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A Christian pastor claims to be a Stanford professor who holds three PhDs in comparative theology, history, and eschatology.

However, his profile is not anywhere on the university website or anywhere in Google (rather than in his YouTube channel). However, he started a theological seminary and claims to be affiliated with Stanford University.

Below there is the certificate given in his seminary. I am more skeptical about this because the logo used below is the Stanford Medicine logo. I don't know why they used the medicine logo in a theology certificate. And on the official Stanford website, they don't mention a Department of Philosophy in Religious Studies.

Is this an authentic or fake one?

Certificate

Update

I e-mailed Stanford about this and they confirmed that this is a fake one:

No, Stanford does not have a department of philosophy in religious studies and we don’t offer a degree in Bible ministry.

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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes.
    – cag51
    Feb 6, 2023 at 16:46
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    As a sidenote: Be wary of of somebody who flaunts three PhDs, irrespective of their certificates. It’s like having three driver’s licenses (for the standard car). The standard academic career path requires one PhD. Two PhDs are reasonable in exceptional circumstances. Three only appear in fiction. Now, I acknowledge that this is supposed to be a honorary degree, of which you can indeed accumulate more, but then you usually have something better to flaunt like your Nobel prize.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Feb 7, 2023 at 8:11

6 Answers 6

81

I see several red flags.

  1. On Stanford's website, there is a Department of Philosophy and a Department of Religious Studies. There is no "Department of Philosophy in Religious Studies". Even if there was a combined department in the past, it should be an "and" and not "in".
  2. There is no date saying when the honorary degree was awarded
  3. A typo on the word 'title' incorrectly spelled as 'titile'
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    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 6, 2023 at 16:49
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    We get it - y'all have lots of other examples to add in the comments of all the typos you've found. Edit them into the answer if you want, or make your own comprehensive answer.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 6, 2023 at 17:49
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    Hey, I have a typo on my undergraduate degree (the year it was granted has only 3 digits). I've never had it corrected. It's a somewhat less than once a decade conversation starter. Very few people notice. Once, an immigration officer looked at it and said "Hey, you are even older than me"
    – Flydog57
    Feb 7, 2023 at 18:28
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Is this an authentic or fake one?

It looks highly suspect, as @NebUzer and @ZeroTheHero explain, so it's probably inauthentic. But - you can always just Ask Stanford. Here is a page of their program in philosophy and bible studies, or you could just go up to the department of philosophy. Write their secretariat or general contact address and inquire about this degree.

Another option is Stanford's "Cerificates and Verifications" service. While that's student-oriented, they might still be willing to help.

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Adding to red flags raised by others:

  1. This degree was granted to someone currently 35 years old. This is very young to get such a degree “honoris causa”, which is a kind of lifetime achievement award. I suppose it is possible to get such a degree by making a significant donation, or by being truly brilliant, but in all circumstances I know the university will put up some sort of public elogium when the degree is awarded.
  2. My own degree does not give my date of birth but does indicate the precise date on which the degree was awarded: this is missing from the image.
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    Yes, I've never seen degrees with birthdates before.
    – einpoklum
    Feb 7, 2023 at 11:33
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    Also, according to <studentservices.stanford.edu/more-resources/student-policies/…>, 'Stanford University awards no honorary degrees'. Feb 7, 2023 at 13:07
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    It might be a country-dependent thing (and thus still a red flag in this context), but in Germany all degree certificates I have seen explicitly mention date and place of birth. My guess is that this is the traditional bureaucratic way of distinguishing between different people with the same name.
    – mlk
    Feb 7, 2023 at 17:10
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Note that your first two sentences already show that this person is not who they claim to be. All professors at a proper university have a website that can be found through the university/ department website. It might not say much beyond the name and department of the university but every department will list every single professor. So if you can't find their website on the Stanford university pages there are not a professor at Stanford.

Additionally having three PhDs is highly suspicious. It is common trope in fiction to have brilliant scientists with PhD in multiple fields but this almost never happens in practice. There certainly are brilliant people who have done signficiant scientific work in multiple fields but they don't hold multiple PhDs (there are multiple questions on this site from people asking about doing a second PhD, the universal answer is: don't do it). The only real exception is honorary PhD titles, people can and do hold multiple of these but when these are mentioned they are always referred to as honorary, leaving that word out would be academic dishonesty.

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    Actually I knew someone with 3 PhDs (also a priest) and I have no reason to suspect the degrees were fraudulent. The expectations for PhDs have certainly evolved over time: PhD theses in physics used to rarely longer than 40 pages until the late 60s. Honestly unless have an usual lifestyle with limited obligations it is hard to see how one can find the time,but it is not unheard of. I also knew someone with three undergraduate degrees for that matter. Feb 7, 2023 at 15:40
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    @ZeroTheHero I think the biggest issue with multiple PhDs is the main goal of a PhD is to learn to do academic research. Once you've attained that "certification" the skills will be directly transferable to another domain you have deep and/or overlapping expertise in without having to go through the process again.
    – Chuu
    Feb 7, 2023 at 16:06
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    @Chuu yes indeed. Not to belittle the achievements of someone with 3 PhDs but I do observe that the degrees were in cognate fields and I'm aware that this person was required to do "only" a year of course preparation before launching into his next PhD. Nevertheless I simply would not have had the stamina for this... Feb 7, 2023 at 16:48
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It's a fake, top to bottom. Stanford does not confer honorary degrees, and this policy has been in place since at least the 2000-2001 academic year.

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As several folk have already pointed out, people with 3 PhDs are rare; so are professors at Stanford with no publications to their credit. Maybe you could use Google Scholar to check to see whether Doctor Schmoctor has ever published anything.

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