Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program

The education of learned ministers has been central to the mission of Harvard since its founding. Recognizing that the world is religiously diverse, master of divinity (MDiv) students of many faith communities study side by side in order to foster a greater understanding of interreligious dialogue and work.

The uniqueness of the HDS MDiv experience lies in the belief that to be a learned minister it is imperative both to study one's own religious tradition and to be exposed to others. MDiv students at HDS learn to let the knowledge gained in one setting—a classroom or hospital or congregation, for example—inform and enhance the knowledge gained in another.

Graduating master of divinity students leave HDS with knowledge and experience that prepare them to serve within a religious community, to explore spiritually formative intellectual work, to evaluate and act on the needs and questions of religious communities, and to speak with both a pastoral and a public voice.

This three-year full-time degree program is for those preparing for:

  • Ordained or lay ministry and leadership in congregations and other religious communities

  • Ministries in social service, hospital and prison chaplaincy

  • Interfaith ministry on college campuses

  • Teaching and scholarship

  • Other careers in service to a just world at peace.

MDiv students work at the intersections of academic study, religious practices, classroom study and field study, and the convictions and practices of their own religious tradition and others. HDS believes that MDiv study should include:

  • Rigorous education in the religious traditions that shape the scholarly, spiritual and practical dimensions of a vocation to ministry

  • The capacity to use the fundamental intellectual tools of the study of religion

  • Genuine reading competence in a scriptural language and/or a language of theological scholarship that allows for the lifelong use of that language in ministerial leadership and scholarly inquiry

  • Education in the arts of ministry pursued in both the classroom and the field

  • Significant learning in a religious tradition other than one's own

  • Cultivation of the intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral agility that will enable graduates to move with skill, confidence, generosity and grace across the complex and diverse religious, cultural, and moral spheres of modern society.

View a comparison chart of HDS degree programs

At HDS, there is almost no field of study that does not touch in some way upon ministry preparation. While the entire Faculty of Divinity is, in this sense, engaged in ministry teaching and supporting MDiv students, the Office of Ministry Studies (OMS) and the faculty members who work specifically in ministry studies provide a focal point for the MDiv program and its relation to professional ministry.

MDiv students may declare a religious tradition they are studying at the beginning of their program; using that tradition as the foundation, with the advice of their advisor, they build a cohesive 24-course program. It is not required, however, that an MDiv student declare a religious tradition.

Basic Requirements

  • Three years of full-time study

  • Twenty-four courses (96 units)

  • Completion of Introduction to "Ministry Studies and Theories," "Methods in the Study of Religion," and "Meaning Making—Thinking Theologically about Ministry Experience"

  • Two field education placements

  • Twelve courses within Histories, Theologies, and Practices and Scriptural Interpretation as follows:

    • Minimum of six courses within Histories, Theologies, and Practices, any mix of traditions

    • Minimum of three courses with Scriptural Interpretations, any mix of traditions

    • No more than 9 courses total may be in the same tradition, or no tradition

  • Three semesters of a single language appropriate to the religious tradition of study

  • Completion of three Arts of Ministry

  • Completion of Senior Seminar and paper

  • Residency requirement: students must complete four courses each in two of their first three consecutive terms

  • "B" average must be maintained throughout the program

For additional requirements, policies, and details consult the HDS Handbook for Students and Field Education

Language requirement

HDS offers instruction in several languages. Students may also choose from the extensive language offerings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Students are expected to address their language requirements as early in their programs as possible.

MDiv students may meet the language requirement in one of two ways: 1) by completing the MTS language competency requirement, or 2) by satisfactorily completing three semesters of study in one language relevant to their program through coursework at Harvard.

 

What is the difference between an MDiv and an MTS?

The master of divinity (MDiv)  is a three-year full-time program, in which students work at the intersections of the academic study of religion and the practices of religious communities, the past and the present, classroom study and field study, and the convictions and practices of their own religious tradition and the convictions and practices of traditions other than their own. The MDiv prepares students for ministerial engagement in a wide range of settings.

The master of theological studies (MTS) program is a two-year full-time degree that enables students to explore deeply and broadly the languages, literatures, thought, institutions, practices, normative claims, and structures of a variety of theological fields and religious traditions. It also enables students to think critically, with sophistication and self-awareness, about the scholarly study of these concepts and traditions.

View a comparison chart of all HDS degree programs.

I am not Christian. Should I get an MDiv?

If you do not plan to become ordained, an MDiv can also prepare you well for interfaith work, chaplaincy, lay ministry in your own tradition, or any other field you are interested in, such as nonprofit work and community organizing. This is true for people of all faiths as well as those who are not part of a faith tradition. Unitarian Universalist students, who are not Christian, pursue an MDiv for ordination toward a vocation as a community minister.

In addition, many students of diverse faiths will complete an MDiv before going onto further professional school, such as law, medicine, or social work.

How should I explain an MDiv degree to my family?

The MDiv is a hands-on degree in ministry, with professional and academic components. MDiv students learn how to read carefully, write and speak expressively. Students learn the nuances of religion, spirituality, history, practice, and the human experience. Students may focus on one or more tradition, and become fluent in the histories, theories, practices, language, and writings of that religion. Engaging in the Field Education Program enables MDiv students to integrate theory and practice from the classroom with that in the field while working with a supervisor certified in supervision for ministry.

Does HDS prepare students who plan to be ordained and lead congregations?

If your call is to be ordained and serve a church, HDS has a deep and long-standing commitment of preparing people for pastoral ministry. This is supported by denominational counselors who work with students in fulfilling the specific requirements of particular denominations. Students engage in field education in church placements and take classes that meet denominational requirements. Ordination in Buddhist communities usually is arranged by that community. Similarly, ordination as a Rabbi (smicha) usually follows extensive work with appropriate Jewish authorities in addition to the degree requirements of HDS.

What if I don’t find a field education site from the approved HDS list? Can I design my own project or propose a site?

HDS enables students to pursue their unique calling through the student-initiated placement process to complete one of the two required field education placements. Students propose a variety of organizations beyond the HDS list; recent examples have included the Albert Einstein Institution, Centro Presente, and The History Project. Each placement is approved by the Director of Field Education to ensure the site and supervisor meet The Field Education Program’s criteria.

I chose HDS because of our sense of wholeness when it comes to spirituality. The sense that we can take a class at the Medical School or the Education School and turn that into ministry. I love that HDS honors that, and that’s a big part of why I came here."

- Steven Fisher

MDiv grad Steven Fisher's Humans of HDS interview

Steven Fisher is a third-year master of divinity degree candidate at HDS and serves as a chaplain at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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