Ph.D. Program - Comparative Theology

Application to the Ph.D. Program

Applications accepted for this Area, like other Areas of the Ph.D. Program, in the fall, for entrance the following September. For admissions and application information in general, please go to the department's Ph.D. Information page. For questions regarding this specific program contact the Comparative Theology faculty listed on the program's homepage.

About the Ph.D.

Comparative Theology (CT) entails the study of one or more religious traditions other than one’s own, and critical reflection on one’s own tradition in light of the other tradition or other traditions. Given the location of this program within a Jesuit and Catholic university, it is expected that most of our students will engage in CT from within the Christian tradition. Study of the other religious tradition aims at fostering both genuine competence in that tradition and a deep level of engagement with Christian theology. The program also welcomes students who belong to and have scholarly training within other religious traditions, and who wish to engage in an in-depth comparative study of their own tradition with Christian theology. Focus on one other religious tradition aims at fostering both genuine competence in that tradition and a deep level of engagement with Christian theology.

A practical goal of both the Major and Minor is to prepare graduates to become theologians conversant in the issues related to the study of religions in a theological perspective, who are able to teach courses on another religious tradition and on chosen areas of Christian theology. While Interreligious Dialogue is only one of many subordinate themes possibly taken up in this program, the Major and Minor both provide sound theological and intellectual foundations for actual dialogue.

All Ph.D. students at Boston College are encouraged to integrate comparative work into their studies in the other Areas of Theology (biblical studies, historical theology/history of christianity, theological ethics, systematic theology including the pastoral theology minor), but students may also choose to major or minor in CT. For some students the Major is the ideal focus while for others a Minor is sufficient and more appropriate.

Except where specifically noted, rules given in following pages pertain to normal procedure and do not preclude exceptions for good reason. Regarding matters not covered here, the general rules applying to the Ph.D. program as a whole should be considered operative.

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.

Students majoring in Comparative Theology (CT) are normally expected to take courses covering the following topics:

  • Theology of Religions and the theory and practice of Comparative Theology*
  • Theory and Methods in the Comparative Study of Religions*
  • 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 Ph.D. Program (biblical studieshistorical theology/history of christianitysystematic theology, and theological ethics). These courses form the grounding in theology necessary for comparative theological work. This should constitute a Ph.D. Minor according to the rules of that Area.
  • A specific concentration in a religious tradition other than the Christian. (4 courses)
  • 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.
  • 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.

*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. (the first two items above together comprise 2 or 3 courses)

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 Comparative Theology (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 Ph.D. program in six, rather than five years. The regular stipend provided by Boston College to Ph.D. students will be suspended for the duration of the year abroad and resumed upon return.

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 $4,000 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.

Purpose

Ph.D. majors in Comparative Theology (CT) focus on one area of theological study (systematic thought, biblical studies, ethics, or historical theology/history of Christianity) 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.

Exam Structure

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:

  • 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, IslamJudaism), 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 CT advisor.

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

(1) Theology of Religions and Methods in the Comparative Study of Religions, on about 20 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.

Procedure

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 CT 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.

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 30th of the student’s fourth year, to receive faculty approval by December 31st of that year.

The Committee for the Ph.D. 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.

Students majoring in Comparative Theology 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.

Ph.D. Minor

“Comparative Theology” is often a discipline closely related to Systematic or Doctrinal Theology but it may also be presented in accord with other disciplines, such as Comparative Ethics or Law, or the Comparative Study of Sacred Scripture. It may likewise deal with historical materials or with contemporary issues.

Thus, the area also offers a minor intended to enhance other major programmatic concentrations. This minor complements and interrelates with the other major doctoral concentrations (Bible, Ethics, Church History, Systematics) and also the minor concentration in Pastoral Theology. Students pursuing a minor in CT will thereby enrich their major concentration by reflexive study of analogous area(s) in one (or more) other religious traditions, contextualizing this focused study historically and communally within those other traditions.

The minor requires a minimum of four courses which are to be identified in consultation with the student's minor advisor. The range of appropriate courses includes courses specifically on the theory and practice of Comparative Theology, Theology of Religions, Missiology, and particular religious traditions.

Students who wish to minor in Comparative Theology (CT) must officially declare their intent to do so by the end of the first year of the Ph.D. program. They must at that time seek a CT advisor who will help them prepare for the comprehensive examination.

 

Exam Preparation

The reading list for the examination will be prepared by the student, in consultation with her or his advisor, and circulated to the other Comparative Theology (CT) faculty for comment and possible revision. This list must be submitted no less than six months before the intended exam date. A selection of suggested texts relevant to the theory of CT is posted here.

The question for the examination is described below. The student is encouraged to discuss possible approaches to it with his or her advisor and even with other faculty members.

Comprehensives are taken at the regular times available for Ph.D. students.

Question for the Written Exam

The student will write a single essay comprised of the following four aspects. (time: 3-4 hours)

  1. An exposition of a major theological theme in a non-Christian tradition, contextualized within the greater world of that tradition
  2. A comparative study of that same theological theme drawing on both the non-Christian tradition studied in i. and the Christian tradition
  3. An explanation of how the materials handled in (1) and (2) shed light on some aspect of Christian theology particularly in relation to the student's major Area of focus in theology
  4. A statement making clear the student's understanding of Comparative Theology as practiced in the other parts of the essay developed according to (1), (2), and (3)

The student may take up these four aspects in any order.

Oral Exam

The written materials for this Minor will be subject to the usual oral examination along with the rest of the written materials for the comprehensives.