New in the Glossary of Confusing Words: Seminary

dictionary and thesaurusIt’s been a while since we had a new entry in the Glossary of Confusing Words, but we’re finally back on the case with a great suggestion from Muhammad: seminary.

Muhammad asked:

Under which category a seminary can be placed: college, university, institute, etc?

First of all, you may remember from our previous discussions of the words “college” and “university” that there is no official difference between these terms.  Dartmouth College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Princeton University all offer undergraduate and graduate degrees. However, you’ll often see “college” used to describe undergraduate programs, while “university” is used to describe schools that offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees, or only graduate degrees.

A seminary is an institution of higher education focused on theology (the study and practice of religion).  Most seminaries are graduate-level schools offering master’s degrees, particularly the Master of Divinity.  Seminaries also usually offer academic M.A. degrees in fields related to religion.

Here’s how one seminary student (who also happens to be my cousin!) explained her degree program:

The M.Div is about 2/3 academic and 1/3 practical. Most seminaries also offer a Master of Theology or Master of Christian Studies – different names, but this degree is for people who are going on to get a Ph.D; strictly an academic degree. Some seminaries also offer more specific degrees like youth ministry or music ministry or public leadership or social justice or something like that. 

Seminaries are generally sponsored by one church denomination, but usually have students from many different denominations attending. So, for example, McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago is a Presbyterian seminary, but has students from hundreds of denominations.

Just to confuse you, there are also Bible colleges, and Christian colleges, which are undergraduate-level, where you can get undergraduate degrees in theology (or biology or education or whatever else you wanted to do).

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes 4 accrediting organizations for theological education: the Association of Theological Schools; the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools; the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools; and the Association for Biblical Higher Education.

Do you have a word to contribute to our Glossary of Confusing Words? Share words that have confused you or that might confuse others about studying in the U.S. Leave your suggestions in the comments, or use the form below.