Doctor of Philosophy in Theological Studies (PhD)
The PhD degree program is offered to students wishing to enhance their knowledge and competence in teaching and research and to contribute to scholarship in a specialized area of theological studies. The PhD is a research doctorate, and requires students to give evidence of the highest standards of scholarship at every stage of the degree program. STH PhD degrees are to be distinguished from other PhD degrees by their focus on theological approaches to the histories, communities, practices, beliefs, and ethical values of Christian institutions and traditions (and the institutions and traditions of other faiths, resources permitting); and by their intention to prepare students for scholarship and teaching in a broad range of institutions, including seminaries, schools of theology, divinity schools, and religiously affiliated colleges. The full text of the PhD handbook may be found on the Advanced Studies website.
PhD admissions are made not only to the degree program but to a particular track and concentration as noted in the application. A request to change the concentration after admission to the program is tantamount to a new application and requires both:
- a detailed petition from the student justifying the request
- a signed statement from the potential new advisor consenting to take the student as
These items should be collated and sent to the Director of Admissions, who will then bring the request before the Advanced Studies Committee (ASC) on the applicant’s behalf. Such requests will be evaluated by the ASC after reviewing the student’s record in graduate work undertaken to date.
Applicants must have the Master of Divinity or other equivalent graduate degree in theology or disciplines appropriate to their proposed PhD study. Applicants may be required to complete additional specified prerequisites as part of the PhD curriculum. Graduate academic work with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.3 is required. All applicants to the PhD program must include a valid GRE score as part of their application. International students for whom English is not a native language must submit both a valid GRE score and a valid TOEFL score to complete their applications. While there is not a minimum GRE required, students are advised to have a combined verbal/quantitative score of at least 1300 (old system) or 315 (new system) and a writing score of at least 5.0 in order to have a competitive application.
Those who wish to be considered must complete the application by December 15 for admission the following fall. There are no admissions to the PhD program in the Spring Semester.
Refer to the Admission section of the STH website for specific application instructions.
In the admissions process, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs assigns each student to a faculty advisor. Ordinarily, students work with their assigned advisor through their qualifying exams and that advisor becomes the student’s first reader on the prospectus and dissertation. In some instances, however, a different first reader may be arranged. Students may request a change of advisor with the approval of the new advisor and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, who may consult with the original advisor before granting approval. Students may secure a secondary advisor if they choose, and in some cases a second advisor will be suggested or assigned from the outset. Inevitably, the student will need to secure two readers, so working with one’s advisor to secure that second reader is required prior to the beginning of qualifying exams. Students may request a change of advisor within their concentration with the consent of the new advisor and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs attested on a signed form submitted to the ASC office.
In certain, albeit rare, circumstances, students may require or request a second reader from outside Boston University. In those situations, requests should be submitted to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, who is authorized to extend invitations to outside colleagues on behalf of the faculty.
Current approved concentrations within the PhD program include:
Track 1: History and Hermeneutics
In this area, students can specialize in the following concentrations:
- Biblical Studies (with a hermeneutical and Christian canonical focus)
- Church History (including Denominational History and History of Doctrine)
- Liturgical Studies (including Hymnology and Sacred Music)
- Mission Studies
[Note: Students interested in other approaches to Hebrew Bible, ancient Christianity and Christian origins, and the history of Christianity are encouraged to apply to Track 1 within the Graduate Division of Religious Studies (GDRS). If students have questions about whether to apply to STH or the GDRS, they are advised to contact faculty in the School of Theology prior to applying.]
Track 2: Constructive Theology and Theological Ethics
In this area, students can specialize in the following concentrations:
- Constructive Theology (including Systematic Theology and Comparative Theology)
- Theological Ethics (including Environmental Ethics)
[Note: Students interested in Philosophy of Religion or Religious Ethics are encouraged to apply to Track 2 within the Graduate Division of Religious Studies (GDRS); students interested in Social Ethics are encouraged to apply to Track 3 within the Graduate Division of Religious Studies; students interested in Religion and Science are encouraged to apply to Track 4 within the Graduate Division of Religious Studies. If students have questions about whether to apply to STH or the GDRS, they are advised to contact faculty in the School of Theology prior to applying.]
Track 3: Practical Theology
In this area, students can specialize in the following concentrations:
- Church and Society
- Congregation and Community
- Evangelism and Missiology
- Leadership and Administration
- Pastoral Theology and Psychology
- Religious Education
- Spirituality Studies
PhD Curriculum Requirements
The PhD requires a minimum of 10 courses (of 3 or 4 credits) plus 8 credits that are fulfilled by the first-year doctoral colloquia (TF 901 and TF 902, 1 credit each, see 2.2.3) and the three required internships (TZ 911, TZ 912, and TZ 913, 2 credits each, see 2.2.1).
Policies regarding the 10 courses:
Students must take three of the 10 courses in each of the first two semesters and then take two more of the 10 in each of the third and fourth semesters.
Eight of the 10 courses are to be taken within the student’s concentration (or track, when required by that track) or in cognate fields bearing directly upon that concentration and two courses may be taken as elective courses, chosen strategically with the advice and authorization of the advisor, given the student’s methodological approach.
Coursework for the degree must contain at least three 900-level courses. (These requirements may not be satisfied by directed study courses except by approved petition to the ASC.)
A maximum of three of the ten full courses may be taken at institutions other than Boston University.
Courses taken to meet language requirements do not count toward the required coursework for the PhD.
Coursework older than 10 years may not be applied toward the degree.
- One must be registered as a full-time student to be charged STH tuition rates; part-time students pay the tuition rate of the school in which the course originates. However, doctoral students may be certified full-time with a part-time courseload.
- The time limit for the degree program is seven years (14 semesters). For more information regarding degree deadlines for PhD students, please consult the PhD handbook.
Required Colloquia: To better accomplish the aims of the PhD program, all entering students are required to participate in a year-long series of colloquia during the first year of their program. Students register for TF 901 in the fall and TF 902 in the spring, and the colloquia cover research methods, teacher training, and professional identity. The colloquia are graded on a pass/fail basis each semester on the basis of the student’s active participation, reading, and any writing or research assignments required from time to time throughout the colloquia. By completing this two-semester colloquia sequence, doctoral students:
- Will become familiar with primary doctoral-level research methods in the study of scripture, theology, history, and the social sciences with special attention to library research strategies and digital resources appropriate to those primary methods;
- Will become familiar with various information discovery tools provided by libraries, crafting a bibliography and resources for bibliographic management, use of research collections and archives (especially Boston University’s own distinctive holdings), the social construction of information, and intellectual rights;
- Will be able to construct a syllabus with appropriate, achievable, and measurable learning goals; methods of evaluation; course policies; and resources;
- Will be able to design and deliver an effective class lecture and to facilitate effective classroom discussion;
- Will be introduced to the world of academe, or as it was called long ago, The Republic of Letters, including gaining familiarity with the teaching profession and the sometimes arcane world of the academy; the responsibilities and expectations of a faculty member in relation to research and publication, faculty governance and School service, intra-school politics, and tenure and promotion procedures;
- Will learn the importance of professional learned societies and how to submit papers to conferences and professional meetings; and
- Will become familiar with the world of academic publishing.
One or more faculty persons take turns coordinating the colloquia each year and securing the involvement of various faculty and staff with particular expertise, depending on the topic to be covered. Additional colloquia may be required by any discipline, though these will not require registration. The Office of the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs coordinates the colloquia, with oversight by the ASC, and faculty members take turns facilitating the colloquia annually.
All students admitted to the Doctor of Philosophy program are awarded full tuition fellowships plus a generous stipend for the first five years of study. The Federal Direct Stafford/Ford Loan program is also open to students in the Doctor of Philosophy program.
All fellowship recipients must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.3 and comply with all requirements detailed in their fellowship award letter.
The purpose of BU doctoral fellowships is to allow students to devote the time necessary to completing their studies in a timely fashion. For this reason, students receiving doctoral fellowships may not be employed during the five-year period of the fellowship, at least during the eight months of the academic year (outside employment is permitted from May 1 to August 30). Students awarded fellowships or other financial support for their studies from outside Boston University must immediately inform the Office of the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Theology. Those awards can very much be worth pursuing as they may extend funding into the summer months, but they may also affect the funding commitment from the University. Learn more about financial aid on the School of Theology website.
Doctoral Teaching and Research Internships Program (DTRIP)
The School of Theology provides a teaching and research internship program for all incoming PhD students that orients these degree programs toward a teacher training, research training, and mentoring model.
The DTRIP program requires all doctoral students to accept one research internship, one junior teaching internship, and one senior teaching internship during their degree program and prior to graduating. While these internships are not paid positions but rather requirements of the degree program, students are supported by yearly fellowships during the first five years of their doctoral work. Internships are to be fulfilled in the third, fourth, and fifth semesters of the student’s program.
Faculty Mentoring and Evaluation of Students
Faculty members who mentor doctoral interns are responsible for providing an evaluation of the intern during and at the conclusion of each assignment. Periodic seminars and workshops will be offered to help faculty to better function effectively as mentors for doctoral interns under their supervision.
All three Research and Teaching Internships require registration during the semester in which they are fulfilled. The internships are 2-credit courses required for graduation from the PhD program and counting toward the 48-credit requirement of the degree program. The internships do not count toward the timeline considerations regarding finishing qualifying exams or the submission of the prospectus.
At the conclusion of each internship, students are required to respond to an online self-evaluation and faculty mentors likewise provide an evaluation. The faculty member indicates whether time and effort expended was appropriate to the assignment, and thus whether the internship has been fulfilled. The faculty member also makes comments about the competence of the doctoral intern to be included in the student’s teaching portfolio. This type of evaluation is based on the principle that an educational program warrants formal assessment of those it is supposed to benefit. This information is used by the ASC and the Dean’s office in refining efforts to help each student become competent in teaching and research. In addition, the portfolios may be accessed by students who wish to provide the portfolios to future prospective employers.
- No grade lower than B is acceptable for use in satisfying the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree. An automatic Academic Review occurs if a student receives a grade lower than B. The ten required courses may not be taken on a pass/fail basis but must receive a letter grade. Two grades lower than B are grounds for termination from the degree program.
- Coursework for the degree must contain at least three 900-level courses. (These requirements may not be satisfied by directed study courses except by approved petition to the Advanced Studies Committee.)
- A maximum of three of the ten courses may be taken through the Boston Theological Institute, and these must be approved in advance by both advisors.
- Undergraduate and 700-level courses will not count toward the required coursework for the PhD.