The PhD in Practical Theology: Homiletics Concentration

Homiletics at BUSTH is a contextual, theological discipline. Homiletics is a practical-theological study of preaching in that it is self-consciously contextual and interdisciplinary in nature. Homiletics is also more broadly theological in the sense that it draws on the best of constructive theology, Biblical studies, and liturgical studies to do its work. Uncommon strengths in all these critical theological resources make BU a great place to do research into preaching’s practice, theories, and diverse contexts. They are what make the homiletics concentration at BU one of the leading programs in North America for pursuing a Ph.D. in the field, and at a world class research university.

The history of the institution plays no small part in this theological orientation. Boston University School of Theology (STH) has been the place where many significant scholars have launched careers of teaching and research in preaching. Homileticians like Samuel Proctor, Isaac Clark, Richard Eslinger, Evans Crawford, David Randolph, and Bobby McClain received their doctorates here. The School of Theology has also welcomed an inordinate share of North America’s great preachers. Preachers like Martin Luther King, Jr., Anna Howard Shaw, and Howard Thurman continue to animate the work of collections, centers, programs, and research projects in this place among faculty and students alike. All this makes STH a rich place to pursue excellence in the theological discipline that is homiletics.

Going forward, doctoral students in the homiletics concentration can take advantage of opportunities with new research in homiletics in connection with concentration advisor, Dr. David Schnasa Jacobsen. The Homiletical Theology Project (HTP) sponsors the Consultation on Homiletical Theology and will be publishing four edited volumes over the next four years. HTP also hosts webinars on homiletical theology. The HTP webinars allow doctoral students to converse and connect with leading figures in the field across North America. Students can also take part in occasional special research opportunities provided by the Center for Practical Theology, most recently the Consultation on Preaching and Postcolonial Theology.

PhD students can benefit from resources of the Boston Theological Institute and may on occasion include BTI coursework with advisor approval. Boston University is a vibrant place for advanced studies in practical theology and homiletics with an established doctoral program, strong faculty, and the resources and on-the-ground research projects of the Center for Practical Theology. The PhD program in Practical Theology/Homiletics aims to prepare excellent scholars and teachers of preaching who will go out to serve in leadership in universities, seminaries and divinity schools, and faith communities.

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Program Requirements:

  • 3 Core Courses in Practical Theology (12 credits)
    • Proseminar in Practical Theology
    • Advanced Research in Practical Theology
    • Ecclesiology (or alternate doctoral seminar in theology, approved by advisors)
  • 7 Concentration Courses in Spirituality (28 credits), approved by advisors. Courses include:
    • Theologies of Preaching
    • Prophetic Preaching
    • Homiletical Options/Homiletical Analysis
    • Parish Preaching
    • Hermeneutics for Preaching and Teaching
    • Narrative Sermons
    • Preaching Apocalyptic Texts
    • Situational Preaching
    • History of Preaching (TBA)
    • Tailored Reading Courses in Homiletics with Dr. Jacobsen

Qualifying Examinations

PhD students in the homiletics concentration take three written exams and one oral. These examinations consist of:
1. Practical Theology Exam
2. Theology of Preaching, Church, and Context Exam
3. Homiletic Theory, Hermeneutics, and Student Special Research Area Exam
4. Oral Exam for Review and Anticipated Dissertation Prospectus

All of the exams involve some core bibliography, but are always tailored to students’ research interests—especially exam #3.

Admissions Requirements

Admission to the PhD program requires a master’s degree in theology. The application also requires a clear statement of research interests, transcripts, writing sample three letters of recommendation, and an interview. Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Dr. Jacobsen (dsjacobs@bu.edu) early in the process to discuss research interests and program details. For further information about the admissions process, please also contact the Admissions Office sthadmis@bu.edu).

Related Faculty
Faculty support for the program extends to colleagues in homiletics and related disciplines. Below is a listing of faculty whose expertise is available to help students with one or more of the seven concentration courses that along with the required courses in practical theology make up the coursework part of the PhD.

  • Dr. David Schnasa Jacobsen (expertise in preaching, homiletic theory, theology of preaching, homiletical analysis, homiletical exegesis, situational preaching, homiletical-theological method, Word and Sacrament, Christian scriptures),
  • Dr. Robert Allan Hill (expertise in New Testament, preaching, pastoral ministry),
  • Dr. Robert C. Neville (expertise in systematic theology, religious semiotics, cross-cultural comparative philosophy and theology, preaching),
  • Dr. Karen B. Westerfield Tucker (expertise: North American liturgical history and theology, Methodist/Wesleyan liturgical history and theology, hymnology),

Other BUSTH faculty colleagues offer electives, which, with advisor approval, can count toward one or two concentration requirements. Below are some examples of faculty colleagues who have worked with homiletics PhD students in the recent past:

  • Dr. Walter E. Fluker (expertise in ethical leadership, religious thought of Howard Thurman),
  • Dr. Shelly Rambo (expertise in constructive theology, feminist theory and theology, postmodern theology, theological imagination),
  • Dr. Nancy T. Ammerman (expertise in sociology of religion, congregational studies, social theory, religious identity)