The American SystemAlthough there are variations in the American system, this diagram shows a fairly typical route by which an American progresses from undergraduate degrees to a doctorate in theology.
The American System Your first degree is a four-year, general Bachelor’s degree. It may be a BTh in Theology, but more often than not it is not in theology. After completing a general Bachelor’s degree, you enrol for an MDiv, which is a first ministerial or theological degree. It involves three years of broad, general training, and is quite similar in content to a BTh in the European framework, although usually at a slightly higher level. Then you may enrol for a ThM, a specialized research degree. If you hold an MDiv, the ThM will be one year of specialized studies, including a Master’s thesis. Finally, you register for a PhD. A typical structure includes two years of coursework, followed by a doctoral dissertation.
The American System: additional notesMany Americans articulate via a different route: BA (4 years, 128 credits), MA (1 year, 36 credits), PhD (3-years, 96 credits). This articulation route is very similar to the normal progression path in the European and South African frameworks.The American system includes what are known as “professional doctorates”, such at the DMin and DMiss degrees. These are practitioners degrees, and are not equivalent to a PhD. By contrast, South Africa has only academic doctorates; we have nothing akin to a DMin.
Credit EquivalenciesThe table shows the approximate credit value of South African qualifications if measured in terms of the European and American credit accumulation standards. In South Africa, one academic year is worth 120 credits up to Honours level, and 180 credits at Masters and Doctoral levels. The table is based on the assumption that 1:2 is the ratio of European to South African credits, and 1:3.75 is the ratio of US to South African credits.
03 South African Higher Education Framework
By Kevin G. Smith
South African Higher Education
Theological Research Seminar
• The PhD is a three-year research degree. It
may have seminars and workshops, but
generally does not include coursework.
• The Masters degree is a two-year
programme (unless following a BTh
• The Masters typically includes both
coursework and a thesis.
• The Bachelors degree is a
• Some countries have 4-
year Bachelor Honours,
and then a 1-year
The European system
• The PhD often requires 2 years of coursework,
followed by a doctoral dissertation.
• This is a specialized research degree,
either 1 year above an MDiv or 4 years
without an MDivThM
• This is a first ministerial
qualification, 3 years of broad,
general training (= BTh)MDiv
• Usually a general BA,
not specializing in
theology or ministryBA
The American system
The American system
A few important notes on the American system:
• Many Americans articulate via the following route:
– Bachelor of Arts 4-years 128 credits
– Master of Arts 1-year 36 credits
– Doctor of Philosophy 3-years 96 credits
• The American system includes “professional
doctorates” (e.g. DMin; DMiss), which are not
equivalent to a PhD.