Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The Doctor of Philosophy (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. As the PhD is a research doctorate, it provides five years of funding for full-time study, and requires students to give evidence of the highest standards of scholarship at every stage of the degree program. Boston University School of Theology 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 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.
Deep faculty support and mentoring is embedded in the program and extends beyond the classroom. Our PhD alumni have an average placement rate of 83% within one year of graduation.
- PhD Plan of Study
- The STH Bulletin contains the official description of the degree program along with admissions and financial information.
- The PhD Handbook contains the policies and procedures by which the degree program is governed.
- PhD Student Profiles give a glimpse into the kind of research our students are undertaking.
- Want to see where our PhD (and ThD) grads are now?
Recent PhD Dissertations
Track 1: Biblical and Historical Studies
- Biblical Studies: PhD students in Biblical Studies at Boston University School of Theology engage in academic study of the biblical Christian canons—the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (with Apocrypha), the New Testament—within the contexts of biblical scholarship and the life of the Church. A rigorous research degree, the PhD focuses on advanced study of the languages, histories, immediate and broader cultural and social milieus, and literatures whence the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament emerged. Students select either the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, or the New Testament as their primary field of study, while pursuing the other Testament as their secondary field. Expertise in the full biblical canon is expected upon graduation, with particular depth in the student’s chosen area of study.
- History of Christianity: The concentration in Church History and World Christianity builds on the discipline of ecclesiastical history and contemporary interests in Christianity as a world religion. Seminars and colloquia are meant to prepare doctoral students for vibrant careers as teacher-scholars. Students in this concentration will be introduced to a diversity of historiographical approaches that may include gender studies, institutional and social history, history of Christian thought, cultural history, and history of literacy. Careful consideration is given to the social dimensions of Christianity as a global religion, including the study of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance-era Christianity, modern Christian missions, urban expressions of Christianity, and manifestations of Christian progressivism such as the Social Gospel. Areas of specialization include the history and literature of ancient Christianity, Reformation Europe, early modern Catholicism and the history of European expansion, modern Christian missions, Christianity and colonialism, American Christianity, and local Christianity in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
- Liturgical Studies: (Including Sacred Music and Hymnology) The PhD in Liturgical Studies focuses on the history, theology, and practices of liturgy from Christian origins to the present, and includes within the program research in sacred music. In consultation with the advisor, the student will develop a multi-disciplinary plan of study, which may include coursework in biblical studies, systematic and dogmatic theology, sacramental theology, ecumenical studies, ritual studies, sociology of religion, intercultural studies, homiletics, hymnology, and musicology. Students are encouraged to study with liturgical specialists teaching in other BTI schools. Previous students in their individualized programs wrote dissertations on such topics as Ephrem the Syrian as mystagogue, theological shifts in Marian hymn texts, worship and spiritual formation at New England camp meetings, music as a mode of cultural exchange in African American churches after the Civil War, meanings of Sabbath for Seventh-day Adventists, a sacramental ecclesiology of disability, schemes derived from liturgical biography for evaluating emerging worship practices, and the hymnic and practical theological contributions of Georgia Harkness.
- Mission Studies: The PhD in Mission Studies focuses on the history and theology of mission, and world Christianity. The program is one of the top producers of the professoriate in mission studies and world Christianity, with particular strengths in the history of mission and evangelism, the history of Christianity (early modern to contemporary), African studies, and Asian studies. Its location in a major research university gives students access to resources in anthropology and sociology, history, area studies, world religions, and other cognate fields. In consultation with his or her advisor, each student will develop a customized study and research plan to ensure an integrative approach to the study of mission and world Christianity. By special arrangement, students may pursue the degree in collaboration with mission studies faculty at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Track 2: Theology, Ethics, and Philosophy
- Constructive Theology (including Systematic Theology and Comparative Theology)
- Theology and Philosophy
- Theology and Science
- Rebecca Copeland
- David Decosimo
- Filipe Maia
- Shelly Rambo
- Bryan Stone
- Nimi Wariboko
- Wesley J. Wildman
The Theology, Ethics, and Philosophy course of study at Boston University School of Theology supports work in theology and ethics that is historically engaged, philosophically informed, interdisciplinary, and transformative for communities of scholarship and religious life. The program emphasizes the importance of studying the history of Christian theology and comparative theology in critical and constructive engagement with diverse fields of inquiry and with attention to important questions and problems, whether longstanding or contemporary. The program operates with the understanding that our collective task is not simply to underscore or reiterate claims within Christian or other traditions nor simply to discard them but to generatively and critically interact with them. In a word, to engage them constructively and in robust conversation with disciplinary partners outside of theological studies. The term “constructive,” then, does not so much designate an arena within theology, as an ethos animating our approach to theology and ethics. The aim of this work is to contribute to the construction of knowledge and action within theology and religious communities and without. In all this, we seek to partner with other units of the university and other sources and modes of knowing in order to pursue common questions – and to seek answers that, in keeping with BU’s legacy, “enrich the academy” and advance the cause of “peace with justice in a diverse and interconnected world.” Faculty research, teaching, and doctoral preparation models this constructive dimension of scholarship and nurtures the development of the student’s ability to articulate their own theological position.
Current Faculty and Student Research
Current faculty research topics include: critical theories; religion and science; theology and popular culture; ethical leadership, African American moral traditions and Howard Thurman; Christian interpretations of resurrection and post-traumatic wounding; ‘trans-religious’ theology; Christian and Muslim conceptions of political liberty, civic virtue, and domination; systematic philosophical theology, comparative theology, and philosophical treatments of value; “construction of sacramentality in relation to ecological justice and peacemaking; theology, ethics, and science; theological concepts and philosophical frameworks for interpreting money and finance in the global economy and socio-economy; socioecological ethics and integrating social justice within and among human communities, and the well-being of Earth and all living beings. For information about current students in the track and their areas of focus, please visit PhD student profiles.
Track 3: Practical Theology
- Congregation and Community
- Church and Society
- Evangelism and Missiology
- Leadership and Administration
- Pastoral Theology and Psychology
- Religious Education (Please Note: Religious Education will not be accepting applications for Fall 2023)
- Spirituality Studies
- Courtney Goto
- Choi Hee An
- Robert Hill
- David Schnasa Jacobson
- Nicolette Manglos-Weber
- Shelly Rambo
- Dana Robert
- Steven Sandage
- Chris Schlauch
- Andrew Shenton
- Bryan Stone
- Karen Westerfield Tucker
- Claire Wolfteich
The purpose of the PhD degree program in Practical Theology is to discover and extend knowledge and to enhance teaching competence in practical theology. Practical theology is the theologically positioned, interdisciplinary study of the practices of religious communities and of the traditions and social contexts that shape and challenge those practices. The practices of any religious community sustain and transform that community by embodying its shared values and enacting its foundational narratives. Examples of such practices include liturgical rituals; acts of service, justice, and compassion; practices of nurture, education, and formation; and the transmission of a community’s tradition to others within new cultural and social contexts. Religious practices appear in all faith traditions, though with their own unique histories and institutional settings and in relation to their own distinctive sacred texts, rituals, symbols, and theological understandings.
The PhD program in practical theology at Boston University School of Theology, while positioned as a theological study of Christian practices in relation to the texts, ideas, history, and institutions of that particular tradition in its various manifestations, encourages the comparative study of those practices in relation to other religious traditions and from the standpoint of cognate disciplines and methodologies such as history, sociology, psychology, cultural anthropology, ritual theory, philosophy, and ethics. As with all programs of study at Boston University, students need not identify themselves as adherents of Christianity or of any religious tradition to engage in this study.
In studying the practices of religious communities, the doctoral program in practical theology is designed to prepare students to understand and assess the contemporary situation, to reflect historically and systematically on the church’s embodied witness of faith, and to develop faithful and effective strategies for Christian practice. This preparation, while it has a common structure and an ecclesiological center, emphasizes the particularity of context and requires a diversity in focus that requires strong interdisciplinary skills and a highly integrative acumen. The primary interdisciplinary partners and methodological approach in studying religious practices will need to be chosen in relation to the particularity of the practices in question and so as to address specific problems identified. At the same time, there are shared tasks for which the PhD program prepares every student.
First, students must be able to provide a thick description, analysis, and interpretation of practices. The individual student will typically approach this description primarily from within a single particular discipline (as a historian, or as a sociologist, for example), and therefore the student must become conversant with a particular language and method of research. Still, the study of practical theology requires strong interdisciplinary skills and a highly integrative acumen. A theological understanding of practices within their context is never only an empirical or historical science but starts from a hermeneutically defined situation and employs interpretive skills that bring to light the meaning of human actions, making possible richly textured ‘readings’ of them.
Second, students in practical theology must engage in critical and comparative theological reflection. The discipline of practical theology moves beyond an initial and more descriptive moment toward the ongoing creative task of re-imagining and transforming practice. In doing so, the discipline requires of all PhD students an ability to think systematically and historically about the beliefs and practices of the Christian faith and to ask questions and form judgments concerning the shared visions of goodness, beauty, and truth contained within the sacred texts, rituals, and patterns of community of that tradition, always in conversation with other religious and secular traditions. In this way practical theological research is never reduced to mere description, on the one hand, or a capitulation to practical considerations, institutional inertia, and contextual forces, on the other hand.
Third, the doctoral program in practical theology will prepare students to develop contextualized strategies for sustaining and transforming practice in close relation to the institutional needs of faith communities and the lived religious experience of persons in their social, political, and cultural settings. In this task, students will also need to enter into dialogue with a range of disciplinary partners such as, for example, the arts of music and rhetoric or the sciences of education, organizational management, and communication. This approach to practical theology differs from those that take it as a curriculum designed to prepare Christian ministers or as a collection of professional skills courses by its focus on the integrated interpretation of a religious tradition, of the problems facing that tradition, and of the roles played by all the disciplines of theological education as well as the various arts and sciences in addressing those problems. This approach differs, secondly, from conceptions of a theological education that divide the disciplines into classical ones that form an essential core and then practical disciplines as merely “applying” the core. In the Ph.D. program at Boston University School of Theology, practice is not only the application but the generating source of theological norms. Thirdly, while this approach to practical theology would include the study of practices traditionally called ‘pastoral theology’ (focused on leadership of liturgy and ritual, preaching, evangelism, religious education and formation, social action and outreach, community-building and organization), here the agent of practice is the faith community itself, not only or primarily a priesthood or the clergy. The proposed program, therefore, expands the older ‘clerical’ paradigm of practical theology. For information about current students in the track and their areas of focus, please visit PhD student profiles.
PhD 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;
- 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;
- 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.