The Major :

I. The Major in Comparative Theology and the Theology of Religions in the PhD Program:

1. Prerequisites

Applicants for admission to this Major should already have master’s-level background in Christian theology, and have studied in an academic context the second religious tradition that they intend to compare with Christianity.   So too, students must have completed at least one year of language study relevant to the non-Christian tradition they will be studying.

2. Distinctive features of the Major in Comparative Theology:

Students majoring in CT are normally expected to take courses covering the following topics:

a. Theology of Religions and the theory and practice of Comparative Theology*

b. Theory and Methods in the Comparative Study of Religions*

*Graduate courses will be offered in alternating years in Theology of Religions and in Theory and Methods in the Comparative Study of Religions; more specialized areas of focus, such as Comparative Ethics or the Comparative Study of Scripture may be offered according to need. (a. and b. together comprise 2 or 3 courses)

c. A significant engagement in the issues and methods represented by another subdiscipline of Christian Theology, as represented by one of the other Areas of the PhD Program (Bible, Ethics, History, or Systematics. These courses form the grounding in theology necessary for comparative theological work. This should constitute a PhD Minor according to the rules of that Area.

d. A specific concentration in a religious tradition other than the Christian. ( 4 courses)

e. The CT Seminar: CT majors are expected to participate in this seminar during their entire residence at Boston College. They will register for the seminar in their fourth semester of coursework and receive credit for one semester's course (3 credits). CT minors may also participate.

f. Additional courses are electives determined in conversation with advisors. In general, students are encouraged to plan creatively, since there may be relevant courses not only in the Department or BTI schools, but also in Philosophy, Literary Theory, and other disciplines. Students are responsible for receiving the necessary approvals to ensure that courses from other disciplines count towards departmental and university degree requirements.

g. At least two languages are to be studied to a level where they are useful in research.  At least one of these should be specific to the religious/cultural area in which the student focuses, ordinarily in relation to a non-Christian religious tradition. The goal of the study of this language is proficiency at a minimum of a 2-year reading level (measured by language exams within two years of approved language coursework), with facility at getting behind translations and exploring primary texts in their original language.  The second language can also be tradition specific, or it can be a relevant western scholarly language, such as Latin, Greek, German, French or another language specifically useful in the student’s research.  In some cases, a third language would be highly recommended.  The languages chosen will be worked out in discussion between the student and his/her advisor within the Comparative Theology area.*

*Students entering the program with one year of preparation in the tradition specific language are strongly encouraged to fulfill the remaining year of language requirement through summer courses.   The program is prepared to cover a total of $ 4000 per student to support the study of languages. Courses in the tradition specific language taken during the regular Fall or Spring semester may count as electives toward the fulfillment of course work.

Students should be cognizant of the fact that they are required to take 50% of their courses in any one semester within the offerings of the Boston College Doctoral Faculties in Theology. If the specialized requirements of a student's program make this impossible, the student must consult his or her CT advisor and the Theology department's graduate director to petition for an exception to this requirement.

From the beginning of their program of study, students are expected to work closely with two advisors, one in the CT Area and the second in the Theological Area of their minor. The faculty in the CT Area also commit themselves to planning and announcing course offerings two years in advance.

The CT Area faculty, in cooperation with the faculty in other Areas, is responsible for the timely preparation of comprehensive examination questions for students, including any special questions required for particular students.

It is desirable that the students spend a semester or year in a country where a religion studied flourishes. Occasionally, a student may also have reason to spend a semester at another university in North America or Europe.This time abroad normally occurs after the Comprehensive Examinations.*

*Funding for this year must be obtained through external forms of financial aid such as Fulbright Fellowships.   Students who spend a year abroad will ordinarily finish the PhD program in 6, rather than 5 years.   The regular stipend provided by Boston College to PhD students will be suspended for the duration of the year abroad and resumed upon return.  

3. Comprehensive Examinations


Purpose of the comprehensive exams:

Ph.D. majors in Comparative Theology focus on one area of theological study (systematic thought, scripture, ethics, or historical theology) as it is expressed within two religious traditions: one non-Christian and one Christian. In their comprehensive exams, students will demonstrate their preparedness both to do significant comparative research and to teach at the university level. For this:

  1. Students will demonstrate a sufficiently broad knowledge of the theological and historical background of their area of focus in both their non-Christian and Christian traditions.
  2. Students will also demonstrate knowledge of the methods of Comparative Theology and Theology of Religions and of ways that scholars have applied such methods to the non-Christian tradition of their focus.
Structure of the exams:

The comprehensive exams will consist of three four-hour written exams, plus an oral exam based upon them. The written exams will be, divided as follows:

I. One exam in the student's non-Christian tradition, consisting of two parts, administered by the student's Comparative Theology advisor. The exam will be divided into sections in proportion to the lengths of these lists:
  1. one part drawn from a standard reading list for that tradition (Buddhism,Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism), consisting of about twenty books or their equivalents, that present the tradition's key movements and figures, central scriptures and commentaries, philosophical/theological developments, religious practices and institutions.
  2. one part drawn from a list of ten books or their equivalent that surveys the student's theological area in the non-Christian tradition (such as ethics or systematics), including the student's particular research interest in the non-Christian tradition. The student will develop this list in consultation with his or her Comparative Theology advisor.

II. One exam focusing on the student's minor area in Christian theology, administered by that minor area according to their requirements and developed by the student's minor advisor.

III. One exam on Theology of Religions and Comparative Theology, consisting of two parts, and administered by an appropriate Comparative Theology faculty member:

  1. Theology of Religions and Methods in the Comparative Study of Religions, on about twenty books or their equivalents, drawn from the standard reading list;
  2. Comparative Theology as applied to the student's own non-Christian tradition of focus. Here, students will be expected to discuss how they situate their own thinking in relation to the work of other scholars in the field. The student will develop the reading list of about ten books or their equivalents for this exam in consultation with appropriate CT faculty.
Basic procedures:

A minimum of six months before the student's anticipated exam date (unless the student's minor area requires an earlier submission), the student should have received approval from the CT faculty for his or her proposed reading lists, developed in consultation with his or her advisor. The student's Comparative Theology advisor will be responsible for circulating the lists for comment to the other Comparative Theology faculty. Students will submit:

  1. A one to two page narrative that explains the logic behind the choices made in constructing these lists. Ideally, this narrative will include a brief and preliminary dissertation proposal.
  2. A list of books or their equivalents on which the student expects to be examined in all sections of the exams, as described above, developed in consultation with the appropriate faculty advisors.
  3. A list of the four (or more) faculty who have agreed to serve on the comprehensive exam committee. These should include the student's CT advisor in the non-Christian tradtion, another CT faculty member, and the minor area advisor. For guidelines on who may serve as the fourth committee member, see the departmental Manual of Procedures.

4. The Dissertation

Students are expected to continue their comparative theological study by making comparative aspects and questions central to their dissertation topic.

The dissertation proposal is to be submitted by September 30 of the student’s fourth year, to receive faculty approval by December 31 of that year.

The Committee for the PhD Dissertation will be comprised of 3 members, with at least 2 belonging to the Boston College Doctoral Faculties in Theology, as specified in the Theology Department's Manual of Procedures.  

5. Teaching

Students majoring in CT-TR are ordinarily expected to serve as a Teaching Assistant with a Religious Quest professor for one year in preparation for teaching Religious Quest as a Teaching Fellow.

Updated: 14-Jan-2014
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