Boston College offers extensive resources for Catholic and ecumenical study of theology. Embedded in the culturally rich Boston metropolitan area, the combined faculties of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Theology Department and the School of Theology and Ministry make Boston College a premier international center for the study of theology. The library, courses, and faculty resources available to graduate students at Boston College are further expanded by Boston College’s membership in the Boston Theological Interreligious Consortium (BTI), a consortium of theology faculties primarily in the Boston-Newton-Cambridge area, which has as its constituent members the following institutions:
- Boston College’s Department of Theology
- Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry
- Boston University School of Theology
- Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Hartford Seminary
- Harvard Divinity School
- Hebrew College
- Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary
- St. John’s Seminary and Theological Institute
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 doctoral program in theology at Boston College has as its goal the formation of theologians who excel intellectually 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 endeavors.
The program is led by an internationally respected ecumenical faculty. Students are encouraged to explore widely and deeply in a variety of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theological and doctrinal traditions, while also engaging in critical and constructive dialogue with other major religions and cultures.
The program is rigorous in its expectation that students develop a mature grasp of the Christian theological tradition and probe critically the foundations, intelligibility, and relative adequacy of various theological positions. Students are expected to master the tools and techniques of research and to organize and integrate their knowledge in order to make an original contribution to theological discussion. Because the program includes faculty members who are experts 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.
Successful applicants to the Ph.D. Program will generally have in hand an M.Div., a master’s degree in religion, theology, or philosophy, or an equivalent degree.
Areas of Specialization
Students in the doctoral program specialize in one of five major areas: Biblical Studies, Historical Theology/History of Christianity, 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 (which counts as their “minor” area).
The Historical Theology/History of Christianity (HT/HC) area studies past theological reflection on the faith and practice of the Church. The HT/HC area strives to appreciate these theological expressions both within their immediate historical contexts (social, cultural, institutional) and within the broader trajectories of theological development in the Christian tradition. Currently, this area has a strong common interest in early and medieval Christian theology.
Systematic Theology is the contemporary intellectual reflection on the content of divine revelation as an interrelated whole. The program fosters the capacity to treat theological material systematically, constructively, and contextually, according to methods that attend to the coherence and interconnectedness of the elements of the Christian tradition, to take responsibility for the tradition’s ongoing development, and to address diverse cultural situations. Special attention is given to the historical development of Christian thought and doctrine, its intellectual cogency, its role and significance within different cultural contexts, its contemporary expressions from different theological perspectives, and newly emergent questions.
Theological Ethics includes the ecumenical study of major Christian ethicists and attends to the Biblical foundations, philosophical contributions, socio-political contexts, and theological interpretations of ethics. The program encompasses the historical development of traditions in Christian ethics, including the natural law and virtue ethics. It also includes a strong social ethics component as well as offerings in applied ethics. The exploration of contemporary ethics is set in a critical, historical perspective and encourages attention to the global, multicultural, and public character of the Christian community. Interdisciplinary and intersectional work on contemporary ethical problems is also encouraged.
Comparative theology involves faith seeking understanding in constructive dialogue with another religious tradition. Students are expected to acquire significant expertise in a religion other than their own, as well as a solid grounding in a particular area of theology (ethics, biblical studies, historical theology, or systematic theology). Equipped with the methodological tools of the comparative study of religion, as well as a critical self-awareness of theology of religions, students will reflect on a particular theological question or problem in their own religious tradition through constructive engagement with analogous ideas or practices in the other tradition. This will prepare them to teach courses in Christian theology and in their non-Christian religious tradition, as well as in interreligious dialogue and comparative theology more generally. As a minor area of study, Comparative Theology may also expand the theological and professional opportunities of students in any other area of the doctoral program.
Each doctoral student must pass examinations in at least two languages. These test the student’s proficiency in reading languages important for his or her research and must be passed before admission to the comprehensive examinations. Students may take either the departmental translation examinations (offered three times a year) or pass (with a grade of B or better) the 12-week summer intensive language courses offered by the Graduate School of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences.
Some areas may require more than a minimum of two languages. For example, students in Systematics are expected to be proficient in Latin as well as two modern languages (normally French and German). 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. Students in Comparative Theology are expected to acquire at least an intermediate level of proficiency in a language related to the non-Christian religious tradition they are studying.
Joint M.A. in Philosophy and Theology
If you have questions and interests that lead you into both philosophy and theology, or would like to deepen your understanding of each field by opening it to the other, you might consider pursuing a M.A. in Philosophy and Theology at Boston College.
Drawing on the resources of large major departments and distinguished authorities in each field, and situated at the heart of a prominent Jesuit Catholic university, this program is structured around distinct concentrations that address major areas of common concern to the two fields, and explores their historical, systematic and disciplinary relations. Students develop a program of study in discussion with an academic advisor, and take courses in the standard graduate programs offered by the Philosophy and Theology departments. Concentrations include: Faith, Science and Philosophy; Foundations in Philosophy and Theology; Medieval Philosophy and Theology; and Philosophy and Religions.
This program is designed to address the various interests of students who wish to augment graduate study of philosophy with greater exposure to theology or graduate study of theology with greater exposure to philosophy, consider teaching in private secondary schools, or simply feel in need of intellectual enrichment.