Tips on Applying: Spotlight on Edinburgh

Tips on Applying: Spotlight on Edinburgh January 14, 2010

Our next spotlight comes from Benjamin Park. Ben is a master’s student at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, studying historical theology in the 18th and 19th century. He also blogs at the Juvenile Instructor.

Background to the Program

The University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity offers several programs to match individual agendas. It offers one-year master’s degree, either “research” (all based on your own work under the direction of a supervisor) or “taught” (three core courses, three electives), which are based around a 5,000-word dissertation. These programs can serve as either a terminal degree, an entrance to their doctoral program, or, as in my case, a stand-alone degree in preparation for doctoral work elsewhere. The PhD program is centered exclusively on one’s own research topic, with no coursework, and revolves around a 100,000-word thesis (as you can tell, the titles “thesis” and “dissertation” are flipped in the British system); the program strongly encourages doctoral students to finish within three years.

The school is divided into six focuses: world Christianity, theological ethics, biblical studies, ministry, religious studies, and theology in history (which is my field of study).

Would you recommend Edinburgh to other LDS graduate students? If so, what advice would you give them in applying?

I have been surprised at how accommodating the University of Edinburgh has been to me as an LDS student. The School of Divinity, especially, is far from the secular caricature many think prestigious academic institutions represent. Instead, a majority of students and faculty are either devout and believing churchgoers who balance faith and intellect or, if they are not religious, they are very welcoming to believers. There is a weekly Church of Scotland communion service that students and professors of all faiths attend. I have had countless conversations about my Mormon faith, and I have yet to experience anything but positive experiences.

Because of the program’s nature (explained below), the school is especially interested in students who are ready to research and contribute immediately without too much prodding. The most important aspect of the application, from what I can gather, is the writing sample; the second important aspect would probably be performance in the classroom strength of recommendation letters. Put bluntly, they want to know that you know how to work and that you are willing to work. (GRE scores don’t hold much significance.)

Also, because it differs from program to program, I would recommend getting in contact with the director of the program you are specifically interested in. They will give you the specific points of advice that would most help your application.

What is the funding situation?

Don’t ask. I’ll put it this way: don’t expect to get school funding (though some is available). Instead, do your best to find some sort of external and outside funding. One positive is tuition for the year is much cheaper than most other graduate programs.

What is the intellectual environment like?

Phenomenal. There are fascinating lectures almost on a daily basis, and numerous reading groups that cover just about any interest. The professors are warm and welcoming, and there are many social groups in the university to keep you busy.

Are there other strengths or challenges you’d like to mention (college location, spirituality, future job prospects, etc.)?

While I recommend the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity whole-heartedly, I probably should point out that the programs here would be most beneficial for a certain type of student. Unlike many graduate schools, where much of the student’s reading and research is closely monitored (during the first few years, anyway) with things like book reviews or writing assignments, the work here is largely self-governed and requires self-discipline. While two or three books (as well as primary sources) are assigned weekly for each class, your entire grade for each class is based solely on one 3,000-word paper due the final week of the semester. Because this paper can be on any topic covered during the course, it is tempting to skip much of the reading.

Thus, students who do the best at Edinburgh are those who are self-disciplined and willing to make sure to take advantage of all reading assignments—the alternative is spending a year not learning much or being better prepared for life in academia.

For those who are motivated to keep up on reading and research, though, I cannot think of a much better place for study. The faculty here are first-rate, yet, like in every university, there are definite strengths. Besides Scottish theology, strengths here include the Reformation, Enlightenment studies, biblical studies (both Old and New Testament), early Christianity, world Christianity, and theological ethics.

The Divinity School’s library, New College Library, is a beautifully renovated mid-19th century chapel, and boasts an extraordinary large collection when considering that it is only one of thirteen University of Edinburgh libraries (among its collection is a first edition of Calvin’s Institutes—a text so rare that there are probably less than half a dozen left in the world—and a first edition of Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions). If this library (or any other of the University’s libraries, for that matter) does not have what you are looking for, the National Library of Scotland is only two blocks down the street. The National Library is a copyright library, meaning that it theoretically has claim to a copy of every text published in the British Isles.

And this is all not to mention the beautiful town of Edinburgh, what is often referred to as the “Athens of the North.”

Oh, and because everyone takes a “coffee/tea break” almost every hour, you will become addicted to hot chocolate. Mark my words.

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