The M.Div. degree is designed to be a three-year, 72-credit professional program when taken full-time. It is designed to prepare persons for the practice of ministry, although a definite commitment to the ministry is not a prerequisite for admission. For many Christian denominations, however, the M.Div. is the degree required for ordination. As an ecumenical school, VDS provides requisite courses for students on the ordination track in Protestant denominations and in the Unitarian Universalist Church.
The vocation of Christian ministry is to interpret and represent Christian faith and to explore ways by which that faith can be embodied in the lives of people, the churches, and society. The aim of the program is to begin a lifelong process of education focusing on understanding the Christian faith and its implications for human life.
The faculty believe that all courses in the curriculum should contribute to this aim: the study of backgrounds, origins, and traditions; reflection on problems of faith and on moral, ecclesiastical, and social issues in the contemporary situation; and consideration of occasions of ministry, such as worship, preaching, counseling, administration, education, and social reform. All of these studies and activities presuppose each other and relate to each other in essential ways. Ministers are theologians, and as such draw on the full range of critical studies and reflection in their varied activities.
The curriculum is structured to combine:
- A flexible foundation upon which students customize their degree program based on vocational interests and a variety of concentrations.
- For-credit immersion experiences that integrate learning and praxis, head and heart, through field education.
- A capstone course project that is organized around a problem the student has encountered in ministry. The student uses what they have learned to analyze and address the problem. The project is drafted and refined through peer and faculty feedback given in a seminar setting.
Students in either the M.Div. or the M.T.S. may take graduate-level course work in other Vanderbilt University departments and may count these hours toward requirements for graduation. Such outside course work is subject to the rules that apply to transfer work.
It is possible that some students will enter upon their theological studies with previous work in one or more required curriculum subjects. Students may opt to waive individual courses, provided they have taken comparable course work in the area at the undergraduate level. They may opt to transfer courses (up to 12 hours), provided they have taken them at the graduate level at a school accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools . Waivers and transfer work must be approved by the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. If a waiver is granted, another course in the same subject area must be taken. Students should consult with their advisors about the matter.