I talked to someone today who was directly told about the basis for Durham’s decision about whether you are invited to go directly into the PhD program or to do the 1 yr MATR first. He has an MDiv from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO. and was told that basically an MDiv is considered another bachelors degree. Since the English BA is 3 years and focused solely upon theology (i.e., it’s not a liberal arts degree), they don’t consider the 3-yr MDiv essentially different. However, if you already have a BA in theological studies, then an MDiv will count more because you will have 7 years of theological studies. A ThM then will give you the greatest chance of getting directly into the PhD program.
The second criteria is that you have a focused thesis topic. Obviously they don’t expect you to have the final version of your thesis questions worked out when applying, but they will expect an interesting question and some thought behind it in your proposal. I know people here that have a ThM but were only invited to do the MATR first because they didn’t have a focused topic.
These are the basic criteria but from what I’ve heard they are not hard and fast. I imagine they are more important in the area of biblical studies since it is more developed than other theological studies areas. For instance, I’ve met a student doing patristics who was accepted to the PhD program directly from the BA in theological studies. However, he is also doing a research project in his area now, so maybe prior research experience trumps the need for a masters degree. But, this is most likely a random exception that shouldn’t be counted on by others.
These criteria are not necessarily the same at other schools because my friend from Covenant was accepted directly into the PhD program at Aberdeen but chose to come here for the MA first.