Modern military chaplaincy : neither fit for purpose, nor obsolete

  • Jenny Elizabeth Oberholtzer

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Chaplains in the United States’ and United Kingdom’s militaries occupy an unusual position as the sole providers of confidential counseling available to service members, thanks to a quirk in tradition and law. Nominally, all chaplains meet a similar set of criteria: the appropriate graduate degree in the United States, or the appropriate ordination in the United Kingdom; the appropriate number of years in service; and the endorsement of an approved ecclesiastical body. In practice, these can mean very different levels of preparation, especially when it comes to pastoral counselling. This thesis explores ecclesiastical endorsements, chaplain selection, and training in two multi-religious militaries, as well as what these chaplains face while working in the field. Using semi-structured interviews with retired chaplains, documented requirements from militaries, ecclesiastical endorsers and religious education programmes, this thesis finds that chaplains are asked to serve in roles that their educations and endorsements may not have fully prepared them for. Moreover, due to doctrinal restrictions attached to ecclesiastical endorsements, further education will simply not prepare some chaplains for the pastoral needs of some service members. Nonetheless, the modern chaplain continues to fill vital needs for these militaries as a whole: providing an unofficial connector, who can serve as a knowledgeable insider, outside of the chain of command; an expert on issues of religion and ethics; a facilitator for religious needs in a stressful environment, and a truly confidential counsellor, who has the time and remit to sit with anyone who needs an ear.
Date of Award13 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorPhillips Payson O'Brien (Supervisor) & Rory Cox (Supervisor)


  • Religion
  • Military
  • Chaplaincy
  • United States of America
  • United Kingdom
  • Pastoral care
  • Counselling

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 25 April 2028

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