Union Theological Seminary Academics


Master of Divinity (M.Div.)

The Master of Divinity (M.Div.) is a three-year graduate professional degree when pursued on a full-time basis. Many graduates of the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program enter the parish ministry, while others pursue vocations in diverse settings: in university, hospital and prison chaplaincies; in professional counseling; in secondary school or university teaching; in business, government, journalism, social work, and other professions. The Seminary endeavors to meet the special educational needs that may characterize a candidate's vocational aims. But it also believes the sustained and probing study of the Bible, of the History of Christianity, and of Systematic and Practical Theology will form the core of learning that is fundamental to the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) curriculum.

Learn more about admission to Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program

Sometimes a student will not be able to complete her/his degree in three years; some students may be required by their denominations to take a year of internship between the second and third year of M.Div. studies; others, because of family or financial considerations or special educational needs, will decide to spread their degree studies over four, or occasionally, five years. While the Seminary permits candidates to pursue studies on a part-time basis; even so, it is very desirable for every candidate to spend at least one year in Seminary as a full-time student. Although a student’s situation may change during the course of studies, it is expected that decisions about the tentative selection of courses and the duration of the program will normally be made in consultation with an advisor as part of a coherent study plan developed during the first year of candidacy.

There are factors that influence the character of Union’s M.Div. program. These include the contemporary challenges of racial, cultural, and social pluralism, which the curriculum seeks to help students recognize and respond to creatively in the quest for social justice. The Seminary’s urban location and university affiliation are also basic concomitants of its ethos. The program in Psychiatry and Religion blends academic study and clinical training. Ecumenics courses reflect the Seminary’s continuing commitment to unity among the churches, while courses in World Religions allow students to communicate with and learn from persons of faith throughout the world. In a number of areas, such as Theology and the Arts, Black Studies, and Feminist Studies, the teaching interests of a number of faculty allow candidates to pursue interdisciplinary concerns.

Through four primary competencies (Religious Heritage, Cultural Context, Personal and Spiritual Formation, and Capacity for Ministerial and Public Leadership) students will use their academic program to achieve the following learning goals:

Religious Heritage

  • Develop a broad, critical, and inter-religious awareness and an understanding of Christian traditions in their scriptural foundations and historical developments;
  • Cultivate an ability to imagine and articulate engaged theological perspectives for ministry.

Cultural Context

  • Demonstrate the ability to analyze issues of social and environmental injustice from a Christian perspective;
  • Demonstrate the ability to incorporate the cultural vibrancy of New York City into their theological work;
  • Demonstrate the capacity to offer critical and constructive interpretations of scripture, tradition, and society by using resources from the contemporary cultural context as shaped by religious diversity, the arts, and by the social structural (ethnic, racial, environmental, socio-economics and psychological) realities of our time.

Personal and Spiritual Formation

Students will be able to clarify and deepen their own spiritual life and practice and also to guide others, individually and communally,in their spiritual journeys. To these ends students leaving Union Theological Seminary will be able to:

  • Draw on biblical resources for spirituality; appreciate and apply the spiritual lives and teachings present throughout Christian history;
  • Recognize and utilize traditional and current forms of Christian prayer and practice in engagement with the spiritual practices of other religious traditions; 
  • Appreciate and incorporate the psychological dimensions of spiritual maturity; recognize and adapt a variety of liturgical practices for communal spiritual formation.

Capacity for Ministerial and Public Leadership

  • Demonstrate the ability to interpret, articulate and critique aspirations of a congregation/community through worship, preaching, advocacy and public speaking; 
  • Identify and evaluate models of leadership to inform a style of ministry grounded in theological and professional disciplines and; 
  • Value and engage in careful and life-giving interpretation of sacred text as a means to enrich their practice of leadership.

In keeping with the founders’ hope that students might have the opportunity of combining "enlightened experience" with "solid learning and true piety," the M.Div. curriculum is also designed to provide guidance and opportunity for personal, professional, and spiritual development. Furthermore, the Seminary curriculum endeavors to help the student integrate theological knowledge with life in the contemporary world, while developing practical skills for serving the needs of the churches and society.  The program provides a course of study that supports students as they:

  • Integrate knowledge of the traditions and teachings of the churches with the conditions of life in our times;
  • Develop skills in theological and ethical reflection upon the disparity that is experienced by a wide variety of people between present reality and the historical hopes expressed in the Hebrew and Christian traditions; 
  • Provide training and practical experience in the techniques of ministering to the needs of individuals and groups in contemporary society.

The core of the student’s work is chosen from a range of important foundational courses in the four fields into which the faculty have organized the curriculum: Biblical, Historical, Theological, and Practical Theology. Students are expected to accomplish the work of the required courses in their program of study as early as possible. Normally, after the completion of the first year or its equivalent, the student will be involved in a supervised, evaluated field education experience in a church or some other institutional setting appropriate to the candidate’s vocational aim. (See the Field Education Handbook.)

In the latter half of the degree program, the candidate has greater freedom in choosing courses appropriate to her/his vocational plans and particular interests, and either writes a thesis on a topic chosen or undertakes a special project for its relevance to these plans and interests, or elects to take additional upper-level courses to enhance her/his studies. 

Because Union Theological Seminary does not ordain, license, or certify candidates for ordination, those who seek ordination must consult closely with the ecclesiastical authorities of the churches to which they belong. Certain denominations have requirements with regard to biblical languages and courses in their tradition’s doctrine, polity, and worship. The pastorate, religious education, campus ministry, college teaching, prison chaplaincy, pastoral counseling, social agencies, and other specialized ministries have their distinctive vocational requirements. These will affect a student’s choice of courses.

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