PhD in Religious & Theological Studies

Post-Bachelor’s PhD (MA/PhD)

Admission is to PhD candidacy, but the MA may be awarded to a candidate upon his or her petition when all MA requirements have been fulfilled.

Course Requirements

In addition to any prerequisites required upon admission, 64 semester hours (normally sixteen 4-hour semester courses) are required as a minimum for the post-bachelor’s PhD. The required two courses in Approaches to Religion count toward this minimum course requirement. Additional courses may be required at the discretion of the advisor or Track Coordinator. All other requirements are the same as for the post-master’s PhD and are outlined below.

Post-Master’s PhD

Course Requirements

A minimum of 32 semester hours (normally eight 4-hour semester courses) are required for the post-master’s PhD. In addition, students who have not already done so as part of a Division of Religious & Theological Studies (DRTS) MA must successfully complete two 4-credit courses in Approaches to Religious Studies. These courses will in most cases be selected from the following:

  • GRS RB 795 Humanities Approaches to Religion
  • GRS RN 796 Social Science Approaches to Religion
  • GRS RN 797 Philosophical and Theological Approaches to Religion

Students with a particularly strong background in one of these areas are normally exempted from this requirement, but may be encouraged to take the other two courses.

Additional courses may be required at the discretion of the advisor or Track Coordinator. Some additional course requirements are determined by the student’s track:

Students in the Texts and Traditions track are required to take GRS RN 795 Humanities Approaches to Religion. Students may be required to take further coursework in cognate disciplinary methods or approaches (e.g., History or Classical Studies).

Students in the Religion and Society track are required to take GRS RN 796 Social Scientific Approaches to Religion.

Students in the Religious Thought track are required to take GRS RN 797 Philosophical and Theological Approaches to Religion.

Students in the Religious Thought track and the Religion and Science track are required to take GRS RN 723/724 Core Texts and Motifs of World Religions or suitable alternatives in order to demonstrate broad religious literacy.

Students in the Religion and Science track are required to take a science literacy requirement (e.g., STH TT 871 Science Literacy and Scientific Boundary Questions) and are encouraged to take the following, depending on their backgrounds and in consultation with the advisor, as preparation for comprehensive examinations: (i) a philosophy of science course (e.g., CAS PH 643 Philosophy of Mind, CAS PH 665 Philosophy of Cognitive Science, CAS PH 670 Philosophy of Physics, CAS PH 677 Philosophy of the Social Sciences); (ii) a history of science course (e.g., GRS HI 868 Science and American Culture, GRS HI 869 Science and Christianity in Europe and North America Since 1500); and (iii) a philosophy or history of religion or theology course (e.g., GRS RN 750 Philosophy of Religion, STH TT 923 Philosophical Cosmology, STH TT 909 Modern Western Theology I, STH TT 930 Modern Western Theology II).

Language and Research Competence Requirements

During the first two years of graduate study, PhD candidates are required to demonstrate a reading knowledge of two modern foreign languages, one of which will usually be French or German. The second language, if not French or German, should be a modern foreign language clearly related to the dissertation research. Fulfillment of this requirement is demonstrated by reading examinations administered by faculty in the division or the relevant Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) department (e.g., Modern Languages & Comparative Literature, Romance Studies). The Department of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature offers a free noncredit course in German reading for graduate students. The Department of Romance Studies offers a free noncredit course in French reading for graduate students. The first language examination must be passed by the end of the first year of study. The second language requirement must be met by the end of the second year. Passed language exams must be reported to the division office at 145 Bay State Road, Room 302. Fulfillment of each language requirement is noted on the transcript.

Students in the Religion and Society track may be permitted, with the approval of their advisor, to substitute for the second modern foreign language an exam in a relevant research methodology (such as statistics, ethnographic fieldwork methods, or other forms of qualitative or quantitative research skills).

Students in the Religion and Science track will be required to substitute, for the second modern foreign language, an exam in a science skill (such as cognitive and neural modeling, ecological modeling, mathematics, computer programming, or statistics for empirical research), depending on the direction of research. Students in the Religion and Science track will also complete a 200-hour practicum in a relevant physical, biological, or psychological science setting to gain experience as (i) contributors to research, aiming at a publication, and (ii) interpreters and evaluators of research procedures in light of knowledge gained about philosophy and history of science.

Beyond two modern foreign languages, students in the Texts and Traditions track or the Religious Thought track who are working with primary written sources in foreign language(s) need to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary in these language(s), at a level of expertise appropriate to the particular area of specialization. Normally, this expertise is evaluated directly by division faculty, during the stage of Qualifying Examinations.

Qualifying Examinations

Before proceeding to the dissertation, students are required to pass three or four separate qualifying examinations. The precise number and nature of the exams is determined by the student’s track and particular research focus, but will generally follow the guidelines indicated below for each track. At least one of these examinations should have an oral component. At least two of these examinations must have a written component. Questions for all comprehensive examinations are shared among faculty in the appropriate track. PhD candidates may schedule qualifying examinations after successful completion of all coursework and language requirements. One retake may be allowed for each examination. Qualifying examinations may not be extended longer than one year, unless an extension of time is approved by the Director. At least two faculty members in the student’s area of research must be closely involved in the preparation and evaluation of each examination. Completed written examinations should also be reviewed by the Track Coordinator. Passage of each qualifying exam must be reported to the division office located at 145 Bay State Road, Room 301. Completion of all qualifying examinations is noted on the transcript. Copies of completed written examinations are placed in the student’s file.

Prospectus (Dissertation Outline)

After passing all qualifying examinations, the student must present a formal proposal for the dissertation, which, after approval by the Committee on Academic Programs, is filed in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Records Office.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

See General Requirements for the PhD in this Bulletin.

For fuller descriptions of DRTS degree guidelines and procedures, please consult the DRTS Student Handbook.

Academic Affiliations

When it is beneficial to their academic program, students in the division may take courses in other schools and departments, including but not limited to the following: Anthropology, Classics, English, History, History of Art & Architecture, Modern Languages & Comparative Literature, Religion, Romance Studies, Sociology, and the School of Theology. Core and affiliated faculty of the DRTS may serve as major professors, assisting in the design of programs of study and in the evaluation of qualifying examinations, theses, and dissertations.

Division students may also register for courses through the Boston Theological Institute (BTI). The BTI is an ecumenical consortium of eight Boston theological schools and seminaries. All division PhD students, regardless of enrollment in institute courses, have access to member libraries. Detailed information about the BTI is available from its website. Information on how to register for a course through the BTI is available from the School of Theology Registrar.

In addition, Boston University graduate students may cross-register for graduate courses at Boston College, Brandeis University, and Tufts University. Please visit the Office of the University Registrar’s website for more information on cross-registration.

Courses in Religion

The most up-to-date course listings for a given semester are available on the Division of Religious & Theological Studies website.

The following courses are offered through the Department of Religion in the College of Arts & Sciences.

  • CAS RN 555    Dante’s Hell
  • CAS RN 556    Dante: The Divine Comedy II: Purgatorio and Paradiso
  • CAS RN 561    Religion and International Relations
  • CAS RN 577    Literature of Memory III: Faith and Tragedy
  • CAS RN 578    Literature of Memory IV: Hope and Despair in Chasidism
  • GRS RN 601    Varieties of Early Christianity
  • GRS RN 607    Medieval Christian Spirituality
  • GRS RN 622    History of Judaism
  • GRS RN 626    Jewish Mystical Movements and Modernization, 1492–2000
  • GRS RN 628    Modern Judaism
  • GRS RN 630    American Jewish Experiences
  • GRS RN 631    Zionism and the State of Israel
  • GRS RN 634    Dead Sea Scrolls
  • GRS RN 636    Medieval Jewish Philosophy
  • GRS RN 637    Gender and Judaism
  • GRS RN 639    The Modern Jew
  • GRS RN 640    The Quran
  • GRS RN 641    Islamic Mysticism: Sufism
  • GRS RN 664    Buddhist Literature
  • GRS RN 675    Culture, Society, and Religion in South Asia
  • GRS RN 684    The Holocaust
  • GRS RN 687    Anthropology of Religion
  • GRS RN 697    Topics in Philosophy and Religion
  • GRS RN 724    Core Texts and Motifs of World Religions: East
  • GRS RN 725    Topics in South Asian Religion
  • GRS RN 727    Topics in American Religion
  • GRS RN 730    Topics in Asian Religion
  • GRS RN 739    Jewish Bioethics
  • GRS RN 750    Philosophy of Religion
  • GRS RN 753    Topics in Religion and Sexuality
  • GRS RN 766    Religion and the Problem of Tolerance
  • GRS RN 770    Topics in Medieval Religious Culture
  • GRS RN 795    Humanities Approaches to Religion
  • GRS RN 796    Social Science Approaches to Religion
  • GRS RN 798    Topics in Ancient Christianity
  • GRS RN 799    Topics in Judaic Studies

Specializations

When applying for admission to the program, graduate students choose an area of specialization within one of four tracks. The guidelines for each track are meant to ensure that students are well-prepared to produce high-quality academic work in their chosen areas of specialization while also remaining fully engaged in the broader trends in the study of religion most relevant to their work. Each track is guided by a group of faculty that includes, among others, members of the Religion Department and the School of Theology. These tracks, therefore, represent the ways in which the division faculty members work together, in groups, to provide a meaningfully collaborative and collegial educational environment, and to foster excellence in religious and theological studies.

Texts and Traditions

This program guides students to develop skills in historical, cultural, and textual analysis, combined with relevant linguistic proficiency, to illumine texts, traditions, artifacts, phenomena, or events of particular significance for the understanding of religion. Students in this program will typically develop mastery in the history, literature, and language(s) of a specific religious tradition, or a particularly significant body of religious writing. Current areas of strength within this track include: Ancient Christianity and Christian Origins, Greco-Roman Religions, Hebrew Bible, History of Christianity, Jewish Studies, Islamic Studies, Religions of China, Religions of India, and Religions of Japan.

Religious Thought

This program guides students to develop skills in analytic thought and expertise in one of the following disciplines: philosophy of religion, systematic theology, comparative religious thought, and religious ethics. Specialized research programs within this track include: (i) historical study of religious thought in one of these disciplines, (ii) constructive development of interpretations of religious subject matters within the domain of religious ideas, and (iii) the interdisciplinary study of religious thought in relation to cognate fields in the humanities, literary studies, fine arts, and social sciences.

Religion and Society

This interdisciplinary program seeks to examine the relation of religion and society in modern or traditional cultures. This program guides students to develop generalized skills in the social sciences and specialized expertise in sociology, anthropology, social ethics, or social history. Research programs within this track involve the application of one or more of these disciplines to one or more particular geographic area(s) or historic period(s), as chosen by the student, in close consultation with the advisor.

Religion and Science

This interdisciplinary program pursues religious and theological studies in relation to the physical, biological, and psychological sciences. Students develop skills in relevant scientific methods, and gain knowledge in the history and philosophy of science. In consultation with the advisor, the student develops a program that, among other types of research, involves (i) studying issues at the intersection of religion and science; or (ii) making religion the object of study by means of the physical, biological, and psychological sciences.

Time Frame for Completion

Post-master’s doctoral students have seven years to complete their degree, while post-bachelor’s students have eight. After this time limit has been reached, students must petition the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences for an extension.

Students whose continuation in the program extends to seven years beyond the completion of their comprehensive examinations may be required to retake one or more of their comprehensive examinations, in order to ensure that they remain well-informed of current issues in the field.