Master of Arts in Social Change (MASC)

Meet MASC program faculty Gabriella Lettini, Rebecca Parker, and Ibrahim Farajajé, and MASC recent grad Shannon Frediani, as they talk about the Master in Social Change program at Starr King.

Starr King was among the first institutions of higher learning to formalize a counter-oppressive pedagogical focus in the form of a master’s degree. The M.A.S.C. program is a professional 2-year degree designed to cement your skills in:

  • promoting goals of justice, equity and compassion in society, through religious or secular institutions
  • providing an ethical grounding in ministerial and theological education to pursue your passions
  • improving professional competency in religious and social change

Your degree program is individually designed to integrate theology, spiritual practice and professional development in a way that responds to your particular interests, gifts and challenges. M.A.S.C. emphasizes not only theological knowledge, but also practical experience in community organizing, media relations, non-profit management, political action and social service ministry. In addition, the M.A.S.C. program aims to foster your personal growth, spiritual practice and deepened commitment to social justice.

Students, faculty, staff, and trustees participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement during 2011 and 2012, as well as in 2010 Phoenix, AZ actions protesting anti-immigrant legislation.  Watch the story through their eyes.  Special thanks to photographer Suzi Spangenberg, MASC 2012 graduate. 

Degree and Residency Requirements

8 Thresholds

The ability to act with integrity and knowledge in all these areas is foundational to religious leadership in society. Competence in religious leadership is not limited to academic ability or professional skills. It will also foster personal qualities and habits, such as mature judgment, self-awareness, spiritual practice, integrity, responsibility, sensitivity and ethical discernment.

  1. Life in Religious Community and Interfaith Engagement
  2. Prophetic Witness and Work
  3. Sacred Text and Interpretation
  4. History of Dissenting Traditions and the Thea/ological Quest
  5. Spiritual Practice and the Care of the Soul
  6. Thea/ology in Culture and Context
  7. Educating for Wholeness and Liberation
  8. Embodied Wisdom and Beauty


  • Educating to Counter Oppressions (ECO) Course

Educating to counter oppressions and to create just and sustainable communities is a priority. There are four guiding principles: 1) To be what we want to see in the world; 2) To shelter prophetic witness in the world; 3) To counter white supremacy; and 4) to work for the common good. You meet the ECO requirement by taking an ECO-focused course as suggested by the academic advisor. Read about MASC internships and projects in Celebrating our Leaders for Social Change: 2012 MASC Graduates Choose to Bless the World. See a current listing of MASC interns and sites.


The MASC degree recognizes that individual students have particular interests and abilities. The student, in consultation with the advisor, will identify an area of specialization. Possible areas include:

  • racial justice work
  • gender issues
  • global economics
  • restorative justice
  • children and youth at risk
  • advocacy for people with disabilities
  • the struggle for peace with justice
  • immigration issues
  • environmental responsibility
  • HIV prevention, education and care
  • anti-oppression work
  • protecting civil liberties
  • fostering democratic community
  • medical ethics.

To accomplish this work, MASC students will draw on Starr King and Graduate Theological Union resources, GTU-affiliated advanced centers for research and study, and the course offerings, libraries, research institutes and faculty of the University of California, Berkeley. Free cross-registration in this array of educational institutions will make possible an individualized course of study, tailored to your professional interests, experience and calling.

Portfolio Conference

Portfolio Conferences are an assessment process designed to review your program of study and spiritual growth approximately mid-way through the degree program. You and your advisor determine when the conference should happen. You coordinate its planning (time, participants and location). The conference should be done well before you petition to graduate.

Community Placement

In your second year, M.A.S.C. students participate in a six-month community placement designed to integrate religious leadership abilities with practical skills required for social change. Your placements may be local, national or international and includes supervision from a seasoned progressive activist mentor.

Community placement examples:

  • prison chaplaincy
  • at-risk children’s advocacy
  • interfaith homeless programs
  • environmental responsibility
  • genetic research ethics think tank

MASC program graduate Betty-Jeanne Rüters Ward shares how she is applying the skills she learned at Starr King in her role as a social justice organizer in California.  (6 mins.)

Readiness to Graduate

Readiness is assessed through conversation with your primary advisor, who will help determine if your degree requirements have been met and review your written self-assessment of readiness. Next, your advisor makes a recommendation to the core faculty that votes on the recommendation and presents a list of approved students to the Board of Trustees.  The Board votes to confer degrees.

Professional Roles Graduates Might Assume

You will graduate from the M.A.S.C. degree program prepared to assume a professional role in institutions and organizations that work for progressive social change. The employment field includes non-profit organizations, social service agencies, political action organizations, administrative and leadership positions in denominational bodies and religious associations, church staffs, educational programs, health organizations, community centers, interfaith organizations and research institutes. We dedicated two newsletters to the successes of our MASC grads, so you can see exactly how they are using their degrees to change the world:


Som Pourfarzaneh

Listen to a podcast of two MASC students, Som Pourfarzaneh (pictured at right) and Betty-Jeanne Rüters Ward, discussing what drew them to the program, what they’ve learned about the skills and commitment of leadership and the important role in their program of SKSM’s commitment to Educating to Counter Oppressions. Note: The Association of Theological Schools has recently approved the new definition of MASC as Master of Arts in Social Change, previously Master of Arts in Religious Leadership for Social Change. The change will apply to students starting the program in the Fall of 2012 and after.