A little help from my YAR friends…

Hey gang,

This is of little importance to the larger dialogues we are having, but it is something of importance to me.

I am currently investigating schools of theology/semiaries. I currently hold an undergraduate humanities degree and want to explore possibilities for Th.D’s or Ph.D’s in theological studies (don’t know the difference there… different kind of job possibilities available?). I have outstanding grades and don’t think getting accepted will be the problem, I just don’t know where to look!

At any rate, I’ve found that the Anabaptist graduate programs, while offering much to the church and doing great work for equipping pastors, don’t seem to do as much in cultivating academic theological scholars.

I’m turning to my Anabaptist friends for help. If you are on the same journey as me or have already begun your journey and have any helpful insights about good Th.D/Ph.D theology schools out there, let me know. The best program I’ve investigated so far seems to be Duke University…. those Methodists/Wesleyan schools seem to have their act together…

Comments (14)

  1. Skylark

    I can’t help with the schools themselves, but I do have a few questions that might help you narrow it down.

    1. What do you hope to do when you are done with seminary? You mentioned “academic theological scholar.” Do you have a specific vision for what that means? Do you want to teach and on the side research (small college prof), research and on the side teach (research institution prof), translate/research, etc?

    2. What sort of environment are you seeking? Hands-off vs. really involved staff? Are you looking for mainly classroom and bookwork or also interaction with the professionals in the field?

    3. Is cost a factor? I have no idea how it works in ThD and theo PhD programs, but I’m told in many other fields, the best and brightest can get in free/better than free through being a research or teaching assistant. If you’d hate teaching undergrads, you might not want to become a teaching assistant.

  2. folknotions (Post author)


    Wow, these are great guiding questions; ones that I hadn’t even thought of but are incredibly important! Thank you so much!

    1. The short answer is: I wanna be John Howard Yoder (ha!). The long answer is, that my passion is teaching, but I can’t stand the rules, regulations, and constant testing that the government has placed on our primary and secondary schools. So, I want to research and write books that are of some importance to somebody besides a doctoral student in Nebraska, but mostly I want to teach.

    2. I’m looking for energetic staff with a global vision and a commitment to service in the community. I want to be in the classroom but I want to stay involved in the dialogue among scholars in the field.

    3. Cost is a factor, in as much as I don’t plan to pay a cent for a graduate education. However, given my undergraduate record and a record of volunteer service, I shouldn’t have a problem getting merit-based and need-based scholarships. I would love to be a teaching or research assistant (though would prefer teaching assistant).

    I feel like in this field it would be much easier to get jobs if teaching is your passion; though I have no concrete or anecdotal evidence to back that up.

  3. Skylark

    You’re welcome! I’m glad to have been so helpful.

    What did you mean by authoring books “that are of importance to somebody besides a doctoral student in Nebraska”? Are you hoping to write something accessible enough to put in the church library at Podunkville Mennonite Church, but that also reflects current thought among academia and research? A Bible scholar prof at my alma mater told me the local church tends to run at least 50 years behind major realizations in scholarship. That’ll vary by denomination and congregation, of course.

    Who do you hope to teach, and about what? Do you want upper/lower level Bible/theo majors, general education required classes, or eventually graduate students?

    The thing I love about these sorts of questions is the answers and the nuances to the questions change over time, as you get more info and experience new things. The more careful thought you put into it is probably better.

  4. Brian Hamilton

    If you’re sitting with just a BA right now, especially a BA in something other than theological studies, you should probably looking at an MTS (Master’s of Theological Studies), MDiv, or MA in theology before heading into a PhD/ThD program. It’s possible to move straight from undergraduate to the PhD level in theology, but extraordinarily rare; most good schools only accept a handful of PhD students a year, so an undergraduate has to be off-the-charts outstanding to make it in. Good MTS programs can be hard enough to get into. Besides, the extra time in the classroom is crucial for a scholar in formation, I think.

    The difference between a ThD and a PhD is the difference between an MDiv and an MTS: the former is pastorally focused, the latter academic. So a ThD is going to spend time studying homiletics, for example, or church order; a PhD in theology will spend that same time pursuing interdisciplinary studies or really mastering some theological domain. ThD programs are harder to find and for that reason often harder to get into. Duke’s (brand-new) ThD program, for example, accepts something like three people a year. And if your interests are scholarly and pedagogical, the PhD is what you want anyway.

    I’m working on an MTS at Notre Dame right now, and my other option was Duke. Those two schools are at the top of their game. Princeton Seminary’s got a great faculty, mostly Barthians, but you’re going to be doing an MDiv there–which can still take you to the PhD. Boston College has some interesting things going, particularly if you’re philosophically inclined. Duke and Princeton are the most socially engaged (this is the major point against Notre Dame, though two Catholic workers on faculty help stem the tide).

    Those are all if you want to do Christian theology strictly speaking. If you’d rather be in a place where inter-religion dialogue is more important, UVA’s religion department has a coherent faculty that includes folks well-grounded in a number of traditions and that nurtures conversation between them as a matter of (deliberate) habit. University of Chicago is a little off-kilter right now, especially in Christian theology, but also great for interdisciplinary work with philosophy and medieval studies.

    Cost: Notre Dame is free. Duke you’re going to pay almost everything. Princeton and BC I don’t know; you’re definitely going to pay some. Chicago’s terrible with funding, and UVA’s cheap and has some good aid since they’re a state school. PhD you can get for free with a stipend, but that’s going to be harder to do with a master’s.

    Finally, if you’re really interested in the Anabaptist path, I’ve been impressed with U of Toronto/Conrad Grebel’s work recently. The Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre keeps the Mennos together, and the place is really cultivating some brilliant scholarly work. Conrad Grebel has an MTS program too. But again, you’re going to pay quite a bit for any international program.

    That’s a lot of straight information and not so much discernment help. But hopefully it fills in some fact gaps. Being in the academic circuit, I have a pretty decent feel for reputation/strengths/weaknesses of the other schools around, so let me know if you have questions about particular ones.

  5. j alan meyer

    I’m in much the same boat, Folknotions. Just finishing my BA in Theology and looking into graduate programs. I’ve heard good things about Emory University — at least its PhD program — and it’s supposed to be free with a stipend. Any impressions of their program, Brian (or others)?

  6. folknotions (Post author)


    I guess my main concern right now is when I look to schools like Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. While, in theory, that would be the place for me as a Mennonite. I look at the course work and it appears to be academically sound. However, when I look at the faculty and their publications, I’m not impressed.

    I want to primarily teach, yes, but I want my publications to be of significance not only to Mennonites (in the church library) but also have an impact on theological/biblical studies in scholarly circles. Take, for example, Yoder’s Politics of Jesus. I usually try to aim high with my goals, and I want to be on track to be writing something of that caliber: Mennonite churchgoers can read that thing, as can Mennonite seminarians, and academics in anywhere in the field (and in other fields).


    Thanks for the guiding hand! I would like to be a part of a department that is socially engaged, and that is what impressed me about Duke. Though, as you note, I will probably be dumping a lot of money into their program.

    Is the Notre Dame MTS program free, or the PhD?

    How likely is it for someone to get an M.Div to move on to getting a PhD?

    I have a B.A. in English; I felt it most necessary to my development as a scholar to truly hone my writing and critical thinking skills. I now want to apply that to theological study. Any thoughts on how having writing samples that are engaging literary texts will affect my writing sample in front of an admissions committee?

    Thanks so much for everyone’s help!

  7. Brian Hamilton

    I’ve been hearing great things about Emory recently too, J. Alan. Their faculty works on a lot of different avenues, interdisciplinary ones included, and there are a few quite well-known and well-liked folks there (like Luke Timothy Johnson [recent article]). Their modes of social engagement don’t always seem to me quite so theologically informed as Duke’s do, for example, but they would disagree with me on that. Plus, the seem to be able to offer quite a bit of money to both master’s and Ph.D. students. Their Ph.D. students are definitely on full scholarship and a hefty stipend, but I doubt all the MTSers are; some may be. It’s definitely worth checking out.

    Notre Dame’s MTS and PhD programs are fully funded; all PhD’s and some MTS’s also receive stipends. I could talk to you at length about this place; if you want to exchange e-mails or even come visit, let me know. You (folknotions or J Alan) could crash with me in South Bend.

    MDiv’s move on to PhD’s with some frequency, though it sometimes take deliberate work to demonstrate your scholarly inclinations in advance. An MDiv at a place like Princeton Seminary–a great school where there is no MTS–will easily take you to a PhD. Some PhD programs will even want MDivs, since it keeps academic theology pastorally minded and pastoral issues alive in academic theology. You’re fine to have done a BA in English; in my opinion, you’ll do better theological work because of it. But that just means finding schools that appreciate interdisciplinary training. I was just talking to a new MTS student here at Notre Dame today that did her BA in English; Notre Dame was excited to have her, but other schools (Boston College she mentioned) weren’t interested in having a literature person on board. Different schools focus on different things.

    Writing sample: something engaging a literary text will be great (so long as the school thinks that’s important in theology), but preferably something that shows some theological capacity. Anything on a text like Prayer for Owen Meany or Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy or any such theologically freighted text will be your best bet.

    Hopefully some of that’s helpful. I’m overly talkative on this!

  8. Nevin

    Wow, you’ve got a lot of good info on this stuff, Brian. I’m going to have to keep some of that in mind for the future–although I’ve just finished up my second year here at Messiah College, I’m probably looking at the same kind of long term goals as Folk is.

  9. folknotions (Post author)


    The more you talk, the more I am encouraged! Thank you so much, your help is indispensable.

    My e-mail is folknotions [at] yahoo [dot]com. feel free to e-mail me with some info on the Notre Dame program that you think is important; I think what may be helpful for me in applying to a school like Notre Dame is: 1) though very close to the Anabaptist tradition, I value very highly the Catholic tradition (in fact, I pray the rosary at least once a week). 2) I have a history of being very socially engaged and would like to continue that; if Notre Dame wants to reflect that more in their department, then I would be a good fit.

    Fortuantely for me as well, I spent a lot of time in my English studies examining poetry and prose of the English Commonwealth and the Anglo-American colonies: John Milton, Anne Bradstreet, Apra Behn, George Fox and the feminist quaker writings, and Gerrard Winstanley. As such, I could probably find a way to take the literary exegesis I have and fashion in to a theological audience. Yet, at the same time, I want to be sure not to get too into theology, as I don’t know much, don’t want to presume to know much, and I don’t want an admissions committee to get caught up in whether or not they agree with my thesis but rather focus on the quality of my writing.

    So, if you want to e-mail your thoughts on this to me, that would be great. Thank you!

  10. ST

    Brain, do you know some pros and cons of AMBS vs. Notre Dame?

    Folknotions, if you go to AMBS or Notre Dame in South Bend consider living in the new Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in south central Elkhart (the city where AMBS is located). The unit is just starting and looking for people who really want to apply their skills and background in social justice work, in a place where there is a lot of potential, and not a lot being done.

    I suggest living in a community like this because I think academic work becomes stronger and more useful to people if it is grounded in real lives and struggles. MVS is an intentional community, living within an area of town longing for cohesion.


  11. folknotions


    I would love to live in an intentional community such as this! I am currently working as a full-time volunteer in a program similar to MVS, mobilizing the faith community to better respond to homelessness and poverty in their community.

    If you have any more information about Jubilee House or MVS you could send my way, that would be great. My e-mail is folknotions [at] yahoo[dot]com

  12. Lora

    By the way, yes, you can move from an M.Div to a Ph.D program. I was talking to my dean about this and she said it’s rather unusual and you’d have to do very well in order to impress an admissions committee, but it can be done. I know of a few former and current AMBS students who have done this; it seems like it depends more on the student than the program.

  13. Brian Hamilton

    ST’s point about finding a community is an incredibly important one. Something like the new Jubilee House would be fabulous; in South Bend there’s also a Catholic Worker House that lives and works with the local homeless community. As I mentioned, the two folks that oversee those (men’s and women’s) houses are on faculty here. At Duke there’s a well-known community called the Rutba House and a few smaller ones connected to the Divinity School that do great work. Lacking these kinds of outstanding options, it’s nonetheless crucial that one be firmly rooted in a local congregation–perhaps finding your way in some small teaching capacity, so you’re always thinking about how what you’re learning can contribute to the life of the church.

    ST, my list of pros and cons about ND and AMBS would go something like this. AMBS is Mennonite, their theology is more consistently engaged in social issues, and the atmosphere is more casual and collegial. On the other hand, they lack a very high level of academic rigor and their engagement with other Christian traditions seems negligible. Notre Dame is Catholic (which I see as a pro for Mennonites), their theology is more consistently engaged with the church’s own history (rather than caricaturing it), and you will not be able to leave without the skills of a serious scholar. On the other hand, all the normal frustrations of Mennonites with Catholics (e.g., wealth, hierarchy, gender) are writ large here–since the program is quite overwhelmingly Catholic. AMBS prefers moral theology to every other discipline; Notre Dame prefers historical theology. Those are both cons, in my judgment, since the two have become for me inseparable. (Still, historical theology includes ethics where moral theology does not include history.)

    Folknotions, I’ll try to e-mail you sometime this weekend. I’ve become deeply invested in Mennonite-Catholic dialogue since coming here; I too think the traditions have tremendous amounts to learn from each other.

  14. folknotions

    Brian or anyone else,

    What’s the job market like for someone with a PhD. in theology?

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