Choosing a Divinity School in the UK

Matt has prompted me to try and answer a question a student of his had on how to choose a divinity school in the UK. There are many factors that one should consider; here are some that come to mind.

Masters or PhD?

I knew when I came to the UK that I wanted to do another masters degree. The education I received during my masters from Southeastern was outstanding, but it didn’t necessarily prepare me for the research that I would need to do at the PhD level. Not always, but usually, if you have not undergone any type of “real” research the universities you are applying to may want you to undergo a one-year masters degree before commencing towards doctoral work. I also considered that having two degrees from UK universities may open me up to opportunities that I may not necessarily have by only studying in the US. 

I am quite pleased that I did the masters degree. It has been a time of tremendous spiritual and academic growth. It has definitely prepared me for the research that will take place at the doctoral level and in some ways I feel a bit ahead of some of my friends who came straight from a seminary into the PhD.

Subject area and Supervision

Your subject area and supervision are pretty key to choosing a program. All faculties try and have a balance in what they can offer in their research but its interesting how each faculty also has a sense of identity and what they are known for and what kind of researchers they produce.

Because the UK PhD is all about the individual research you need to look for a program and or supervisor that suits what you want your research project to look like. This is why it is important to look at faculty bios and research. You should look for faculty members at the university that can provide supervision for the project you are wanting to do. More frankly, will the scholar want to supervise the project you are researching? Being able to find a supervisor you can work with will make your experience much more enjoyable. This looks different for each person. Some people may choose a supervisor because he or she is the best in the discipline. Others may choose supervisors who are not as prominent in the field right now but are brilliant at guiding the student through the thesis project. So also consider what type of supervisor you may need.

Residential or Distance?

There are options to do a PhD either residentially or at a distance. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to either. Most if not all of the major universities require all full-time PhD students to be residential. So, if you want a degree from any of the bigger named universities residential is probably what you’ll want to do.


This is not so much solely about the UK, but should be considered when pursuing doctoral studies. What kind of community is there at the university? Both academically and personally. New College has a wonderful sense of community among both faculty and researchers. Because I work in the Old Testament, several of us began putting together “gatherings” for Old Testament faculty/researchers and our families. We get together and just hang out. I can’t tell you how much we’ve enjoyed getting to know one another’s families. There is a real sense of community when you realise how many other families are doing exactly what you are doing and learn from others about living in the UK, traveling around Europe, and coping with being attached to such nerdy people.

Anybody else have any thoughts?

6 thoughts on “Choosing a Divinity School in the UK

  1. Is the University of Edinburgh particularly liberal? I know the Church of Scotland has had some issues. I am not against a diversity of ideas at the academic level, just curious about the evangelical church as a whole out there. My sense at this point is that many of the Divinity schools would be something like a Princeton or Duke out here?

  2. Hi James,

    I’m not sure how to describe Edinburgh. I would just say that there is a broad range of theological beliefs on faculty–from evangelical to unbelieving. I have found that most don’t care about a students particular beliefs as much being able to argue and defend them.

  3. Edinburgh has a very strong New Testament faculty–especially from an historical perspective. Larry Hurtado (now emeritus) is an expert in early high Christology, Helen Bond in Historical Jesus, Matt Novenson is an outstanding Pauline and Christology scholar, and Paul Foster Gospels, Pauline, texts, etc.

    St. Andrews has an outstanding New Testament faculty, John Barton is a world class Pauline scholar at Durham, Simon Gathercole at Cambridge would also be outstanding options.

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