Master of Arts in Thanatology

1. Introduction 
Thank you for your interest in the Western Orthodox University Master of Arts in Thanatology programme. The programme is designed to be completed within twenty-two months by a student devoting ten to twelve hours a week, working by distance learning.

The programme is outlined below, but individual details may be varied on the initiative of the Mentor and/or student, always subject to ratification by the University. In principle, the aim is to provide a fully bespoke, individualized learning experience that takes into account the particular strengths, interests and previous learning of the student, and thus offers a flexible but rigorous route to the degree.

The programme currently consists of six modules, listed below with their main topics.

A. The Philosophy of Death and Dying
Philosophies of death and of the process of dying from Greek, Roman and other philosophical standpoints. The idea of an afterlife. Near-death experiences.

B. Spiritual Approaches to Death
Study of approaches to death from diverse faith traditions and humanism. Spiritual understandings of suffering. Christian soteriology and soteriological perspectives from outside Christianity.

C. Practical Ministry to the Dying
Nature of spiritual and practical care for the dying. Role of external carers and agencies. Role of family and friends. Needs of the dying.

D. The Processes of Death and Mourning 
The nature of death as a process. Pastoral care for the mourning. Funeral and memorial services.

E. Bereavement
Grief. The cycle of bereavement. Coping strategies. Pastoral care for the bereaved.

F. A Dissertation Topic

2. Aims and objectives 
The program is aimed at the ordained or layperson (including those working in funeral parlours) who seeks to work with the dying and the bereaved. It offers a detailed study of the philosophies and theologies of death as a background to practical study of ministry to the dying and the process of death. Successful graduates will be in a position to understand the needs of the dying person and of those who are bereaved.

3. Methods of delivery 
The delivery of the teaching for the course is by distance learning. Students will be assigned a Mentor who will be a practitioner in the field and/or an established academic. They will work out the exact details of what is to be studied and how this will be assessed in co-operation with the Mentor with this learning contract then ratified by the University. In most cases, students will communicate with their Mentor via electronic communications (e-mail, fax) although some Mentors prefer to work via postal mail, and many will also offer telephone support.

4. Course materials
The chosen methods of learning are designed to offer the student the maximum of flexibility and scope in tackling the programme.

The individualized nature of the programme means that traditional course materials in the form of structured course notes are rarely appropriate or practical, although it is hoped that where possible, Mentors will make their notes on particular topics available to the student. Students are, of course, responsible for creating their own course notes based on their reading and related work.

Most work within the programme will consist of directed readings from key texts selected by the Mentor. The student will be responsible for obtaining books, which are not included in the tuition fees, although both the Mentor and the University will endeavour to assist in the event of any difficulty in obtaining books. The Mentor will set regular assignments based on the directed reading, most of which will be in the form of an essay or paper. Mentors will also provide guidance on background reading for each topic.

5. Entry requirements 
The usual minimum requirements for entry to the course are as follows:

  • Completion of a first degree or an equivalent theological qualification. In some cases completion of the requirements for ordination or extensive relevant experience will be taken in lieu of a first degree.

Candidates will normally have attained the age of twenty-eight years. All candidates will be expected to show a proficiency in the English language.

It is a key principle of the University that each application should be considered on its own merits, and admission to the course and all interpretations as to the eligibility for such admission remain at the discretion of the University.