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.

Learning Outcomes

  • A breadth of knowledge in theological and religious studies and in other cognate disciplines with mastery of knowledge in a particular academic discipline.
  • Capacity to conduct advanced scholarly research and writing that makes an original contribution to the discipline that is significant for religious communities, academy, and society.
  • Growth in one’s identity as a researcher, including:
    • the ability to access appropriate resources in the study of one’s discipline, to analyze and assess critically the findings of others, and to synthesize existing knowledge with one’s own findings;
    • the ability to employ primary doctoral-level research methods appropriate to the study of one’s chosen discipline; and
    • the ability to communicate one’s research appropriately to scholars within one’s discipline and to other scholars, professionals, or publics beyond one’s discipline.
  • Growth in one’s identity as a teacher, including:
    • the ability to design a course with appropriate, achievable, and measurable learning outcomes; and
    • the ability to facilitate and evaluate learning within a course through a variety of methods.
  • Growth in one’s professional identity as a scholar within the academy, including:
    • familiarity with the teaching profession and the academy; the responsibilities and expectations of a faculty member; and the ethical standards of one’s discipline; and
    • a commitment to collaborative inquiry, mentoring, publication and other modes of transferring knowledge, and personal professional development through learned societies.
  • Growth in one’s capacity for a robust embrace of and engagement with social and theological diversity and one’s capacity to relate across difference.


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
    an advisee

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. The GRE is not required and will not be viewed if submitted. International students for whom English is not a native language must submit a valid TOEFL score to complete their applications.

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 term.

Refer to the Admissions section of the STH website for specific application instructions.

In the admissions process, the Associate Dean of 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 of 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 of Academic Affairs attested on a signed form submitted to the ASC office.

In certain, albeit rare, circumstances, students may request a second reader from outside Boston University. In those situations, requests (with advisor approval) should be submitted to the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, who is authorized to extend invitations to outside colleagues on behalf of the faculty.


Students pursuing the PhD in Theological Studies are required to complete 8 of the 10 courses required for the degree in a single concentration of study or in cognate fields bearing directly upon that concentration, as approved by one’s advisor. The other two courses may be taken as elective courses, chosen strategically with the advice and authorization of the advisor, given the student’s methodological approach.

Current approved concentrations within the PhD program are organized into three tracks, which include:

Track 1: Biblical and Historical Studies

In this area, students can specialize in the following concentrations:

  • Biblical Studies
  • History of Christianity
  • Liturgical Studies
  • Mission Studies

Track 2: Theology, Ethics, and Philosophy

In this area, students can specialize in the following concentrations:

  • Constructive Theology
  • Ethics
  • Religion and Conflict Transformation
  • Theology and Philosophy
  • Theology and Science

Track 3: Practical Theology

In this area, students can specialize in the following concentrations:

  • Church and Society
  • Congregation and Community
  • Evangelism and Missiology
  • Homiletics
  • Leadership and Administration
  • Pastoral Theology and Psychology
  • Religious Education
  • Spirituality Studies
  • Worship

PhD Curriculum Requirements

The PhD requires a minimum of 44 units, though most students end up with considerably more.

  • The program requires 10 courses (of 3 or 4 units) plus 2 units that are fulfilled by the first-year doctoral colloquia (STH TF 903 A1, see 2.2.3).
  • In addition, students must take eight terms of 4-unit supervised internships (20 hours/week) in the 3rd through 10th terms (with a possible exemption in terms 9 and 10 if the student receives a dissertation fellowship). Students register for STH TZ 911 for each of these. A student may “buy out” internship terms by forfeiting their University stipend, but only after they have completed a minimum of three terms of 4-unit internships, as these are central to the STH PhD training model.
  • Students not enrolled in internships must enroll for 2 units of directed study (or “continuing study”) with their advisor each term.

Policies regarding the 10 courses:

Students must take three of the 10 courses in each of the first two terms and then take two more of the 10 in each of the third and fourth terms.

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, as approved by one’s advisor. The other 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 10 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.

Additional notes:

  • 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 course load.
  • The time limit for the degree program is seven years (14 terms). 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 series of colloquia during the first term of their program. Students register for STH TF 903 A1 in the fall, and the colloquia cover research methods, teacher training, and professional identity. The colloquia are graded on a pass/fail basis 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 colloquia sequence, doctoral students:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. Will be able to construct a syllabus with appropriate, achievable, and measurable learning goals; methods of evaluation; course policies; and resources;
  4. Will be able to design and deliver an effective class lecture and to facilitate effective classroom discussion;
  5. Will be introduced to the world of the academy, including gaining familiarity with the teaching profession; 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;
  6. Will learn the importance of professional learned societies and how to submit papers to conferences and professional meetings; and
  7. 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 of Academic Affairs coordinates the colloquia, with oversight by the ASC, and faculty members take turns facilitating the colloquia annually.

Auditing a Course

PhD students who have not yet advanced to PhD candidacy may have the tuition of an audited course covered by scholarship if the student’s advisor and the STH academic dean approve the course. This course must be related to the dissertation research or be considered as background or preparation for the dissertation.

Financial Aid

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). There are two exceptions to this policy. First, STH students may serve as Resident Assistants or Graduate Resident Assistants in the Boston University dorms. Second, fully funded students may be employed as graders, researchers, center or program assistants, or other similar positions for additional payment only under the following conditions:

  • The assignment provides the student with an opportunity for professional growth in teaching, research, and research-related program development;
  • The assignment does not exceed five (5) hours/week averaged over the term;
  • The total additional payment for the term does not exceed $1,500;
  • The payment is set up as a weekly salary; and
  • The assignment has approval of the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.

Students awarded fellowships or other financial support for their studies from outside Boston University must immediately inform the Office of the Associate Dean of 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 eight term-long (20 hours/week) internships during their degree program and prior to graduating (they may be exempted from the last two if they receive a dissertation fellowship). 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.

Faculty Mentoring and Evaluation of Students

Faculty members who mentor doctoral interns are responsible for developing learning outcomes with their interns at the beginning of each term and 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.

The Internships

All Research and Teaching Internships require registration during the term in which they are fulfilled. 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.

Academic Requirements

  • 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 10 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 10 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.