a church minister, youth minister, pastor, associate pastor, or priest
  • serving as a missionary with a mission organization, locally or internationally
  • serving in chaplaincy roles within schools, hospitals, and prisons
  • establishing new local churches (church planting)
  • serving in theological and Bible college teaching
  • serving in a university setting doing Christian student work
  • evangelizing and contributing in a lay capacity within a local church

Program Options

Associate of Divinity Degree - Two Year Duration
Students interested in the field of divinity might consider enrolling in an associate of divinity program. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED, and some programs may have certain experience or age requirements (such as having a minimum of three years of experience working in a church, and being at least 25 years old).

Associate degree programs are primarily offered through private Christian universities and colleges, and are designed for aspiring pastors, ministers, and church leaders to study Christian doctrine and history. They focus on an educational and historical background in Christian faith and beliefs, as well as teaching the communication and counseling skills necessary to serve a congregation (this includes the required internship and practical ministries courses).

Examples of classes are: contemporary Christian life, theology training, bible interpretation, new testament, old testament, and pastoral ministry training. Graduates are able to further their education by taking a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree.

Bachelor of Divinity Degree
There are no bachelor of divinity degree programs accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. The master of divinity (M.Div.) degree program has replaced it.

Master of Divinity Degree (M.Div.) - Three to Four Year Duration
The M.Div. program prepares students for religious leadership and ministry roles within their community. While some programs are non-denominational, most concentrate on a particular faith. Within most established major Christian denominations in the United States, the Master’s in Divinity is the minimum academic requirement for taking on pastoral duties. The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) says this program prepares people “for ordained ministry and for general pastoral and religious leadership responsibilities in congregations and other settings.”

The master of divinity degree curriculum includes courses such as :

  • church laws
  • church historical foundations
  • Latin, Greek and Hebrew languages (typically, students enrolled in a Roman Catholic divinity program learn Latin, while those in Protestant seminaries study Hebrew and Greek)
  • biblical passage interpretations
  • new testament
  • old testament
  • ethics
  • sermon preparation
  • systematic and historical perspectives from a range of Christian organizations
  • pastoral leadership
  • Christian doctrines
  • administrative skills
  • counseling
  • spiritual formation
  • and may also include courses specific to a denomination or religious tradition

A Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree program will require one to participate in work experience, conduct research, and complete a master’s thesis project. Specialization options include worship, missionary work, family ministries, and pastoral counseling. Opportunities for further study exist at the doctoral level.

Note: The Master of Theology (ThM) is generally a one-year academic degree taken after completing a three-year Master of Divinity program. The Master of Theology is a postgraduate degree considered by the Association of Theological Schools (accrediting agency) as the minimum required qualification to teach Bible or theology at an accredited Bible college. The ThM is designed “to provide a fuller mastery of one area or discipline of theological study than is normally provided at the M.Div. level. The program may serve a variety of aims, including further graduate study at the doctoral level, preparation for some forms of teaching, the scholarly enhancement of ministerial practice, or disciplined reflection on a specialized function in ministry.”

Doctor of Divinity vs Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Divinity
In the United States, a doctor of divinity degree is an honorary degree given to individuals who have devoted their lives to theological pursuits and ministry-orientated accomplishments. In the Catholic Church, doctor of divinity is an honorary degree denoting ordination as bishop.

In contrast, a traditional doctoral program in divinity, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Divinity (five to seven year duration), is advanced education that provides students with knowledge and expertise in a specific aspect of religious study. Universities and theological seminaries offer this course of study, and focus on independent research and a publishable dissertation.

Similar doctorates are:

  • Doctor of Ministry (DMin), which is designed for working pastors and other clergy
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Religious Studies, which studies all religions (non-ministerial degree)
  • Doctor of Theology (DTh) degree, which is a research doctorate in theology (non-ministerial degree)
  • Doctor of Practical Theology (DPTh), which could be sought out by working ministers but is also open to others who may have a desire to gain a theological perspective

Degrees Similar to Divinity

Religious Studies
Those wanting to pursue a degree in religious studies are interested in studying religion from an academic point of view. What this means is considering all religions and religious traditions equally with the purpose of understanding each belief system in relation to each other. As a religious studies major, students develop the ability to be empathetic when looking at the religious viewpoints and cultures of other human beings.

Religious studies is available at multiple degree levels (associate, bachelor, master, doctorate). Which one to pursue depends on what you want to learn from your program and what you’d like to do with your degree after graduation.

Theology has been around for hundreds of years. If you are involved in a religious practice and you would like to join with others who share your desire to dig deeper into your belief system, you may want to consider majoring in theology. Theology majors study a particular religious faith in depth by examining that faith’s belief systems, teachings, practices, history, ethics, and present-day religious community (and also study other faiths).

Theology degrees are offered mostly by Catholic schools - some schools offer a Bachelor of Theology (Ordination Track) and a Bachelor of Theology (non-Ordination Track).

Note the difference between theology and divinity degrees: a theology degree is the degree that most academics of religion will pursue. The emphasis is on history, language, and the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture. Individuals that pursue this degree go on to become university/seminary professors, as well as religious historians. A divinity degree, on the other hand, is the degree that most pastors or priests will pursue. The emphasis is on leadership, counseling, and the fundamentals of a specific religion or denomination. It helps prepare individuals for service in the ministry.

Biblical Studies
A biblical studies degree offers students a curriculum in the different aspects of the Bible, which include the Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospels. Students look at and interpret the Bible with a historical viewpoint and study religion in a philosophical way. This degree discusses the practical aspects of ministry, and is often a precursor to becoming a pastor, missionary, evangelist, youth leader, Christian counselor, or worship coordinator. The biblical studies degree is primarily offered by Christian educational institutions, though not exclusively.

Skills You’ll Learn

Divinity degree students acquire many skill sets during their studies which are valued by employers, such as:

  • A sensitive and tolerant approach to other cultures and beliefs
  • The ability to debate articulately about religion and world cultures without giving offence
  • An understanding of people and groups of people
  • Willingness to learn
  • Self-motivation and desire to achieve
  • Teamwork
  • Communication skills (oral and written)
  • Problem solving
  • Initiative and creativity
  • Time management
  • Research and investigative ability
  • Ability to absorb and retain complex information
  • Ability to think logically
  • Express ideas clearly through writing and discussion
  • Tackle new languages from scratch
  • Use imagination and creativity
  • Develop investigative, analytical and critical evaluation skills
  • Show a real curiosity in people and world cultures
  • Persuading and negotiating
  • Taking initiative
  • Organization

What Can You Do with a Divinity Degree?

Graduates with a divinity degree are a truly valuable commodity to a great number of vocational areas. There are some career fields that might be especially well-suited to someone with this type of degree, such as:

  • Parish Ministry
  • Missionary Work (all over the world)
  • Chaplaincy (hospital, nursing home, college campus, military, etc.)
  • Non Profit
  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Mental Health
  • Archives
  • Social Work
  • Community Development
  • Civil Service
  • Charity
  • Journalism
  • Government
  • Research
  • Politics
  • Web Design and Publication

Career Paths

Learn about your career prospects after graduation.

Read about Career Paths