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Graduate Program Description
Boston College offers unusual resources for a Catholic and ecumenical study of all areas of theology. The combined faculties of the Theology Department and the School of Theology and Ministry make Boston College a premier International Theological Center and the city of Boston is one of the richest environments for the study of theology in the world. The Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of theology faculties primarily in the Boston-Newton-Cambridge area, has as its constituent members the following institutions:
- Andover Newton Theological School
- Boston College's Department of Theology
- Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry
- Boston University School of Theology
- Episcopal Divinity School
- Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Harvard Divinity School
- Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary
- St. John's Seminary
This consortium offers complete cross-registration in several hundred courses, the use of library facilities in the nine schools, joint seminars and programs, and faculty exchange programs.
Ph.D. Program in Theology
The program has as its goal the formation of theologians who intellectually excel in the church, the academy, and society. It is confessional in nature and envisions theology as "faith seeking understanding." Accordingly, the program aims at nourishing a community of faith, scholarly conversation, research, and teaching centered in the study of Christian life and thought, past and present, in ways that contribute to this goal. It recognizes that creative theological discussion and specialized research today require serious and in-depth appropriation of the great philosophical and theological traditions of the past, as well as ecumenical, interdisciplinary, inter-religious, and cross-cultural cooperation.
The program is designed and taught by the ecumenical faculty of the Theology Department. One of the intrinsic components of the Program is a call for a wise appropriation of Catholic and/or Protestant theological and doctrinal traditions, as well as critical and constructive dialogue with other major religions, with other Christian theological positions, and with contemporary cultures.
The program is rigorous in its expectation that students master Catholic and/or Protestant theological traditions and probe critically the foundations of various theological positions. Students are expected to master the tools and techniques of research and to organize and integrate their knowledge so as to make an original contribution to theological discussion. Because the program includes faculty members who are expert in the Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish traditions, it also offers a context in which the issues raised by religious pluralism can be explored, responsibly and in detail, and in which a Christian comparative theology can be pursued seriously.
Students admitted to the Ph.D. Program should have completed the M.Div., or equivalent degree; a master's degree in religion, theology, or philosophy; or a bachelor's program with a strong background in religion, theology, and/or philosophy.
Areas of Specialization
Students in the doctoral program specialize in one of five major areas: Biblical Studies, History of Christian Life and Thought, Systematic Theology, Theological Ethics, or Comparative Theology.
Biblical Studies focuses on the canonical books of the Bible both within their historical and cultural world and in relation to their reception within the Christian and Jewish traditions. All students will acquire a thorough competency in both the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and the New Testament including competency in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They may learn other ancient languages and literatures as their research requires and must acquire a reading knowledge of German and either French or Spanish. The comprehensive exams will cover the whole Bible, with emphasis on either the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, and will include a specialized exam in an area of study pertinent to the student's dissertation. Students will be expected to pass a general examination on the testament that is not their specialty. (That counts as their “minor” area).
The History of Christian Life and Thought examines how different forms of Christian faith, theology and doctrine, behavior, ritual, and institutional setting came to manifest themselves over the course of Christian history. Students focus on how these various forms of Christian life and thought developed over time by looking not only to their direct social and religious contexts and their underlying philosophical and spiritual presuppositions, but also to the implications of such developments for the life of the Church, both immediate and long-term.
While students in this area can study such diverse fields as history of exegesis, history of education, and institutional church history, as well as focus on individual authors, the current faculty in this area have a strong common interest in spirituality and in the history of theological developments. Their emphasis is on the study of the past in its "pastness," although secondarily the contemporary relevance of historical developments may be brought out as well. The faculty is interested in imparting to students a keen awareness of historical method by keeping them abreast of the contemporary historiographical debate.
This area is for scholars whose teaching interests fall into a broad range of courses in the history of Christianity and whose research interests lie within at least one subfield of historical Christianity—such as the early Church, the medieval Church, the Reformation, counter-reformation, the Enlightenment, modernity, American Christianity, or Jewish history.
Systematic Theology is the contemporary intellectual reflection on the Christian Mysteries as an interrelated whole. The Systematics faculty seeks to develop the student's ability to treat theological material systematically and constructively, that is, according to a method that attends to the coherence and interconnectedness of the elements of the Christian tradition. The necessary role of historical, dogmatic, and descriptive theological activity is hereby acknowledged.
Our primary concern is the systematic and constructive elucidation of the Christian faith in a contemporary context, and we emphasize the relationships among theological themes and topics, including their growth and development in historical and systematic contexts. Essential to the practice of Systematic Theology is a methodical appreciation of the concerns that form the context for the great inquiries and debates of the tradition and modern times.
Theological Ethics prepares its graduates for teaching and research positions that call for specialization in theological ethics. It includes the ecumenical study of major Roman Catholic and Protestant thinkers, and it attends to the Biblical foundations and theological contexts of ethics.
In line with the conviction that faith and reason are complementary, the program explores the contributions of philosophical thought, both past and present. It includes a strong social ethics component, as well as offerings in other areas of applied ethics. The exploration of contemporary ethics is set in a critical, historical perspective and encourages attention to the global and multicultural character of the Christian community.
Comparative Theology prepares students for careful theological reflection, usually from a Christian perspective, on non-Christian religions in their particularity, and on their significance for theology. Comparative Theology entails the study of one or more religious traditions in addition to one's own, and critical reflection on one's own tradition in light of that other tradition or other traditions. Students are expected to acquire a significant understanding of a major non-Christian religion as well as a critical method used in the study of religions, for example, philosophy of religion, comparative religion, or history of religions.
Like all other areas of Theology, Comparative Theology's ultimate horizon is knowledge of God, the transcendent, or the nature of ultimate reality; it aims to be constructive theology. The practitioner, while rooted in one tradition (in this program, normally Christianity), becomes deeply affected by systematic, consistent attention to the details of one or more other religious and theological traditions, thereby informing continuing theological reflection upon his or her own tradition. It is this focused attention to the distinctive details of different traditions that distinguishes Comparative Theology from the Theology of Religions, but also opens the possibility of a newly and more deeply informed Theology of Religions. In turn, this study is brought into dialogue with some particular theme or topic of study in Christian Theology (usually, as studied in one of the other areas of specialization: Bible, History of Christian Life and Thought, Systematic Theology, Theological Ethics, or Pastoral Theology), and articulated in light of a Theology of Religions. Students in this area are thus prepared to take up a wide range of research projects, and also to teach one or more religious traditions in addition to chosen areas of Christian Theology.
Each doctoral student must pass examinations in at least two languages (normally, French and German). These test the student's proficiency in reading languages important for his/her research, and must be passed before admission to the comprehensive examinations. Students may take the departmental translation examinations (offered three times a year) or pass (with a grade of B or better) a 12-week summer intensive language course. Some areas require more than the minimum of two languages. Knowledge of various ancient languages may also be required, depending on the student's dissertation topic. Thus, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew may well be required for students working in the early Christian and/or medieval period. Students in Biblical Studies are expected to demonstrate proficiency in appropriate ancient and modern languages, and those in Comparative Theology are expected to acquire at least an intermediate level of proficiency in languages related to the non-Christian religious traditions they are studying.
Institute of Medieval Philosophy and Theology
A unique resource available to Theology Department doctoral students is Boston College’s Institute of Medieval Philosophy and Theology. The Institute unites the teaching and research efforts of faculty members in the Theology and Philosophy Departments who specialize in Medieval Philosophy and Theology. Doctoral degrees are awarded in the Theology (or Philosophy) Department, and students study within one of these departments.
The focus of the Institute is the relationship between Medieval Philosophy and Theology and Modern Continental Philosophy and Theology. The concentration of the Philosophy and Theology Departments at Boston College is in modern continental thought, so the context for carrying on a dialogue between Medieval and Modern Philosophy and Theology is well established. To foster this dialogue and encourage the scholarly retrieval of the great medieval intellectual world, the Institute offers graduate student fellowships and assistantships, sponsors speakers programs, runs a faculty-student seminar to investigate new areas of Medieval Philosophical and Theological research, and runs a research center to assist in the publication of monographs and articles in the diverse areas of Medieval Philosophy and Theology, to encourage the translation of medieval sources and the editing of philosophical and theological texts.