Beginning this fall, students interested in studying thanatology (the study of death, dying, grief and bereavement) will be able to choose from three Master’s degree programs.
The Master of Theological Studies (MTS) with a concentration in Thanatology is a two-year program and the Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Thanatology is a three-year program. Both degrees are commonly recognized in eccelsiastical settings, such as the church and chaplaincy. The Master of Arts (MA) in Thanatology is a new, two-year program that begins this fall.
“The MA program is more easily recognized in our culture and may appeal to those who plan to work in a secular environment that does not have church connections,” says Dr. David Sherbino, Professor of Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry, Tyndale. “At the end of your degree, regardless of whether it’s an MA, MTS or MDiv in Thanatology, you are eligible to receive the designation CTPS (Certified Thanatologist Pastoral Specialist) granted by the Canadian Council for Professional Certification Global.”
The study of thanatology examines grief and death from physical, ethical, spiritual, medical, sociological and psychological perspectives. The catalyst for the program occurred several years ago. Through the Open Learning Centre, Tyndale had been organizing two-day workshops that were constantly sold out and were widely attended.
“There were doctors, funeral directors, pastors and people working in hospices taking the course and saying, ‘We never received much training in this field,’” says Dr. Sherbino. In 2019, Tyndale began offering the MDiv in Thanatology and “the numbers kept growing.”
“All the classes were full, with people realizing that it’s not just about death but about how we experience all kinds of losses.” As an example, he points to the various losses people have experienced in their health, marriages, finances and employment, as a result of the COVID–19 pandemic.
“We developed this program because every day, people are dealing with some kind of loss. Are they going to turn to the church for support or to other organizations? What we have to offer that is quite different is a spiritual perspective on all losses.”
All three thanatology programs include an internship of approximately 260 hours to provide pastoral care in the areas of grief, death and loss. Dr. Sherbino, a certified thanatologist and a Fellow in Thanatology, is one of the many seasoned faculty members at Tyndale who will be instructing in the program. All instructors have a rich background in helping individuals in various care settings, such as churches, hospices, prisons, and palliative care centres.
“Tyndale is the only university in Canada offering MA, MTS, and MDiv degree programs in Thanatology,” says Dr. Sherbino. “Every course in thanatology is taught from a Christian perspective because we are a people who have eternal hope in the Resurrection, and we integrate our psychological, philosophical, biblical and theological perspectives in every single course. It makes our programs unique as we explore cultural approaches and tackle tough questions.”