Master of Theological Studies

A two-year master's degree that draws on Candler’s renowned faculty and serves those who wish to explore disciplines within theology and religion from an academic perspective.

Why the Master of Theological Studies?

Expand your mind, deepen your understanding

The Master of Theological Studies (MTS) is especially designed for individuals interested in pursuing some aspect of teaching and research, whether in an academic context, the nonprofit world, or in public policy and social engagement. It provides superb preparation for doctoral-level studies in religion and theology.

The flexibility of Candler’s MTS program allows students to focus their work within an area of specialization or construct a broader degree across the theological disciplines. The program is also intentional about helping students discern their vocation through plenaries, small groups and professional development electives.

Curriculum Overview

The MTS is a 48-credit hour program normally completed in two years of full-time study. Incoming 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. The MTS emphasizes historical and constructive issues of religious and theological reflection from a variety of perspectives, so the larger Emory community provides a setting of open engagement and collaboration that enhances learning outcomes for students.

View degree requirements
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Master of Theological Studies Degree Requirements

To qualify for the MTS degree, a candidate must complete each of these requirements.

Requirements for Admission

To enter the MTS program, a candidate must have a bachelor’s or equivalent degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

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.

Curricular Requirements

MTS505. MTS Advising Group: Fall Semester, first year
First-year MTS students are required to enroll in the First Year Advising Group (MTS 505). This course assists entering students with library research skills, academic writing, and professional development in support of their scholarly formation.


Core Courses
The following common requirements must be fulfilled by all students enrolled in the Master of Theological Studies program.

  • Six hours in History, Scripture, and Tradition of Christianity (typically designated as Biblical Interpretation, New Testament, Old Testament, and History of Christianity);
  • Six hours in Modern Religious Thought and Experience (typically designated as Theology, Ethics and Society, Religion and Personality, and Sociology of Religion); and
  • Six hours in Global Religions (typically designated as World Religions, World Christianity, REL, and MESAS).

With the faculty advisor’s approval, courses in the three areas of focus may be substituted by equivalent courses of study.

Professional Development Elective
Students are required to complete one three-hour course from a list of approved electives (or one negotiated with the faculty advisor) that corresponds to their post-MTS vocational goals.


MTS students take an 18 additional hours related to their declared focus in History, Scripture and Tradition of Christianity; Modern Religious Thought and Experience; or Global Religions. Language courses may count for 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 specific to their area of focus during their final spring semester of course work. 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 in 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 a Portfolio or the MTS thesis.

Focus Courses (12 hours)
In addition to the 6 hours of Common Area of Focus courses 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.


Elective hours may be drawn from courses throughout Candler, Emory University and the Atlanta Theological Association pending approval of the faculty adviser. The number of elective hours required depends upon the election of the thesis or portfolio within the 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 advisor.

This faculty advisor will assist the student in proper course selection to enhance their study in an area of focus. Each semester students must have an advising conversation with their faculty advisor 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 advisor notifies the registrar’s office.


The portfolio option is selected at the end of the MTS520 MTS Research Methods course in consultation with the MTS520 instructor, the director of the MTS program, and the students’ faculty advisors. The portfolio has four components, all of them tied in some way to the program’s coursework. The four components of the portfolio are:

  1. An expanded and revised research paper from a graduate-level research course in any relevant field. The revision may require additional research in primary or secondary literature, and gives the student an opportunity to expand on and follow through on work likely finished earlier. The final product should be appropriate for submission to a journal for publication and for graduate school applications.
  2. EITHER a second revised research paper, as outlined above, OR a revised historiographic/literature review/state of the field essay of the type submitted in many graduate readings courses, both inside and outside Candler.
  3. An annotated bibliography in/of a field of interest to the student, defined in collaboration with the student’s advisor and the MTS director. This bibliography should showcase the student’s ability to collect and organize literature on a particular topic, akin to the #Charlestonsyllabus model.
  4. A report on a professional activity relevant to the student’s interest. The student might engage in an internship, a relevant work-study assignment, or an ongoing professional engagement outside the MTS program. In this report, the student will both report and reflect on the experience and the student’s own sense of vocation or professional interests as a result of the experience.


MTS650 (MTS Thesis) is for students who plan on writing 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 advisor, 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 course work 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 ordinarily 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 60-90 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 six hours of credit for the thesis (letter grade only) through MTS650 (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.


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 portfolio or thesis but have completed all courses are required to register for MTS999R (MTS Library Use) during each semester until the paper is complete.

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Tailor your MTS degree

Tailor your MTS degree Image

Candler’s MTS program enables students to go as deep as they want within three broad areas of focus: History, Scripture, and Tradition of Christianity; Modern Religious Thought and Experience; and Global Religions. Students can design a program to fit their academic interests, customizing up to two-thirds of the curriculum.

  • In addition to better fitting students’ educational and vocational goals, this customized approach allows for increased collaboration with faculty at Candler and the wider Emory University; it also encourages interdisciplinary study, the pursuit of dual degrees, and study abroad options.
  • 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.
  • 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 an 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.

MTS students may pursue a dual degree in the following fields, in cooperation with other schools at Emory. They must meet the admission requirements for both Candler and the partner school for their desired field of study:

Candler Firsthand

Here’s what a few MTS students and alumni had to say about their Candler experience.

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Candler School of Theology Michael Yorke

“Part of the reason I came to Candler was because of the world-class faculty and the amazing reputation. I knew Candler had a great track record of getting students into PhD programs.”

Michael Yorke

MTS '23, PhD Student

Alley Masocco
Alley Masocco

“I love the freedom of the MTS degree, which allows me to take various classes in different departments and schools at Emory! I’ve taken classes in the Department of Sociology, at Emory University School of Law, and at Rollins School of Public Health.”

Alley Masocco

MTS '23

Candler School of Theology Michael Yorke
Candler School of Theology Michael Yorke

“Part of the reason I came to Candler was because of the world-class faculty and the amazing reputation. I knew Candler had a great track record of getting students into PhD programs.”

Michael Yorke

MTS '23, PhD Student

Taniecia McFarlane
Taniecia McFarlane

“Candler has been a place of real engagement with real issues, helping me to discover that there is more within me than I could imagine. I have been challenged by the robust spiritual and academic engagement that includes excellent yet approachable faculty, resourceful staff, a diverse community of learners. It is hard to seriously engage a program of study at Candler and remain the same.”

Taniecia McFarlane

MTS '23

Larry Varghese, MTS student
Larry Varghese, MTS student

“What has surprised me most about my time at Candler is the open, collaborative environment, and not unhealthy or overly competitive, as I expected at a top-tier school.”

Larry Varghese

MTS '24

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Ready to take the next step on your MTS journey?

How to Apply