Master of Theological Studies

The master of theological studies (MTS) curriculum serves persons who wish to explore disciplines within theology and religion, without the objective of preparing for ordained ministry. Students who wish to prepare for the ordained ministry should consider the MDiv program. Students preparing for some specialized ministries should consider the MRL program.

Overview of the Program

The MTS is especially suited for persons interested in teaching and research or engagement in social issues and is not intended for those whose primary immediate interests are in pastoral ministry, counseling, or other areas addressed by the MRL or MDiv program. Students who plan to continue their advanced study of religion or to teach at the secondary school level might seek this degree.

Students may develop an individually tailored curriculum within the general framework of the MTS requirements. Normally a two-year program consisting of 48 credit hours, the degree must be completed within six calendar years.

Through their study for a Master of Theological Studies degree, students will gain:

  • Basic knowledge of religious texts, traditions, theologies, and practices;
  • Basic knowledge and experience of a multiethnic, intercultural, ecumenical, and religiously diverse world;
  • Proficiency in analysis of religious and theological knowledge and practices;
  • Skills in critical and imaginative thinking, responsible interpretation, and effective communication;
  • The ability to identify and evaluate the ways in which religious thought intersects public discourse; and
  • The ability to produce a summative research project that reflects knowledge of the present state of the question addressed, supported by appropriate use of primary and secondary sources.

Curricular Requirements

MTS505. MTS Advising Group: Fall semester, first year.

First-year MTS students are required to enroll in the First Year Advising Group (MTS505). This course assists entering students with library research skills, academic writing, and professional development in support of their scholarly formation.

Common Requirements (21 hours)

Incoming MTS students declare an area of focus in one of three areas: History, Scripture, and Tradition of Christianity; Modern Religious Thought and Experience; or Global Religions.

Core Courses (18 hours)

All students, regardless of their area of focus are required to complete 6 hours of courses designated as History, Scripture, and Tradition of Christianity (typically designated as Biblical Interpretation, New Testament, Old Testament, and History of Christianity), 6 hours of courses designated as Modern Religious Thought and Experience (typically designated as Theology, Ethics and Society, Religion and Personality, and Sociology of Religion); and 6 hours of courses in Global Religions (typically designated as World Religions, World Christianity, REL, and MESAS). With the faculty adviser’s and registrar's approval courses in the three areas of focus may be substituted by equivalent courses of study.

Professional Development Elective (3 hours)

Students are required to complete one threehour course from a list of approved electives (or one negotiated with the faculty adviser) that corresponds to their post-MTS vocational goals.

Area of Focus (18–21 hours)

MTS students take 18 additional hours related to their declared focus in History, Scripture, and Tradition of Christianity; Modern Religious Thought and Experience; or Global Religions. MTS students may count three credit hours per semester-long language course toward the MTS degree as Area of Focus or elective hours.

MTS520. Research Methods Seminar (3 hours)

During the second semester of their first year students will enroll in a Research Methods Seminar. The course will focus on research in the various fields of religious and theological studies by considering both theoretical and functional approaches to critical research and writing in the respective areas of focus. Students who are matriculating on a part-time basis are encouraged to complete this seminar in the same time sequence as full time students.

MTS600. Capstone Course (3 hours)

Students are required to complete a Capstone Course related to their Area of Focus during their final spring semester of coursework. In practice, all three MTS capstone sections are one integrated interdisciplinary seminar in which students focus on the completion of their Capstone writing projects and explore a unifying religious studies theme. Completion of the Research Methods course is a prerequisite for the Capstone course. A component of the Capstone course is the completion of an integrative essay or the MTS thesis.

Focus Courses (12 hours)

In addition to the 6 hours of Common Area of Focus courses taken in each area of focus, students will also complete 12 additional elective hours in their declared area of focus.

MTS Thesis Option (1–3 hours)

In addition to the Capstone course students may enroll in MTS650. MTS Thesis for up to 3 hours of additional credit in the fall or spring of the final year for research and writing a master’s thesis.

Additional Electives (6–9 hours)

Elective hours may be drawn from courses throughout Candler, Emory University, the Atlanta Theological Association, or Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education Consortium pending approval of the faculty adviser. The number of elective hours required depends upon the election of the thesis or integrative essay within the Area of Focus.

Degree Requirements

To qualify for the MTS degree, a candidate must complete the following requirements:

Credit Hours

In fulfilling the 48 credit hours required to complete the MTS degree, students may not exceed the following limits: six credit hours for the MTS Thesis (including three hours of Capstone); eight credit hours for Contextual Education (including internship hours taken for PDE or elective credit); nine credit hours for elective courses taken on an S/U basis (including a maximum of four hours for participation in the Chapel Choir, Candler Voices of Imani, Candler Singers, or Emory Concert Choir); 12 hours for summer term, nine hours for Atlanta Theological Association cross-registration (counted as transfer credit), 17 hours for transfer credit (including ATA cross-registration), and 12 hours for directed study.

Requirements for MTS Program

Credit hours may be earned through courses, seminars (including PhD seminars, subject to permission of the instructor), or directed study. Courses may be selected from Candler, the Graduate Division of Religion, or other university offerings subject to approval of the program director. Prerequisites for advanced courses taken at Candler usually do not apply to MTS students. Students will complete the degree with coursework plus a thesis or an integrative essay. Students who plan to write a thesis enroll in MTS650. MTS Thesis, in addition to MTS600, MTS Capstone, in the year in which they intend to complete the thesis (credit, three hours maximum). There is no general language requirement.

In keeping with the flexibility of the program, no maximum limit is placed on the number of courses taken in the Area of Focus. At the same time, a candidate should pursue a cluster of courses that reasonably constitutes interests outside of the Area of Focus in order to balance depth with breadth in a course of study. Theses or integrative papers should be written within the declared Area of Focus.


All students admitted to the MTS program pursue a core-group study, MTS505. Master of Theological Studies Advising Group, in the first semester (credit, 0 hours). Taught by the MTS program director, and other members of the Candler faculty and staff, the advising groups focus on library research skills, academic writing, and professional development. In addition to completion of MTS505, students are assigned a faculty adviser. This faculty adviser will assist the student in proper course selection to enhance his or her study in an area of focus. Each semester students must have an advising conversation with their faculty adviser during the advising period. Students who do not have an advising conversation prior to preregistration will have a hold placed on their OPUS account. This hold will prevent the student from registering until advising is completed and the faculty adviser notifies the registrar’s office.

Integrative Essay

Following the completion of 36 credit hours, students electing to write an integrative essay will do so as part of their capstone course (MTS600). An essay topic is determined in consultation with the MTS director, the MTS520 instructor, and the MTS600 instructor. The essay is ordinarily 25 to 35 pages in length and develops a single theme supported by readings and coursework from the student’s full course of study. The MTS director will read the integrative paper and assign a letter grade. The minimum passing grade is B.


MTS650. MTS Thesis is for students who plan to write a thesis and focuses on the preparation of a thesis along the guidelines for the MTS thesis. To be permitted to write a thesis, a student, in consultation with his or her adviser, and the MTS520 instructor, must obtain the approval of the MTS program director and must have at least a cumulative 3.50 grade point average at the end of the equivalent of two semesters (24 credit hours) of study at Candler. A student wishing to write a thesis must declare his or her intent by the end of the second semester. Following the approval of a thesis proposal and selection of a thesis director chosen in consultation with the MTS program director and the MTS520 instructor, the student may proceed to work on the thesis. Students who choose to write a thesis are expected to have done substantive coursework with Candler faculty in the area in which they wish to write. A topic and a thesis director must be secured before MTS650. MTS Thesis elective is begun. In order to enroll in MTS650, students must complete the MTS650 form and submit it with all required information and signatures to the Candler registrar’s office, ordinarily by the completion of the MTS520 Research Methods Seminar. Enrollment in MTS650 usually takes place in the fall of the second year. Placement of this course for dual degree or part-time students should be in the semester prior to enrollment in the Capstone course. MTS650 enrollment requires regular participation in writing groups with the program director throughout the semester of enrollment. The completed thesis, ordinarily 60 to 90 pages in length, is evaluated by the thesis director and a second faculty member, and is subject to approval by the MTS director. The thesis must demonstrate original research in a limited subject area. Students may receive up to 6 hours of credit for the thesis (letter grade only) through MTS650 (three hours) and MTS600 (three hours). The thesis must be submitted by the deadline announced by the director of the MTS program (usually the first Monday in April). The thesis must be taken for a letter grade and the minimum passing grade is a B. Students who do not complete the thesis but have completed all courses are required to register for MTS999R. MTS Library use during each semester until the thesis is complete.

Total Credit Hours for the MTS Degree

First-year Advising Sessions: 0 hours Common Requirements: 21 hours (History, Scripture, & Tradition of Christianity–6 hours; Modern Religious Thought & Experience–6 hours; Global Religions–6 hours; Professional Development Elective–3 hours) Area of Focus: 18 hours (12 hours in Area of Focus; Research Methods Seminar–3 hours; Capstone Course–3 hours; Thesis, if elected, up to 3 hours) Additional Electives: 6–9 hours Total: 48 hours

Application for the Degree

Early in the graduating semester, the candidate must submit a formal application for the MTS degree before the deadline stated in the academic calendar. A late fee of $25 will be assessed for applications submitted after this date. The Application for Degree is available in OPUS during a window of time set by the university registrar each semester. A separate application is required for each degree. Students are required to be enrolled during the semester of graduation.


Students must complete a minimum of three full-time equivalent semesters in residence and earn at least 48 hours of credit with a cumulative grade point average of not less than 2.0, and with at least 31 credit hours at Candler. A maximum of 12 hours may be earned during the summer term. Students in good standing at other seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, or at other regionally accredited universities where they are studying religion at the graduate level, may, with approval, transfer up to 17 hours. A maximum of nine credit hours taken through cross-registration at Atlanta Theological Association schools may be applied toward the degree, counted as transfer credit. Students who do not complete the integrative paper or thesis but have completed all courses are required to register for MTS999R (MTS Library Use) during each semester until the paper is complete.


Admission to the MTS degree program requires a bachelor’s degree with a grade point average of at least 3.0 from a regionally accredited college or university. For students with other graduate or professional training, the admissions procedure emphasizes the transcript (undergraduate or graduate) most appropriate to coursework at Candler. Students enrolled as MRL, MRPL, MDiv, or special students at Candler may apply for admission to the MTS program. A new application, including three letters of recommendation, is required. Current MRL, MRPL, MDiv, or special students who wish to apply to the MTS program must do so before beginning the second year of fulltime study. Up to 26 hours of coursework completed satisfactorily by an MRL, MRPL, MDiv, or special student will be considered toward the MTS program. Contextual Education credits will be counted as elective credit. Students in good standing at other seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, or at other regionally accredited universities where they are studying religion at the graduate level, may be admitted as transfer students. These students may receive transfer credit approval for up to 17 credit hours for courses in which they earned a grade of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale (84 on a numerical scale). The registrar will determine which credits will be accepted for transfer into the MTS program. See detailed MTS transfer credit policy page.

Application Deadline

Offers of admission to the MTS program are made on a rolling admissions basis between November and August of each year. When an application is complete, it will be reviewed by the Admissions Committee. Typically a decision will be reached within three weeks. For priority scholarship consideration, applications should be submitted by January 15 for the fall semester. Applications received after January 15 will be considered for scholarship, based on the availability of funds. The final deadline for application is July 1 for the fall semester. Those admitted who do not matriculate at the time for which they were admitted may request, in writing, a deferral of status for one academic year. All application materials for those who do not matriculate and who do not request an enrollment deferral will be kept on file for one academic year, after which applicants will be expected to submit a new application for admission to be considered for study in a future semester. Applications for the MTS program are not accepted for the spring semester or summer term, although applicants may request admission for the spring semester or summer term as special students.

Application Procedures

Applicants should apply online at application. To be considered for admission to the MTS degree program, an applicant must supply the admissions office with the following:

  1. Application for admission.

  2. $50 nonrefundable application fee paid online or by mail (check or money order made payable to Emory University).

  3. Résumé.

  4. Autobiographical statement: The three to four page typed, double-spaced autobiographical statement is a critical element in the evaluation of your application. Please consider your response carefully, tending to content, style, grammatical correctness, and essay organization. The statement is a way to introduce yourself to the Admissions Committee. It also will help faculty advisers guide and evaluate your learning experience in your program. With this in mind, write a reflective essay about your life that addresses the following:

    • Significant life experiences that have affected your view of self, religion, and the world. Include references to family members and significant others, courses, and experiences in college, religious organizations, service-related activities, and employment.
    • Academic and other interests that motivate you to engage in theological studies.
    • Ways the Master of Theological Studies program at Candler School of Theology fits your interests.
    • Your plans following completion of study at Candler School of Theology.
  5. A two- to three-page statement explaining how the applicant’s proposed topic of research is best suited to Candler’s offerings.

  6. A sample of recent academic writing.

  7. Official transcripts from all colleges, universities, graduate schools, and seminaries, regardless of when the applicant attended, how many hours completed, and whether a degree was granted. Official transcripts should be sent directly from these institutions or delivered in a sealed and signed envelope. If currently enrolled at an institution, the applicant should send an official transcript of work to date and ask that a transcript be sent promptly following the completion of the term and /or conferral of a degree.

  8. Three letters of recommendation from persons who are not family members: two academic references, provided by college or graduate school professors; and one professional reference, provided by a work supervisor or someone who has known the applicant for three or more years. Applicants who have been out of college for more than five years and are unable to secure an academic reference should submit additional work or character references. Students who have been enrolled previously at another theological institution must provide a letter certifying that they leave the school as students in good standing.

  9. The Admissions Committee welcomes, but does not require, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). GRE scores, while not required, may be considered in an application if applicants wish to submit them. Applicants who plan to continue to doctoral study or who choose to submit the GRE scores as further evidence of their academic potential are encouraged to have these scores included in their admission file. The institution code for Candler is 5198.

  10. Persons whose first language is not English must furnish, with the application, recent evidence of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) with a score of at least 95 (Internet-based total) with a minimum score of 21 or higher in each of the four sub-areas, 250 (computer-based total), or 600 (paperbased total). The TOEFL results should be submitted directly from TOEFL to Candler (Institutional Code: 5455, Department 01). Applicants whose first language is not English are strongly encouraged to complete an intensive English course, at an institution in your home country, for at least six months prior to enrollment.

  11. A criminal background check is required of all students prior to enrollment at the expense of the student (approximately $18) through a vendor designated by the school. Candler School of Theology will provide information regarding the process of securing the required background check in early spring to admitted students. Students will not be allowed to register for classes until the results of this report have been received and reviewed. Reports from criminal background checks are due August 15. Any student for whom the criminal background check has not been received by August 15 will forfeit the opportunity to participate in any program of Contextual Education for one year. Results of the criminal background check can impact placement in Contextual Education sites and may be released to a site supervisor.

  12. SAP-G training is required of all degree and nondegree students. SAP-G is an online learning platform designed to educate students on preventing and responding to interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence, and stalking, in the Emory community. The training is offered at the expense of the school. Students will not be allowed to register for classes until notification of the completion of part I is received. Notification must be received by August 15. Part II of the training is completed six weeks after part I. Notification of completion of part II is required by October 15 for students interested in registering in future semesters.

  13. All incoming Emory students must meet the CDC and American College Health Association immunization guidelines prior to registration for classes. To access the Entrance Health Survey and Consent for Treatment Forms, visit In addition to supplying the above documents, international students (persons who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents) must comply with the following: Upon admission, and before the visa process can begin, international students must complete the Emory University Financial Certificate, which indicates adequate financial resources to cover tuition, fees, travel, and living expenses for the first year of study in the United States. (An I-20 will not be prepared until this certificate has been approved; it must be approved by the university before July 1 for the fall semester.) International students will be billed automatically for health insurance through Emory University unless insurance compliance information indicating proof of comparable United States–based coverage is submitted by July 1. Information regarding insurance for international students can be found online at

Admission Deposit

A nonrefundable admission deposit of $100 is required of all students enrolling at Candler School of Theology. This deposit is required by April 1 for fall admission, or within three weeks of notification of admission to the degree program, in order to secure the student’s place in the program. The deposit will be posted as a credit to the student’s Emory University account; students who pay the deposit but fail to enroll will forfeit the deposit.